From Digital to Spiral: Here's Your Official Guide to 11 Types of Perms

The second we hear the word “perm,” we immediately get ‘80s flashbacks. But perms have come a long way since then. Whether you want tight curls or loose beach waves, here are 11 different types of perms you can get at the salon. ​​

The One Hair Trend That Boomers and Millennials Actually Agree On 

types of perms universal
Dasha Burobina

First off, what is a perm?

A perm (short for permanent hairstyle) uses chemicals to change the texture of your hair. The process involves breaking down the molecular bonds in each strand and resetting them to your desired pattern, so you can turn straight hair into curls or waves. Whether you get a hot or a cold perm, rods and rollers will be applied to your strands to get the job done. 

What’s the difference between a hot vs. a cold perm? 

Both treatments change the texture of your hair, but the processes are different. A cold perm uses an alkaline solution (like ammonium thioglycolate), which is applied onto dry hair before its wrapped around rods, which results in tighter, more defined curls. This option tends to be more common because it’s cheaper and quicker than hot perms. A hot perm uses an acidic solution (like glyceryl monothioglycolate), which is applied onto wet hair, but your strands are wrapped around heated rods instead. This process creates larger, looser curls and is often less damaging due to the solution that’s used. A hot perm also tends to yield more natural-looking results and is a great choice for fine or damaged strands

What type of perm should I get? 

The type of perm you should get comes down to a few factors: your hair length and texture, whether you want to focus on your whole head or specific sections and what you’re trying to achieve with the perm. (I.e., Are you looking to create more volume, bounce, curls, waves or all of the above?) You also want to consider how long you want to rock your perm, as some last for two months, while others can last for up to a year. 

Lest you start to feel overwhelmed, we’ll walk you through a guide to the 11 different types of perms you can get below.

types of perms spiral perm
Dasha Burobina

1. Spiral Perm

This classic perm yields tight, corkscrew-shaped curls. It’s typically favored by people with shoulder-length and longer hair, as the style can make your locks appear shorter. The technique uses a strong chemical solution and your hair is wrapped vertically around rods to achieve a spiral pattern. Since the spiral perm is very time-consuming to do (it can take about two to five hours), it requires the most maintenance out of the bunch. However, results can last around six months. 

types of perms beach wave perm
Dasha Burobina

2. Beach Wave Perm

You don’t have to make a trip to the beach to get massive waves. A beach wave perm provides that soft, tousled look (only it lasts up to four months, as opposed to one day). If you have straight hair and need a volume boost, the stylist will apply foam rollers and a chemical solution to create that loose, bouncy effect. 

types of perms body wave perm
Dasha Burobina

3. Body Wave Perm

Have a tough time holding a curl? Similar to the beach wave perm, this treatment creates bigger, looser waves. The body wave perm uses large rollers (or rods) to add volume and shape to super straight strands. It’s one of the most popular perms because you get a natural-looking wave and it’s fairly low-maintenance, as results last between three to five months.

types of perms digital perm
Dasha Burobina

4. Digital Perm

The perm is one of the newer styles you can get. Trademarked in Japan in 2007, the digital perm has since made its way to other parts of the world. The longest lasting of the bunch, with results lasting for up to a year, this high-tech perm uses gentler chemicals that recondition and repair hair (unlike many traditional perms that rely on harsh chemicals). Strands are wrapped around temperature-controlled rods to create loose waves and overall, more voluminous tresses. The biggest downside? The process takes several hours to complete and is among the most expensive perms on the list.

types of perms pin curl perm
Dasha Burobina

5. Pin Curl Perm

While anyone can enjoy this retro perm, people with shorter hair tend to benefit most from the tighter, bouncier ringlets it creates. Instead of rods or rollers, bobby pins and clips are used to get the curls into shape. Another reason to consider this perm: Fewer and less harsh chemicals are used and it only takes about 20 minutes, so you can spend less time in the salon. Results last for about three to six months. 

types of perms spot perm
Dasha Burobina

6. Spot Perm

Spot perm (also known as the partial perm) targets a specific section of your hair. Whether you’re just looking to add volume at the crown of your head or need help covering an area that’s thinning, chemicals and rods are used only in that area. This type of perm can also be helpful for curly gals who want to create a more uniform look all around. Since you’re only perming a portion of your hair, touch ups are recommended every few weeks. 

types of perms root perm
Dasha Burobina

7. Root Perm

Another partial perm, this one only deals with the roots. To add lift, the solution is applied two to four inches away from the scalp before the section is wrapped around perm rods. Similar to the spot perm, it’s a great treatment for anyone who wants more volume but isn’t looking to perm their entire mane. You’ll also have to get regular touch ups to maintain the look.

types of perms stack perm
Dasha Burobina

8. Stack Perm

Joining the partial perm family, this treatment skips the roots and focuses on the mid-shaft and ends of the hair to create the illusion of layers. To achieve the look, perm rods of different sizes are applied throughout various sections of your hair. As a result, you get more depth and dimension that last between four and five months. 

types of perms multi textured perm
Dasha Burobina

9. Multi-Textured Perm

This multi-textured style is similar to a stack perm in that it also yields a layered look and a variety of rods are used to create a combination of tight and loose curls throughout the mane that lasts for several months. It’s a great choice for medium-length and longer locks because it really allows you to show off the layers. 

types of perms volumizing perm
Dasha Burobina

10. Volumizing Perm

As its name implies, this type of perm provides voluminous waves and is a great option for people with fine, flat hair. A variety of rods are used to create loose curls and bounce throughout. While it uses the same strong chemical solutions as the spiral perm, it only lasts around six weeks and requires regular touch ups to keep the shape. 

types of perms straight perm
Dasha Burobina

11. Straight Perm

This one is the complete opposite of the other types of perms on this list. Also known as the “reverse perm,” a straight perm turns natural curly hair straight. This hot perm uses an alkaline solution to break down the bonds, but this time, it stretches out the curly or wavy patterns in your hair. Along with the chemicals, a flat iron is used to straighten strands for a sleeker style. Although the treatment takes at least six hours to complete, the look lasts for three to six months. 

Keep in mind:

How much does a perm cost?

On average, a perm can cost anywhere between $40 to $250. As mentioned, hot perms (like Digital and Straight) tend to skew higher at around $100 to $300. The length of the treatment, as well as the length and thickness of your hair, can also up the total cost.

Can you get a perm with color-treated hair?

Yes…but tread with caution. A perm and color are both chemical processes, so getting both at the same time can damage your strands. Stylists recommend only getting one process done at a time (ideally three to six weeks between appointments) to give your strands some breathing room. 

How should I take care of my hair post-perm? 

Once you get your perm, conditioning and repairing your locks regularly are key. First, you want to avoid getting water on your strands for the first 72 hours—seriously, have you seen Legally Blonde? Afterward, your wash routine should be filled with moisturizing products like a deep conditioner, a hair mask and a sulfate-free shampoo to boost hydration, prevent breakage and help maintain the shape of your curls until your next appointment. 

Remember: Under no circumstances should you brush out your hair or use any hot tools right after you get a perm. You don’t want to loosen the curls or be left with frizzy strands. Also, the whole point of getting a perm is to spend less time styling your hair every day. However, if you find yourself needing to use a styling tool in your routine, always apply a heat protectant first and use the lowest setting on your hair. Or, go the heatless route with some rollers or perm rods to maintain the shape.

Ready to book an appointment? Your curls (or waves) await. 

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Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...