Facts You Should Know About Perming (Pt. 3)

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Since some of you may have some general questions lingering about permanent waving, I'll quickly go over some generalities that might some common issues:

1. Ammonium thioglycolate, the active ingredient in permanent waves, is extremely drying to the hair. Proper moisturizing is therefore a must, accomplished by applying glycerin and propylene glycol-rich sprays, cremes, lotions and/or gels on a frequent basis. A good hydrating and detangling shampoo should be used for cleansing, followed by a deep penetrating re-moisturizing treatment.

Cystine-skeletal.png 2. With repeat perm applications (every 12 weeks or so to treat new growth), the previously permed hair loses additional cystine bonds and incurs greater damage. As a result, the hair is further dehydrated, and the ends may become straight, stringy or broken. A great deal of care, therefore, must be taken to condition the hair well after every shampoo, and the ends should be trimmed with each repeat application.

3. Due to market demand, manufacturers typically package professional perm processing components in bulk sizes. Thioglycolate in Rearrangers or Reshaping Creams and lotions loses efficacy over time and exposure to air. Due to this fact, professional permanent wave products are subject to inconsistent performance, yielding unpredictable results. Therefore, it is recommended that stylists purchase more moderate-sized components for perming and refrain from leaving the jars and bottles open longer than absolutely necessary.

4. As sleeker styles come into vogue, many clients have requested transitions to relaxed hair. Permed hair definitely should not be treated with standard relaxer formulas since sodium hydroxide, as well as guanidine hydroxide (no-lye formulas), react very rapidly on permed hair, inducing excessive damage. Clients must be counseled to wait until there is sufficient new growth before a relaxer treatment is applied, and advised that eventually the permed portion of the hair will have to be cut off. "Restructuring" from curly to straight may be attempted with mild guanidine hydroxide relaxers when there is sufficient new growth. In this process, the relaxer is combed through the previously permed hair only during the final 2-3 minutes of processing.

5. Despite the marketing promises of many brands, permanent waves cannot effectively go through significant style transformations (i.e., from the original curly texture, to a straight relaxed look, and back to curly again) on a repetitive basis. The client will not like the end result. Manipulation of permed hair with heated appliances such as blow dryers and curling irons, and even roller sets, will weaken the curl pattern significantly. After repeated attempts to achieve a relaxed look, the perm will not spring back to its original form.

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hey Dr Syed! I love your blog. Can you please explain what propylene glycol does for the hair please?


Hi Dr. Syed. Thanks once again for all of this useful information. I sent you an e-mail. Take care...Nakia

Hi Dr Syed Would you recommend protein treatments or protein deep conditioners periodically (plus moisture of course)to assist the reformation of the cystine bonds? I'm also thinking that this could be used to strengthen the hair a week or two before it's permed or afterwards to help repair the damaged bonds. I hope I've understood the informaton in Paragraph 2 correctly! Thanks, L2L


The propylene glycol is a solvent for some of the conditioning agents and it is a milder conditioning agent as well. It also acts as an anti-freezing agent for the product during extreme winter and enhances the product stability in extreme cold weather.


The protein conditioners are fillers for the chemically damaged hair. They do not reform the broken cystine bonds. The proteins that are absorbed by the hair may strengthen the hair. The amount of protein has to be optimized for strengthening hair. A little amount of protein or too much of protein may not strengthen the hair. Therefore, the formulating chemist has to find the right amount of protein and right type of protein that would strengthen the hair using a very sophisticated Tensile Strength Measuring Instrument. Many cosmetic companies do not own such an expensive equipment or conduct research using such machinery. Avlon's Research Center routinely conducts these tests on their products.

Normally, the protein conditioners are used after the chemical process and as maintenance conditioners.

Dr. Syed:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the comparison study that was conducted on the levels of irritation caused/suffered by participants who are subjected to a lye or no-lye application. The results of the study demonstrated that no-lye agents/applications are not only less irritating and but they are just as effective in straightening/relaxing the hair. My question to you pertains to the overall health/welfare of the scalp, shaft and ends; which agent (lye or no-lye is more beneficial/less harsh)...the no- lye agent/application as well?

I know that guanidine hydroxide is less harsh to the scalp and there is significantly less irritation imparted to the scalp. The hair damage however is slightly less with sodium hydoxide relaxers. Therefore, one should use each relaxer according to the hair and scalp needs. If a person has a sensitive scalp, they should be treated with the guanidine relaxer (sensitive scalp relaxer). On the other hand if a person has a normal scalp, they should be treated with sodium hydroixde relaxer.

Dr. Syed,

Thank you very much for this informative post about perming. I have some very urgent questions.
It has recently become very difficult for me to continue my permanent wave touch-ups because I cannot find a salon that specialises in the type of perm I have. I am considering perming myself. I really think I can do it but is there anything you would advise me to do to make sure I get good results?
Second question, in the event that I need to switch to a relaxer, am I to understand that a no-lye relaxer applied to ample new growth would be as least damaging as possible to my hair? Would applying the same activator on the permed hair (an even the relaxed hair) minimise the damage and possibly even prevent it?

Thanks a lot in advance!

Hi Lina:

I would urge you to not perm your hair yourself. I recommend that you get professional help, that is go to a hairstylist. If you are having difficulty finding a hairstylist who does permanent waves, let us know and we will send you some recommendations.

Again, if you want to switch from a perm to a relaxer, it must be done by an expert hairstylist as it is a potentially damaging process. The Sensitive Scalp relaxer mild strength may be the way to go. But make sure you have a good three inches of new growth which is equivalent to 6 months of new growth. The hair stylist should first straighten the new virgin growth and then spread the mild strength to the permed hair for only 5 minutes.
Follow the directions carefully as supplied by the manufacturer for this process of switching from permanent waves to relaxers.

I hope I answered your questions.

Dr Syed

Dr. Syed
I bought a large container of Relaxer last summer and now I am wondering, what is the shelf life of a gentle relaxer?


The stability of a relaxer can vary from brand to brand. Normally, a good relaxer could be good for 2 years from the date of manufacture. It should have an expiry date on it too. For example, Avlon prints expiry date on all of its products.

Dr Syed


The stability of a relaxer can vary from brand to brand. Normally, a good relaxer could be good for 2 years from the date of manufacture. It should have an expiry date on it too. For example, Avlon prints expiry date on all of its products.

Dr Syed

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