SOME CALL them kinky. Some say they stink. And others just plain hate them. Yet 80% of salon patrons won't face their mirrors without a perm. According to Modern Salon, a hair-care industry trade journal, permanent waves are the second-most-requested service after haircuts in U.S. beauty shops. Despite the proliferation of gels, mousses and curling tools, perms remain popular because of the long-lasting body, versatility and wash-and-wear convenience they provide.
Reacting to the public's love-hate relationship with the perm, manufacturers and stylists are in constant pursuit of the perfect wave. Faster, odor-free or perfumed solutions, imaginatively designed rods and updated application techniques are all intended to eliminate the perm's negative connotation, while creating fashionable soft curls.
The artificial wave process has come a long way since the 1920s, when women sat for hours with their hair attached to a curling machine. Today a client can have a perm in less than an hour. Redken's new Velocity 5 cuts processing time to five minutes, a dramatic advance over the typical 20 to 45 minutes that other processes require. Most perm solutions break and reconfigure the protein bonds in the hair shaft using thioglycolic acid, which can damage the hair unless conditioners are used. By contrast, Velocity 5 accelerates the rearrangement of protein bonds using an ingredient called Synchron E.
But speed isn't the only improvement. "The trend now is to leave the hair in superior condition after it's permed," says Henri Mastey, president of Mastey de Paris, a Valencia-based hair-care manufacturer. Conditioners are added to most high-quality perms to prevent burning and drying. Some, such as Zotos International's Bain de Terre Spa Conditioning Perm, have natural additives including plankton and ginseng. Other conditioning perms are promoted like skin-care products, touting "protective" collagen, elastin and exotic herbs.
Beverly Hills stylist Edward Anthony, who administers the Ve Borne perm, says many clients who are sensitive to the acids and harsh salts in regular perms opt for this 30- to 45-minute process, which uses vegetable proteins to curl the hair. "Ladies who want to have a perm and color at the same time prefer this organic approach," Anthony says.
Despite the term permanent, how long a wave lasts depends on the type of solution used. Mastey's non-ammonia Volumineux Volumetric Perm and Zotos' Acclaim are both acid waves. According to Lynn Plant, spokesperson for Zotos, acid-based solutions provide softer, looser curls than do longer-lasting, alkaline-based solutions.
This year American women are paying $30 to $250 for the convenience of having three months' worth of tumbling curls or gentle waves that they can style in many different ways. Recent innovations may raise the price of perms even higher in the 1990s. But, as Modern Salon editor Mary Atherton maintains: "Women are not about to give up their perms. The versatility is worth the price."
Model: Vandalyn / It Model Management; hair and makeup: Nadia / Cloutier