Why is my hair resistant to perms? Hint: maybe your hair is too long or too damaged

If your hair is resistant to perms it’s probably due to one of these five reasons:

  • Reason 1: your hair is too long
  • Reason 2: your hair is too chemically processed
  • Reason 3: your hair is too porous
  • Reason 4: mistakes in your perm technique
  • Reason 5: a previous professional misdiagnosis.


pelo muy poroso

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Today, I received a new client at the salon.

Usually, when a client comes for the first time, everything is expectation and joy.

However, the case of this client (whose name is Agustina) was completely different. Her face showed disappointment and sadness.



  Five days before she had had a perm in another salon. When I saw her, five days later, her hair had almost imperceptible waves. 

She came looking for a solution that I couldn’t give her because she wanted to perm her hair again.

Of course, as a stylist, I couldn’t fulfill her wishes because her hair wouldn’t resist it.


Unfortunately, she left as disappointed as she came in.

At least, after evaluating her hair, we were able to determine why her hair was being resistant to the perm.


What we discovered was that  her hair was too processed for the lotions to change its structure. 

  • Has something similar happened to you?
  • Have you had a perm and your hair was resistant to it?


Let’s analyze the possible reasons why her hair was resistant to the perm.

Some of these reasons are directly related to your hair.

Others, unfortunately, are related to the stylist who performed the process.

Let’s start with the hair.

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Reason 1: Your hair is longer than 30 centimeters.

know how much it grows

A perm is a chemical treatment used to curl the hair and add volume.

The process has two parts: wrapping the hair around rollers and applying the chemical treatment.


  For long hair that is down to the waist or a little less, the process becomes so complicated that, sometimes, the perm can fail. 


First, because the process takes many hours, and it’s very difficult to impregnate the entire hair surface with the perm lotions.

If parts of the hair are left uncovered by the perm lotion, the curl won’t form.


Also, if your hair is too long, the curl  won´t hold the weight of its own hair. Then, it’ll be misshaped. 

That’s why the first thing I recommend to my clients is that hair should be less than thirty centimeters long.


If it’s longer, it’s best to choose less defined curls, such as the well-known beach waves, where the curl is looser. The idea is to avoid risking the curl losing shape.


Was your hair less than a foot long?

Let’s keep looking for the reason why your hair was resistant to the perm.


Reason 2: The perm failed because the hair had undergone too many chemical processes such as coloring, bleaching, or even straightening.

with gloves

The more chemical processes on the hair, the higher the chances of damage and breakage. Chemical processes such as coloring, bleaching, or straightening, modify the structure of the hair and weaken it.

During the perm, two processes occur in the hair: reduction and oxidation.


  • Reduction Process

This process starts when the perm lotion is applied to the hair. This product can penetrate through the cuticle and reach the cortex.

Once in this area, the lotion will contact the existing keratin chains in the cortex to relax them by breaking some of their bonds and modifying their structure.

As the hair is rolled up in the curler, the keratin chains are arranged in a disordered way, i.e. differently from their natural shape.


  • Oxidation process

Once the keratin structure has been modified, the resulting shape has to be stabilized.  So, we go to the neutralization step.

This process is the opposite of the previous one. In this case, the broken cystine bonds are joined together. This cohesion takes place between the bonds that are closest to each other. Since the reduction left the cuticles open, the neutralizing product closes the hair cuticle and rebuilds the disulfide bonds.


 If your hair is over-processed, it won´t properly absorb the perm lotion to shape the curl. Aside from that, something even more serious happens: your hair will become weaker. 

Didn’t you apply any hair dye or any other chemical process?


Then, maybe your hair is too porous and the perm lotions cannot work properly.


Reason 3: on very porous hair, the perm lotion is quickly absorbed and eliminated. So, the hair isn’t fixed in the new shape.

Do you know what hair porosity is?

It’s the hair’s capacity to absorb and retain moisture. It’s affected by cuticle, which is the outer layer of the hair. It determines the ease with which moisture, oils, and other products get in and out of the hair.


  • High-porosity hair absorbs moisture very quickly because its cuticle is opened, i.e. it isn’t closed. However, just as it receives or absorbs moisture, it also loses it very quickly.
 If you have high-porosity hair, the perm lotion will quickly penetrate the cuticles, but it won’t manage to fix the hair in the new shape. 

Then, the curl shape won’t be defined.


If you still have doubts about your hair’s porosity, you can do a simple test to check it, called the flotation test:

  • Take a couple of hairs from your comb or brush and drop them into a bowl of water.
  • Let them sit for 2-4 minutes. If your hair floats, you have low porosity. If it sinks, you have high-porosity hair.


  • Now, if your hair has low porosity, had not been previously chemically processed, and had the right length for a perm, we should look for mistakes in the professional who performed the process.

Although I don’t like to talk about colleagues, I suggest you find out if technical issues were the cause for your hair being resistant to the perm.


Reason 4: technical failures during the perms.

eleccion de bigudies

Unbelievably, some professionals aren´t familiar with the perm process and make mistakes.

Those mistakes have to do with a lack of technique or negligence on the part of the professional.


Some of the most common mistakes made by professionals during a perm include:

  • The parting lines between each zone are poorly defined. So, the clamps or curlers excessively tighten and twist the hair.
  • The stylist got hair from different areas when wrapping the hair around the curler.
  • The stylist made a mistake when choosing the size of the curler. For example, if too thick a curler is used, the curl is too loose.
  • The strands didn´t curl well, leaving the ends out of the perm paper. This would make your ends frizzy, not curly.
  • How long did it take the hairdresser to wrap your hair around the curlers? If it took longer than twenty minutes, the technique would fail. The perm lotion would start to work on some areas before others.  As a result, your hair will have curls only in some areas. 
  • All the curlers have to be saturated when you finish rolling the hair. The same care should be taken when neutralizing so that the disulfide bonds are broken and successfully re-bonded.
  • The strands shouldn´t be stretched during the process to avoid damaging the hold of the curl.


Although perming seems like a simple process, it requires technique and knowledge. Still, it doesn’t end there. Your hair should also be healthy at the time of perming.


Reason 5: If your hair isn´t healthy or your hair type is not taken into account, it may resist the perm.


I don’t perm very damaged hair. It can only be determined by observing the hair very well.

Perm lotions should be left to work for less time in damaged hair. In those cases, curls fix very quickly.


 A good diagnosis of the hair type is important to correctly choose the strength of the perm lotion. 

A perm lotion that is too soft won’t break the disulfide bonds. Alternatively, a perm lotion that is too strong may damage the internal structure of the hair.



Have you been able to establish why your hair resisted the perm?


For a perm to be successful, you must take into account the product, the application times, and above all, the previous analysis of the condition of the hair.

If your hair is very damaged by previous hair coloring, straightening, or previous perms, it is advisable to wait until the cuticles of the hair fiber close. Then, proceed with a new treatment.

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