Common Misconceptions (Perm vs. Relaxer)

I will tell you today about the common misconceptions in the beauty and hair industry. Lets begin with the proper terminology for common services. We tend to use the following words incorrectly: Perm & rinse.

A permanent wave (perm), a service normally geared to caucasians or people with straight hair wanting to go curly. The active ingredient in a perm is Ammonium Thioglycolate.  The perming process includes roding the hair with perm rods after a clarifying shampoo, and applying a perm solution(not pleasently scented), which softens and swells the hair shaft. That sits  and processes for about 20 min (time may vary per individual),then the rods are thoroughly rinsed well and towel blotted dry. Then the neutralizing solution, which contracts the hair shaft to lock in the curl in to permanently mimic the shape of the rod that it is wrapped around, is applied and allowed about 5-10 min to process. The rods are removed and rinsed and you are left with a beautiful curly hair pattern. That is a perm.

A Relaxer is the correct term for chemically straightening the hair. The active ingredient in a relaxer is Sodium Hydroxide, Calcium Hydroxide, or Lithium Hydroxide depending on the type of relaxer (regular strengths, no-lye or lo-lye, sensitive scalp etc). This is the process of applying a creme based chemical (the relaxer) to the hair roots (if retouch) or entire shaft of hair (virgin relaxer). As the relaxer is being worked through (smoothed) the chemical begins to break down the textured structure of the hair, similar to a perm by softening and swelling the hair shaft, straightening the hair. When it is thoroughly rinsed it is then shampood with a neutralizing shampoo which contracts the hair to maintain the staightness, as well as seize the processing of the relaxer.

So when you go to recieve services from your hair care professional, you know the difference between a Perm and a Relaxer and the basics of the procedure. Remember these are chemical services that should be done by a professional. I just feel like clients should know what to expect from a beauty professional, how to ask for it properly and know what it is doing to their hair.

I will talk next time about the difference between a rinse, temporary, semi-permanant, demi-permanant, and permanant colors.

If there is a particular topic you would like me to address just leave a comment.

Your online Hair Care Professional


50 thoughts on “Common Misconceptions (Perm vs. Relaxer)

    1. Hi Nicole, my apologies for the late response. There are several ways to straighten your hair, do you want to simply flat iron it, try the round brush technique, or will you like to permanently straighten your hair. Either way if done properly NO your hair will not burn off. Which form of straightening were you interested in doing to your hair?

  1. If someone’s hair was relaxed before, but havent been for over a year, is that persone’s hair considered virigin and should that person get a virgin relaxer?

    1. Hi Anne, my apologies for the late response. This question really depends on the length of your hair, in most situations it will be considered a virgin relaxer, however if you didnt trim your hair in a year you will still have some relaxed ends, which will most likely need to be trimed off by now. Most importantly you have to understand your reason for going without a relaxer for that long and then deciding to relax again, that is the most important question at this point, because you dont want to shock your hair either.

      For example if you laid of the chemical with intentions on nurturing your hair (lets say jaw length) to proper health,after that year you will trim off the relaxed ends that are dameged and then re introduce your hair to the relaxer again being sure not to make the same mistake again, this will be a virgin relaxer yes.

      Now if your hair was longer, let say past your shoulders, and you had a pretty slow growth pattern, after a year you may not need a full virgin (root to ends) relaxer.

      Keep in mind that when your stylist is providing this service they will be able to differentiate the natural regrowth from any relaxed hair to assure a proper application. The terminology, virgin or retouch just depends on the outlook of the professional. One may say that anyperson with newgrowth more than a few inches is considered a virgin relaxer application, so they can be a price differential, another may only consider a person who has never had any chemical in their hair virgin.

      Its really simple “only relax what is not relaxed”, and always go to a professional for your chemicals.

      My job here is to bring clarity to you on any hair matter as a professional, I want you guys to understand your hair, let me know if this answered your question, if you have more questions, dont hesitate to ask.

      Know your hair and love your hair.

  2. I have a relaxer in my hair that was applied in March 2010 this year. I want to know if I can get a perm to get the curls I am looking for without my hair being damaged or falling out. In other words, can you get a perm after you have had a relaxer?

    1. No you cant get a Perm until your relaxer is fully grown out. Those are 2 completely different chemicals, the relaxers main active ingredient is sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide and a Perms active agent is ammonium thioglycolate. A perm curls straight hair and a relaxer straightens extremely curly or kinky hair.
      Yes your hair will definitely fall out eventually if the two are mixed. What texture is your hair naturally, you may have some other options to achieve the look that you want. Tell me a little more about your hair and hopefully i can help you determine what option is best for you. I hope i wasn’t too late responding….. and I hope this helps.

