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Digital perms are here to give you beach waves all summer long

By Malavika Pradeep

Sep 11, 2021


Are you a 5-minute hack addict on a quest to amp up your hair game? If so, I bet that you’ve previously dug up clean socks, weaved them into your hair and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning—all in the hopes of waking up with ‘effortless’ waves. Beach babies and theybies, it’s time to leave your $50 three-barrel curling irons at the door, because perms are back. Only now, they’ve gone digital.

What is a digital perm?

Invented in Japan and now insanely popular in South Korea, a digital perm (also known as a hot perm) is a type of treatment that involves a combination of infrared heat and chemical restructuring to add a natural and wavy definition to your hair. Think permanent Chrissy Teigen locks, but with a bit of effort and aftercare to make it seem effortless.

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Unlike traditional perms, a digital perm can only be applied to the mids and ends of the hair. The procedure can also create a variety of waves to be sported by everyone from surfer girls to movie stars. Basically, if a wave can be created using tongs or rollers, you can mimic it with a digital perm. Another key difference is the shape and texture of the wave created. The modern perming technique uses less-damaging chemicals to create loose waves with natural volume over tight and uniform ringlets like in the case of traditional perms.

Remember, no wiry or spiral curls here. Digital perms simulate natural waves rather than resembling those carefully-styled ones created using a curling or flat iron.

A digital investment

In terms of the process, your stylist will essentially restructure each hair strand with chemicals and reset it with heat that is digitally regulated through curlers at around 80 to 120 degrees. It starts off with a deep clean and condition, followed by a treatment using one of those heat halo machines in the salon. This opens the cuticles to deeply infuse the hair with conditioner, giving it more elasticity and softness.

After a good wash comes the chemicals. The same product used in Japanese thermal straightening is applied to the hair in order to break down its original bond. The hair is then sectioned off into electric rollers that will set it into the preferred choice of waves. An anti-frizz solution is also drizzled to help soften unruly hair and give it a smoother finish. After about 30 minutes of being hooked up to the rollers, a neutraliser is applied once the heat dies down. This step echoes the aim of reforming the bond and setting the preferred shape.

Then, the process is all about blow drying with a special technique: twisting your hair and blasting it with hot air. Among TikTok’s 3.8 million views for the procedure, this step is kind of hard to miss. The iconic hair twist has, in fact, become a signature move for those who sport digital perms—wringing sections of hair into spirals to refresh and bounce the waves off to Neverland.


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♬ Fallin' in a Garden - LLusion

Although the process can take up to 5 hours and an intense bonding sesh with your stylist, digital perms last anywhere between five to ten months. And like most hair treatments, the procedure has both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ candidates.

For starters, digital perms work best on thick and coarse hair. It is also preferred by those who want to add volume to their limp hair, though it may result in looser curls in this case. On the flip side, however, thick-haired people may struggle with the excessive volume and frizz the procedure gives. In such cases, clients are suggested to permanently straighten the hair before digitally perming it to create a hairstyle with larger and softer curls. The procedure is also not ideal on baby-fine or bleached hair. Short hair is additionally harder to perm given the heat exposure closer to the scalp.

If you have a history of severely damaged hair, you may want to stay away from perms of any kind in general. This is because of the chemical nature of these treatments, which can aggravate any existing damage. A consultation with a professional is recommended before scheduling your digital perm to ensure that it’s the right fit for you.

Although digital perms require less aftercare and styling, these efforts are not entirely out of the loop. Simply put, the combination of heat and chemicals is bound to cause damage to the hair. I’m talking about frizz and the lower half of your hair exploding with volume. Not exactly a desirable outcome, given the cost of the treatment (which ranges between $150 and $200 depending on your residence), right? Well, the expensive nature of this treatment links back to the use of professional machines—which is quite an investment for salons. The technique and stylists performing it are also sparse in the West compared to Asian countries, making the treatment quite exclusive.

But as the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a wave. So if you want to get a digital perm, arm yourself with a three-ply mask and march into the nearest salon—dorm bathrooms don’t count by the way. And if anyone questions your intention of getting beach waves that are going to last you all winter, drown them out in the volume digital perms are guaranteed to bless you with.