How To Perm African American Hair

Having African hair

Because of its natural structure and composition, African-American hair can be difficult to style and manage. It tends to be curly and kinky. It tends to be dry and brittle, as well, because of the slow distribution of oils along the hair shaft. For this reason, many people with African-American hair regularly oil their hair. Others opt for a more longer-lasting solution: permanent wave, also known as perm, which uses either chemicals or heat to treat hair to achieve straight-looking hair. If you have never had your hair permed, you would probably want to have it done by a professional hairstylist. Doing it on your own can be tricky, and if you make a mess out of the chemicals, you just might end up with severely damaged hair. On the other hand, getting your perm from a licensed hairstylist is generally more costly than doing it on your own, although it is still the safest route. If you prefer to perm your hair on your own, here are some tips on how to do it correctly.

  1. Buy a perm kit. There are many brands and formulas available on the market. Choose one that does not contain lye, as it is damaging to your scalp and hair. Also, choose one that is designed for your particular hair type.
  2. Do a skin test and a strand test. If you have permed your hair using the same brand and formula before, you can skip the skin and hair test. Otherwise, this step is important. The tests will make sure that the formula will not produce negative reactions when applied to your hair and scalp. Your perm kit will give you the correct instructions for doing the test. Usually, you will need to perform the test a day or two before you actually use the perm kit.
  3. Apply petroleum jelly to your hairline. Include the ears and the nape. The petroleum jelly will prevent the chemicals from coming into contact with your skin. Some kits will have a special gel meant for this purpose. Use it instead of petroleum jelly. Then, mix the perm kit ingredients as instructed.
  4. Divide your hair into four parts. Use a clip to keep them in place and out of the way.
  5. Apply the mixture using the supplied applicator brush. Wearing rubber gloves, dip the applicator into the chemical mix and brush it onto the hair, making sure you avoid the scalp. It is best to apply the chemical about half an inch or less from the hair root. Continue applying the mixture, parting and layering the hair as you cover all of your hair.
  6. Wait. The kit will have instructions on the amount of waiting time. The waiting time is important for the chemicals to “cook.” You may feel some slight burning sensation. This is usually normal. But, if the tingling feeling becomes unbearable, uncomfortable, or painful already, rinse out your hair immediately.
  7. Rinse out the chemicals. Still wearing gloves, wash your hair thoroughly with running water. Some kits include a specially formulated shampoo for rinsing the perm on your hair. If your kit includes a leave-on conditioner, use it after rinsing/shampooing. Blow dry your hair afterwards.

Perming your own African-American hair is easy to do on your own, but keep these tips and reminders in mind so that you can perm your hair correctly and safely.


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