      1. Hi Morgan,
        If your texturizer was a sodium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide product then you have to wait until all of that chemical has grown out completely, then you will be able to get a perm. However remember what a perm does….makes straight hair curly.

        A few questions for you…..
        What about the texturizer you didnt like? and what style or texture are you trying to achieve and describe your natural hair texture?

        I would also recommend that you make an appt at a trustworthy salon in your area for a consultation to make sure that you get exactly what you want with the knowledge and understanding of what your hair is going through.

        Thanks for your comment
        Your Online Hair Care Professional
        Hair Addiction

  3. Hi, I wanted to do something with my hair. I just don’t know what. I have nice hair that I don’t want to ruin, damage, break, or most importantly my hair to fall out. I am mixed with black and white and my hair is curly but i am so sick of it I just don’t know what to do with it. I am sick of straightning it and it dried my hair out. So now I stopped straigtning it for 5 months now and I hate it because all i do is wear it in a bun and I am so sick of that style I want it straight!

    So my question: What is the healthiest way I can have my hair straight or in a better term what would be good for my type of hair? it is soft not rough or anything but kind of dry & its really curly. what is a good option for my hair? is perm or relaxer dangerous for my hair?


  4. Hello my Online Hair Care Professional,

    I’m more of an On The Run Hair Care Professional. I don’t work in a salon anymore and, mostly, only do the hair of my very closest friends who I’ve been doing for years and years so no stress. Well I’m supposed to do a virgin relaxer for a friend of a very close friend.

    I’ve done many relaxer retouches but this will be my first virgin relaxer since my cosmetology school days. You know the one – the completely inert, zero chemical, white fluffy stuff we slopped onto that poor mannequin’s rubber scalp and pretended we were worried it might burn. Well this is the real thing.

    So tomorrow I’m doing a strand test and then we’ll likely do the whole bit the next day or maybe the day after.

    Here’s my question: since you work over “dirty” hair and the dirtier the better for this sort of thing, would it also be true that you could work over styled hair? My thinking is this, if I flatiron her hair before I start I’d be able to get through it much faster. My girlfriend, who’s hair I retouch every month, has always had her hair ironed out first just because that is her default hairstyle but, of course, her hair isn’t virgin.

    Since this isn’t something I’ve ever heard of doing I thought I should ask someone who has perhaps had some actual experience with the process.

    By the way, no, I’m not completely insane, I’d iron it and then let it rest for a day before processing it so it‘s not hot when I start. I’m just thinking if I didn’t have to fight with the kinky curls just to get the product on I’d be able to do her whole head in the time given and her hair would be evenly processed all over.

    Am I completely insane?

    Sorry for the very short notice, I only just found your site today.

    Thanks for any advice you can offer,
    Your On The Run Hair Care Professional

  5. I am planning on getting a relaxer because my hair is extremely wavy and I was wondering how I should go about treating it afterwards. How do I keep it from becoming dry and brittle, also does it matter how many times should I wash it a week?

  6. Also, if I want my curls back, will I be able to get my hair styled that way or will my hair no longer hold a curl until teh relaxer wears off? How long does it take a relaxer to wear off?

    1. @ Tiara – You might want to look into the keratin complex treatment or a similar product to breakdown your curl and eliminate the frizz. This will make it much more manageable to wear straight and curly with out destroying your texture.

  7. Hello, thank you for the insights,
    I want to permanently perm my african natural blacxk hair now, wat are the best pdts? thx.

    1. @ Vivienne – Your welcome, I’m glad this information was useful for you. Have you read the other post? I will post another soon. You also want to be careful with your verbiage. Know the difference between an perm and relaxer. You also might want to look into the keratin complex treatment.

      Let me know if you have any questions, or would like me to address a particular topic.

      Continue to educate yourself about yourself. 🙂

    2. @ Vivienne – As far as products, ask your hair care professional about NuExpressions and Clio, try to stay clear of mizani, affirm, nairobi ( my personal opinion) and definitely any thing that is not professional.

  8. Hi I am an African American female wit medium fine hair. I have curls but they’re not really tight. I want to wear my natural curl or curly hair and was recently told that I should try a perm and not relaxer. So my question is … Is a perm used for caucasins the same as the carefree curl of wave nouveau used for women of color? I want to try a perm but want to know which one would be best to get. My hair is 90 % natural with a little relaxer on the ends. Haven’t had a touch up in about a year or so.

    1. Hi Marie, this is a very common concern among african american and mixed raced women. As far as you getting a perm, absolutely not, is it not the same process as a care free curl, and you will have to cut the relaxed ends off. I would suggest you look into the keratin treatments, which is not a chemical process which means no damage only repair.

