A Quick History of The Permanent Wave (Pt. 1)

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I recently received a request for more information about permanent waving, which I must admit, was a bit of a surprise since I haven't noticed many stylists performing the permanent wave service lately.

Avlon's permanent wave system is the Ferm Permanent Waving System, which consists of a 4-step system along with various maintenance products depending on the need.

I figured that it would be nice to start a mini-series on the topic and cover the topic more in-depth.

But before getting down to the chemistry of permanent waving, which is technically my favorite part, its probably a good idea to quickly go over the history of the permanent wave.

History of Permanent Waving:

Marcel Grateau and Karl Nessler could be considered the founding fathers of permanent waving. The desire to change one's appearance of their hair from time to time was probably the biggest factor that gave rise to the field of permanent waving. As we all know from our own human behavior, one look or one style becomes boring after a certain period of time.


In 1872, Marcel Grateau developed tongues that he would heat and then manipulate to thermally and temporarily curl the hair. His invention was ingenious at the time, in the sense that the practice of thermally curling hair still exists today, and in almost the same exact form.


Karl Nessler

Around the turn of the 20th century, Karl Nessler developed a system that is closer to the present day method, which combined the chemical process with the thermal process. Using an alkali chemical combined with heated brass rollers, he developed a cumbersome machine that was capable of permanently curling hair.


Marjorie Stewart Joyner

Ms. Marjorie Stewart Joyner was the first patent-holder in the US for a permanent wave machine in 1928, becoming the first female African American to receive a patent. Stewart got the idea for her machine from a pot-roast cooker, which employed 16 pencil-shaped pot roast rods connected to an old-fashioned hair dryer hood and then joined together with a single electrical cord. Her invention was developed for African American women who wanted to change their hair's tight curl to a wave, but the machine also found another use in helping Caucasian women add curl to their straighter hair. Curls from her machine lasted longer than regular thermal styling, and she also developed a scalp protector to help keep the patron comfortable.

In 1941, Evans and McDonough were the first one to use thioglycolic acid in the "Thio Cold Wave", which revolutionized the permanent waving industry and laid the foundation for the modern permanent waving method. Since the development of thoiglycolic acid (ammonium thioglycolate) a tremendous amount of research has been conducted in this area and quite an array of studies on permanent waving exist as literary sources.

jheri-redding.jpgJheri Redding - Founder of Redken, Jhirmack, & Nexxus

Permanent waving has been popular among consumers with straight hair for many years. However, permanent waving was long thought to be impossible for consumers with excessively curly hair. In 1976, it was Jheri Redding who first started to experiment with permanent waving on excessively curly hair using small toothpicks for rolling the hair. This technique created a style that left the hair tightly curled yet still like the "Afro" style that was popular during the mid 1950s through the 1960s.


Dr. Willie Morrow

Later on, it was Willie Morrow who perfected the art of perming excessively curly hair. First, he would use ammonium thioglycolate cream for straightening the hair. Next he would wrap the hair on normal perming rods of various sizes. He would then perm the hair one more time with a permanent waving lotion called "curl booster". Finally, he would use a sodium bromate solution as a neutralizing solution, in order to avoid lifting the natural dark pigment of the excessively curly hair.

These early perms were very drying to hair, so the hair needed a strict daily regimen consisting of glycerin based products, known as curl activators, in order to combat the dryness and frizziness of the curled hair. The permanent wave process was further improved along with maintenance products and the ethnic hair care market experienced a tremendous growth spurt that continued well into the late 1980s. For the first time, men and women were able to wear their hair in carefree styles that required very little maintenance as compared to chemically straightened hairstyles.

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While we're still on Part 1, can you briefly comment on Marjorie Stewart Joyner?

The Jheri curl hairstyle that was so popular amongst African Americans throughout the 70s and 80s was invented by Willie Morrow and named after Jheri Redding, the man who made it popular.

Sure Fahiym, from what I gather, Ms. Marjorie Stewart Joyner was the first patent-holder in the US for a permanent wave machine (around the 1920s), and she was also the first female African American to receive a patent, both of which are huge accomplishments.

Apparently she got the idea for her machine from a pot-roast cooker. Curls from her machine lasted longer than regular thermal styling, and she also developed a scalp protector to help keep the patron comfortable.

Unfortunately, Ms. Joyner wasn't able to reap many financial benefits from her patent, which is something I can empathize with, but I admire the fact that she was a philanthropist and even went back to school and earned a degree well into her old age.

I just learned about Ms Joyner this past February in an exhitbit at the Bronner Bros Hair Show. I was so surprised as there is no mention of her in the textbooks of cosmetology. Reading here that she also developed a scalp protector reminds me of a certain chemist whose concerns are the health of the clients hair and scalp. Thanks for the update, Doc.

Dr. Syed, thanks so much for posting this information - I truly appreciate it. Just gotta figure out the best way to pass this on to my readers.

I think the reason curly perms are much less popular nowadays is that people still think of them as greasy, wet-look, loose-waved/tightly-curled styles!

Also, thanks so much for this information, it's really hard to get any, even from the makers of curly perms themselves.

Dear Dr. Syed,
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Thank You Syed

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