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When to Say "Yes" to Perming Your Child's Hair

Find Out the Risks


When it comes to hair, it seems like we all want what we don't have. People with thick hair wish it was thinner, those with dark hair envy the blond, and straight hair just seems boring when you have it. It seems like the dream for curls begins at a young age, and a perm is a seemingly logical step to make a girls dream come true, right? How young is too young for a perm?

For the purpose of this article I'm referring to an in-salon service called a permanent chemical wave, or perm for short.

What Is a Perm?
Before you decide to perm your child's hair, it's important to understand what a perm is and what it does to the hair. Very basically, hair is wrapped around a perm rod and a chemical called ammonium thioglycolate, sodium thioglycolate, or glyceryl monothioglycolate is then applied to break down the structure bonds of the hair. These bonds are the building blocks of hair that cause it to be straight or curly. When the bonds are broken the hair is, quite literally, reduced to a mush-like state. After processing, hydrodgen peroxide is applied to the hair, restructuring the hair's bonds and reforming the hair to the shape of the rod, creating curls.

Risks to Your Child's Hair & Scalp
Over the years it's been likely obvious to you that your child's hair changes as the years go by. Color, thickness, texture, and curls can go through several changes from birth until puberty, and sometimes even after that. Many recommendations from professional hair stylists to medical professionals indicate that chemically changing a child's hair prior to puberty age is not ideal. Kid's hair before this time is typically thinner and more fragile and can be easily damaged by even the most gentle perms.

The same holds true for your child's scalp. Children's skin and scalp are more tender, sensitive, and prone to irritation or allergic reaction. It's the reason why we use specially formulated shampoo, body wash, and sun protection for our kids. The chemicals of a perm can be very irritating. Perms can cause an allergic reaction in some cases, but more often chemical irritation can cause broken skin, hair loss, itching, and in some cases chemical burns to the scalp and surrounding skin. It is very important that a patch test be given to any child that is having a perm service to prevent serious problems.

Other Risks and Considerations To Consider
While skin and scalp irritation is the primary focus for consideration when perming your child's hair, other considerations hold just as much, if not more influence in my opinion.

  • Perms require products. Many people are of the impression that a perm will result in carefree, fun hair for their child. The opposite is true. Even the best perm can result in dry hair and will require regular maintenance and additional hair products to keep the perm looking nice. Leave in conditioners, deep conditioners, and styling products for curly hair are a necessity for proper perm maintenance. Are you and your child ready for the maintence efforts of a perm?

  • A loose wave perm, is still a perm. Another misconception is that a "body wave" is a better or safer option for a perm. The perm chemicals are the same regardless of the size of wave or curl. The only thing that changes is the size of the perm rod. A body wave is not a safer option and will not result in less frizz or dryness.

  • Beware of frizz and breakage. While perms have come a long way in terms of causing frizz and hair damage, they are still quite capable of leaving your childs hair a disaster, especially considering the more fragile nature of a child's hair. A poorly processed perm can result in major damage, frizz, and unmanagable hair. Are you and your child prepared to cut significant length off in the event that your child's perm goes drastically wrong?

  • Perms are expensive. The initial cost of a perm will typically begin at around $75 and can soar based on hair length, thickness, and the type of perm chosen. The costs don't stop there, as product costs will be significantly higher in order to properly care for your child's perm.

  • Perms take time. A properly rolled perm takes signifcant time to accomplish. At minimum a perm will take two to three hours on shorter, thinner hair and upwards of four to five hours for longer hair. Is your child capable of sitting still for two to five hours to get a perm?

  • Beauty is pain. As adults, we're used to enduring a little pain for a beauty treatment. For kids, pain is a big deal. The process of getting a perm can really hurt. The rods can be heavy and pull your child's hair. Rinsing is also a painful process. A sucessful perm requires a minimum of two five minute rinsing sessions, typically with the rods still rolled in the hair and pressing up against the sides of the shampoo bowl. It's incredibly uncomfortable. How well does your child deal with uncomfortable painful hair pulling?

  • Perms just aren't kid friendly. Kid friendly activities and perms aren't exactly a match made in heaven. Kids love to run and play, which can make the frizz in a perm make an appearance in a big way. Perms and pool water can be a giant disaster, causing additional dryness and even a green tint from the pool; I haven't even touched on what heat and humidity can do to a perm. I also don't know a lot of kids that want to spend any more time in the bathroom than they already do.

  • Most people hate their perm. The idea of a perm is almost always such a romantic idea. Beautiful waves seem like a dream come true, but in reality perms just don't pan out like we want them to. Fighting frizz, chemical damage, or uneven curl can be a nightmare. In my experience, most people get their first and last perm at the same time. Consider these additional red flags before you say yes to a perm.

My Recommendation
As a professionally licensed cosmetologist, I do not recommend perming a child's hair prior to puberty, even after I'd think long and hard before opting for a perm and prepare yourself with the proper knowledge to make sure you get a perm that you won't hate. Instead, embrace the options your child's current hair texture offers and explore ideas to give your child curl that isn't as permanent as a perm.

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