      I use the Keratin Complex by Coppola, and it will give you exactly what you want. It is a treatment that eliminates frizz, increases manageability, decreases drying time and controls your curl. This treatment has become very popular over the last 3 or 4 years, and now there are more options. It used to be just one treatment that last for about 3-5 months and normally cost any where from $250 – $400. Now theres is a n express treatment that last about 4-6 weeks and normally cost between $100-$200, I call this one the “Try Me” treatment. Everyone that receives this treatment absolutely loves it. Let me know if this helps you and if you have any other questions or concerns.

  9. how come most people call “relaxer” a perm? all my life i have heard the word perm and the termed perm was used for your definition of relaxer. weird

    1. @ China – I know, can you imagine how frustrating it is for professionals who have to be able to relate to the term perm knowing that the client really means relaxer. The same is true for semi-permanent color and the over used term “rinse”, tweeze and pluck, etc. I will have more educational postings coming soon. Keep the comments coming so i know what you guys want to hear about. Thanks for your comment.

    1. @ Sheet Plastic -They are good, but keep in mind how quick technology changes. The best thing to do is try to stay up with the upgrades. They have discovered that ceramic plates are really porous and cause pulling and abrasion to the hair shaft. So the new and improved flat irons now have added tourmaline to the ceramic and the titanium has been really popular as well.

  10. When I was young I used to get relaxers in my hair. Then I had my hair permed and it broke off. I was told I couldn’t have my hair relaxed again. So I got perms every once in a while with good and bad results. My hair hasn’t been permed for over a year now. I want to know if I can get a relaxer put in now without my hair breaking off. In other words, can you get a relaxer after you have had a permanent wave.

    1. @ Mika -If the last time you got a perm was about a year ago, it really depends on how long your hair is, because you can not mix the two chemicals with out it causing breakage. So if you have cut all of the permed hair off, then you can get a relaxer if thats what you want. However I don’t know your hair texture, but if you were getting perms, then you might not need something as strong as a relaxer, you may just need a smoothing treatment, like the Keratin Complex or something similar. Check into all of your options and visit a hair care professional that you trust, have him or her analyze your hair and scalp and give their recommendation.

  11. Thanks for your knowledgeable explanation about perm and relaxer. I’ve been thinking for a long time that those elements are the same. What a shame! My question to you is that I have stopped using relaxer for almost two years, but now I’m tired of my hair, roller setting it or going to the farthest hair dresser, and got back to texurizer. I just had it a week ago. Can I get a perm? when it’s time to have a re-touch or to have a perm I have to grow all my texzer all over again? I belive my hair type is #5 or #6. look kinky but touch is ok.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Elsa, a texturizer is the same active ingredient as a relaxer just a milder chemical make up. You will not be able to get a perm after a relaxer or a texturizer because those are totally different chemicals in the perm as stated in the “Perm vs Relaxer” post. Im not sure what a 4 or 5 hair type is because it is impossible to categorize hair that way professionally. I say you really need to decide with your hair care professional, which direction you want to go with your hair, you have plenty of options. Most stylist will give a free consultation. I will begin doing online consultations in Jan, via skype.

      Thanks for your comment and keep peeking in to see what new post or discussions we have going on.

  12. After I went natural hair for two years, I went back to texurizer, because I found my hair hard to style it. The reason I had stopped hair relaxer was I got tired of having straight hair. But I found out using relaxer for about 16 years had changed my natural hair type. It got tight culy especilly at the roots. Any advice for me inorder to have a curly hair?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. HI Irie, If someone has a really tight curl as african americans do, and wants to loosen their curl like a perm. They will have to get a process similar to the Jherri Curl, because the hair needs to be straightened out in order to form that permanent uniformed curls. It it similar to the perm in procedure but it has an extra straightening step at the beginning. Keep in mind the difference between a perm and a relaxer, one straightens and one curls. I guess my question to you would be what state is your hair in now and what is your desired hair style?

      Thanks for your question

  13. Proper hair write-up, I truly feel this website wants significantly much more consideration. I’ll probably be once more to read much more hair topics soon, thanks for that info.

  14. Hi i was reading the comments from other and i guess i have the same question lol. I Got my hair relaxed in march 2011 so it woulnd be so curly and I am now wondering if i can get a perm to get my curls back. I im planning on getting it permed on Jan. or Feb of 2012. So im wondering if you think im giving it enough time to get the perm. My hair is about 20″ long. I would greatly appreciated ur response, thank you!

    1. Hi Lucy, if you got a relaxer which is a sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, or lithium hydroxide chemical it WILL NOT react well with an ammonium thioglycolate chemical which is the main ingredient in the perm. A relaxer is a chemical change that wont rinse out over time. So in plain you will have to wait until you grow completely out of the relaxer before you get a perm, in which case it sounds like by then you will have your natural back that you want. You can not overlap a perm with of a relaxer at all, you will definitely severely damage your hair.

