People have been perming their hair for about 100 years without worrying about the effects. It is hard to ignore the effects that chemical alterations have on hair, including the negative potential for hair loss.
Perms can cause hair loss, especially if they are not performed correctly. In most cases, the hair loss is due to breakage from drying during the process. In more severe situations, the chemicals used can burn the scalp and lead to permanent bald spots.
In this article we explore the main causes for hair loss from perms and what you can do to prevent this from happening before answering a few related questions.
Do Perms Cause You to Lose Hair?
The main ways that perms cause you to lose hair are through:
- Chemical burns
- Coincidental hair loss (or triggering genetic conditions)
This list might seem scary, but the chances for any of these issues occurring are low. Even then, you are more likely to get hit with temporary hair loss through breakage than you are permanent hair loss.
The key to limiting the likelihood of these events is making sure your perming process does not cut corners. Taking the time to do patch tests or keep your hair hydrated are essential to combating these issues.
Hair Loss Due to Chemical Burns
The main cause of major hair loss is due to chemical burns. This is more likely to happen when:
- Your scalp is already irritated
- Chemicals are overused
- Chemicals are improperly mixed
Chemical burns occur when the skin on your scalp reacts to the chemicals used during the perming process. This is more likely to happen if you do not do a patch test beforehand to make sure your skin will not react.
These burns are also more likely to happen with at home DIY kits or untrained professionals. Chemicals such as lye and sodium hydroxide have a high pH, and working with them requires a deeper understanding to prevent potential issues.
Chemical burns are the most likely to cause long-term damage to your hair. They often lead to fallout at the root, and scarring can damage the follicle to the point where it can no longer produce or hold strands of hair.
Hair Loss Due to Breakage
You are most likely to notice hair loss due to post-perm breakage.
A trained professional should be able to minimize or avoid this problem, but the drying chemicals used in perming still cause damage to the hair strands. Without proper maintenance, the drying continues and hair will break along the shaft.
The severity of hair breakage depends on the condition of your hair prior to perming. Losing a few weak strands is not usually enough to make a difference on the overall appearance of your hair.
More severe cases notice multiple stands breaking in the same area, leaving hair looking thin or bald.
The good news is that you can limit the effects of dryness and prevent further breakage. The strands also grow back over time, so there are no permanent effects of weak and brittle hair.
Hair Loss Due to Genetics (Coincidental Hair Loss)
Sometimes, any hair loss that you notice after perming your hair is entirely coincidental. If anyone in your family has shown signs of hair loss, there is a chance that the genetic condition affects you as well.
There is some evidence that hair trauma, such as the intense perming process, can trigger genetic hair loss.
If you are already in a hair loss cycle, the breakage that occurs from drying out your hair can bring more attention to balding areas.
This does not mean you cannot get your hair permed, but you should speak with a professional about your options and what will work best for your condition.
Can You Do Anything to Prevent Hair from Falling Out?
The easiest ways to prevent hair from falling out (before or after perming) include:
- Choosing a reputable stylist
- Keeping your scalp healthy
- Keeping your hair moisturized
- Avoiding excessive heat
- Maintaining healthy habits
On the plus side, these are all things you should do on a regular basis.
Working with someone you trust is the easiest way to improve hair health, and it takes the burden off of you to understand the intricacies of hair care. They can help you with the other preventative measures by recommending products to keep your hair and scalp healthy and hydrated.
Avoiding heat is more than a trend, and it leads to better hair health over all. It also takes the burden off of you to force your hair into certain styles, leaving more time for healthy habits like preparing fresh meals and dedicating time to exercise.
Choosing a Reputable Stylist
One of the best decisions you can make that will prevent your hair from falling out is working with a reputable stylist. This should be someone that you already have a salon relationship with or someone who comes highly recommended.
Stylists have access to a world of knowledge that most people do not come across, including:
- Tips and tricks
- How to modify the process to fit exact needs
- Alternative chemicals depending on hair type
Perming uses intense chemicals and you must follow the process exactly. While there are kits that allow you to perm your hair at home, these assume a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. The opportunity for misuse is too high, and it is not worth the potential to damage your hair.
Keeping Your Scalp Healthy Before a Perm
To reduce the potential of chemical burns, make sure your scalp is in good condition before your perming appointment. It should not be dry or flakey.
Try not to brush your hair at least 24 hours before to limit the potential for superficial scratches. Make sure you do not scratch your hair either, even with dull nails.
If you have no cuts or irritated places on your scalp, there is less chance that the chemicals will cause more irritation and lead to long-term damage.
Keeping Hair Moisturized
Ask your stylist for recommendations to keep your hair healthy and hydrated. These usually involve light creams that will not weigh down your perm, but may also include:
- Shampoos and conditioners
- Hair treatments
- Styling products
Avoid hardening gels or any alcohol based products that will strip the hair of its moisture. Pay attention to the directions on anything you use to get the most from its moisturizing qualities.
Avoid Excessive Heat
To capitalize on the previous tip, try to avoid heat products such as:
- Hair dryers
- Hair straighteners
- Curling irons
If you must use one, keep the temperature at a lower heat. Ideally, you should not use anything over 300 degree Fahrenheit.
Keep up on healthy habits to provide your hair (and the rest of your body) with as many nutrients and vitamins as possible.
Make sure you get as much sleep as possible on a regular basis. Spending your entire weekend in bed after running ragged for the week does not help.
Exercise will help with blood flow that delivers nutrients to the body.
Cut back on harmful habits such as smoking and drinking. These limit your body’s ability to keep your hair healthy and hydrated.
Will Your Hair Grow Back after Getting a Perm?
Is It Safe to Get a Perm If You Already Have Thinning Hair?
Because the chemicals and process used for perming are hard on your hair, it is not recommended to get a perm if you already have thinning hair.
There are safer ways to perm your hair if this is a concern, so you do not need to rule it out entirely.
Communicating openly with your stylist is the best way to determine if the risk is too great to warrant an attempt. Your stylist can also modify the process by:
- Reducing the potency of the chemicals
- Reducing processing time
- Adjusting the size of the curling rods
You may need to compromise on your desired style to protect your already-thinning hair.
How Often Can You Safely Get a Perm?
The amount of time that you need to spend in between perms varies from person to person. Most people can get a perm as often as 3 to 4 months, but they need to take proper care of their hair in between processes.
- Avoiding heat
- Using proper care products
- Trimming often
Failing to do these things can result in more time needed in between perms.
The best way to determine how often you can safely get a perm is by consulting your hair stylist. The more work you do together, the better understanding they have of your hair. They are the most capable of advising you on how to keep your hair styled the way you want with minimal concerns.