The Modern Perm: This Is How to Fake Realistic Curls

Photo: Getty/Jacques Malignon/Contributor

There's something so alluring about Julia Roberts circa 1990. The trouble is that women who tried to replicate her bouncy, carefree curls more often than not left the salon chair looking more like Michael Bolton than the Pretty Woman star. After far too many “bad perms,” we all gave up trying to fake curls and looked to flatirons instead. It seems that it took almost three decades for the perm to shake its bad reputation, because only now are women coming back around to the idea.

Thankfully the process—as well as the outcome—has evolved, and not only is the perm 2.0 kinder to hair, but the effect is far more natural. This next-gen perm lasts three months, so you don't need to grow it out like the stubborn, merciless curls of yesteryear. We called on Lily Bunting-Branch, the Hershesons technician who designed the modern perm the salon is now offering. Keep scrolling to let us convince you to perm your hair, and we guarantee that you'll be hooked on the idea by the end.

BYRDIE UK: How does this modern perm differ from what came before?

LILY BUNTING-BRANCH: It is a much softer, more believable curl. Before, all the curls were the same size and very tight, which made it an obvious perm. Now the curls and waves look so loose and natural, and all vary in size like naturally curly hair does. The technique has advanced, but so has the perm lotion, which is now ammonia-free, so it is much kinder on hair.

BYRDIE UK: So no damage?

LBB: No damage, as long as the hair is in good condition to start with and the client is totally honest about their hair colour history. It's best to colour your hair after the perm, and you do have to wait at least a week before colouring.

BYRDIE UK: Is it a one-size-fits-all perm?

LBB: No. We have the maxi perm and mini perm. The maxi is all about bouncy, natural curls. Think full-on, big and lively curls like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Hair is wound around long rubber rods versus traditional perm rollers to give a loose, natural-looking big curl.

The mini is more of a loose wave. This is more of a solution to thinning hair. It’s turning the status quo perm on its head—we are reinventing all the perm rules. It is designed for women and men with fine, lifeless, hard-to-manage hair. It gives hair some guts so it can hold a style and look and feel naturally fuller.

We use traditional perming lotions with high-grade organic formulations that are kinder to the hair, but apply them to braids versus rollers or rods. The result is super-soft, loose waves that alter the texture of the hair, making it look fuller, thicker and easier to style.

BYRDIE UK: So where should we look for perm inspiration?

LBB: Julia Roberts circa Pretty Woman, Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City Season 1, but also Drew Barrymore in the '90s and Zendaya's natural hair (pictured, below). Also, check out the Permspiration page on Hershesons website.

BYRDIE UK: How long does the perm last? Does it depend on your hair type?

LBB: The perms always have to start being slighter tighter, but after two weeks, they totally soften up and last around three months. Just like when you have your hair tonged, the waves and curls slowly drop and soften out into how your hair was before. If you go for a tighter curl, it will last longer and will drop into a wave as it leaves the hair, which my clients have loved.

BYRDIE UK: Does it suit all hair types?

LBB: Yes, it does suit all hair types. Straight hair will see the biggest transformation, of course, but I have had curly-haired clients come into make their curls tighter and more defined.

BYRDIE UK: Will a perm work on most hair lengths?

LBB: The cut is just as important as the perm. A perm can work on all hair lengths, providing they have layers and shaping around the face. If the hair is too heavy or in a one-length haircut, then the curls and waves won't be able to move and will drop quickly.

BYRDIE UK: How should you care for your perm?

LBB: The best thing to do is use a sulphate-free shampoo to keep your new look for as long as possible. You also want to use a diffuser to dry the hair, which will enhance the volume and curls and make it look extra bouncy. Alternatively, you can let the hair dry naturally for a softer finish, but rough-drying the hair like you would with straight hair will make your perm go frizzy.

The best products to use are ones aimed for curly hair, I love the whole John Frieda Dream Curls range for my own curly hair and explain to clients exactly how to use each product. Kiehl’s Creme With Silk Groom (£18) is also great to touch up with. Never brush the hair when it's dry. Just comb your hair with your fingers or a wide-tooth comb as you put conditioner in, scrunch your products in and dry straight away for best results.

BYRDIE UK: Anything else our readers should know about this modern perm?

LBB: You can still change up your look whilst having a perm. If you want to wear your hair straight, you can blow-dry the curls out, and then when you wet the hair again, your curls or waves will spring back. Just bear in mind that the more you do this, the quicker the perm will drop. Tonging on top of the mini perm is amazing. It will hold so much longer than before, as the hair has extra guts.

Next up: Do you use a lot of hair spray? You need to add this product into your routine.