      The only thing that I will suggest is that you curl it temporarily using physical change which is temporary until you shampoo again like a wet set or braid set technique until it grows out while cutting off the relaxer bit by bit if you don’t want to loose your length.

      I know this may not be what you wanted to hear, but I hope I got back to you before you did it.

      Let me know if you have any other questions and if this helped.

      Thanks for following my blog, and if you are satisfied with the information here, please tell your friends about it and continue to visit us. You can also visit my website at

  15. So what happens if you have naturally poofy hair but want it to become curly, instead of all nappy and wavy . Could you put a perm in that head ?

    1. Hi Louise,
      That is an excellent question, it all depends on what you consider poor hair and what you want to achieve. Your hair can be in poor condition due to a number of factors, from your scalp to the environment. Some of those things we can change and some we cant, but knowing the source of the problem is first. Even if it is hereditary that’s good to know as well, so that can be considered in scalp and hair treatments.

      Once the hair is in a stable condition, then you can decide with your hair care professional whether or not you would like to get a perm at that point. If so choose an appropriate product for your hair or if not wear your newly restructured rejuvenated, trained natural hair.

      Thanks for your comment
      Your Online Hair Care Professional
      Hair Addiction

  16. Hey, I am white and I just got a relaxer on my colored (almost black) hair. I had a perm put in it in July 2011 on 12/3/2012 my hair dresser sujested a relaxer. So we did. It fried the ends of my hair (where the perm was) I had long pretty one length hair. I went to someone else and they cut the (mess) (matted hair off) Now it is med length and layered. It is a huge change for me and it is very dry. Any tips on helping my hair. Oh I am 22 weeks expecting as well! ugh

    1. That is true, in a lot of cases the color of your skin will not dictate your hair texture. Even if a Caucasian person has thin hair but its curly and wiry in texture they can get a relaxer and the strength determined by the professional who has analyzed your hair and scalp. However I would give the clients all of their option for their desired style and also recommend for that client to consider a smoothing treatment, that will be less harsh on the hair.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  17. I’m trying to go natural , but would rather get a perm to see if I like curly hair , I hsve about an inch or 2 of new growth would it be okay to still get a perm on the previously relaxed hair

    1. Hi Shanice,
      That word “trying” scares me….I tell my clients that we figure out where we want to go and why, then we go there, its all about whether we drive, fly or walk.

      So before making any decisions you want to make sure you understand what you don’t like about your hair now and what you want to achieve with your hair for the future all things considered (style, texture, manageability, workout routines, daily routine, time, budget, etc.).

      Keeping in mind what a perm does to the hair (makes it curly) and your natural texture, then your hair care professional will determine the appropriate product for you.
      If you would like a looser uniformed curl pattern and your natural hair texture is a tighter curl pattern than the pattern that you wish to achieve, you will have to completely rearrange your curl pattern. In most cases it is a 3 step process (chemically remove existing curl, create curl pattern with rods, and neutralize) what most people refer to as curl rearrangers, or Jherri Curl.

      I hope this helped, let me know if you have any further questions, if I knew a little more about your situation I would be able to advise further but this should give you something to think about.

      Thanks for your comment
      Your Online Hair Care Professional
      Hair Addiction

  18. i know this is old, but I just proved to my hair dresser that a perm can be curly or straight. the term they used to put on the relaxers is ‘permanent creme relaxer’ meaning a long term relaxer vs a temporary one. but as things go, it is now generally accepted to say relaxer for a straightener and perm for a curly. But look up some old school relaxer kits, I guess the makers of the product would be wrong then??

    1. Hi, thanks for reading and commenting …. I can tell that you put some time looking into this topic, and as a professional cosmetologist I appreciate that. However I will have to correct some of the information that you received from a trichology, cosmetology and chemical perspective. The terminology has been socially altered over the years to the point where it is easier to explain something by using the wrong name for it. Being that this is so the product manufacturers fall in suite to sell their products. Looking at the majority of the relaxer kit customers that most of the time aren’t professionals so they are targeted according to what is familiar to them. That’s why you will find even today some of those relaxer kits use the term perm, some even use them both on the same box, but remember its marketing. The technical term in the cosmetology world is relaxer, based on the main ingredient being sodium/calcium hydroxide which relaxes the hair permanently. The term perm is actually short for permanent wave which is the actual service and the main part of the processes is to apply the permanent wave solution. There is many services in our industry that are permanent but we cant call them all a perm. Other terms have also been socially accepted but are technically incorrect as well. Some examples include; plucking your eyebrows, or getting your brows plucked when the correct term is tweezed, we pluck chickens (as I tell my clients). Another one is “We wash clothes and SHAMPOO hair”.
      I hope this helped clear up any questions or confusions of the origin of the word permm and how easily it can be misconstrued that you may have had and gave you a better understanding, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s