Best Hair Perm Kits

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

38 Models Considered
9 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
154 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best hair perm kits

Last Updated August 2019

If you were born with straight hair but dream of having full body, soft waves, or bouncy curls, a hair perm kit might be exactly what you need to get the locks you've always wanted. Often referred to as home perms, permanent waves, or just perms, these products make it possible to transform stick-straight hair into waves and curls with lots of body that will last for months.

It's the combination of rolling sections of hair around perm rods and processing them chemically that creates the long-lasting changes to straight hair. Once processed, hair relaxes a bit over the following few days, revealing a new look. And although giving yourself or a friend a perm is a process that requires some time and a little skill, it's well worth the effort for the possible hair-changing effects.

A perm requires a commitment to a different look for your hair. That's why choosing the right perm kit and understanding the steps involved are vital to getting results you’ll love. Continue reading for information, advice, and answers to consumer questions to guide you, and take a look at our favorite hair perm kits when you’re ready to buy.

There are different types of rolling methods for creating a variety of looks, from waves to spirals to corkscrew curls. Before using your hair perm kit, do a little research to find the wave or curl style you like best.

Key considerations

How does a perm work?

If you’ve ever set your hair with rollers or twisted it around a curling iron, you know that the curls don’t last long and might even flatten in a few hours on a humid day. When you perm your hair, however, the waves and curls can last for months, and they hold up to inclement weather and repeated washings. It’s the chemical process from the perm-waving lotion that changes the appearance of hair by breaking down and altering the hair’s internal structure. Wrapping the hair around perm rods then gives it a different shape in the form of waves or curls.

Items you need to perm your hair

Hair perm kits come with the basics, but they don’t contain all the perm necessities. You’ll get the chemical solutions you need, but you’ll have to supply other items.

Comb and clips: Before you roll your hair, you’ll have to divide it in sections with a comb. Clipping the segments in place will keep them out of the way when you start to roll your hair on to perm rods.

Paper end wraps: Most hair perm kits come with end wraps, but you might need more, especially if your hair is long and thick. That’s why it’s a good idea to have some extra wraps on hand just in case.

Perm rods: The type of waves or curls you prefer determines the size of perm rods you need. Perm rods very widely in length and circumference. Keep in mind that the thinner the rod, the tighter the curl. Jumbo-size rods are best for waves and loose curls.

Drip guard: This is typically a long piece of cotton that’s wrapped around your hairline once the perm rods are in place. It keeps the perm solution from dripping down your face and neck while it’s processing your hair. Some perm kits come with a drip guard and some don’t.

Timer: A timer allows you to keep track of the time as the perm solution sets so you don’t overprocess your hair. 

Towels: Have several towels handy to wrap around your neck while the perm processes to wipe up any spills, to blot your hair once you’ve rinsed out the waving solution, and to gently dry your hair after you’ve removed the rods and rinsed out the neutralizer.

EXPERT TIP

If you’ve never given yourself a perm before, it’s a good idea to practice applying end wraps and rolling hair segments to perfect your skills. This will improve your chances of ending up with smooth ends and well-defined curls.


Staff  | BestReviews

Perming pros and cons

Hair perm kits have the power to drastically change the appearance of your hair, but there are some downsides to the process and using the chemicals it takes to achieve a new do. Here is a closer look at some pros and cons to help you decide if a perm is right for you.

Pros:

  • Adds body to perk up flat, limp hair. The chemical process alters the shape of the hair shaft and plumps it to create a fuller look.
  • Develops waves and curls in straight locks. This is the primary reason consumers perm their hair.
  • Changes your look for months at a time. Although waves and curls loosen slightly over time and hair grows out straight at the root, most perms last about six months.
  • Cuts down time spent on daily beauty routine. It isn’t necessary to curl permed hair with rollers or a curling iron, so you can spend less time styling your hair each day.


Cons:

  • Takes time, skill, and patience. Rolling perm rods in the hair can be tedious, especially if you’re new to home perms. This step can also be time-consuming, plus you have to wait for the lotions and neutralizer to work.
  • Can damage and dry out hair. The chemicals that alter the hair are harsh and can lead to split ends and dry hair.
  • May cause frizz. This commonly happens when hair isn’t rolled correctly before applying the chemicals. You can help prevent frizz by placing end wraps precisely and rolling hair sections around rods evenly.
  • Requires commitment. If you don’t like the results, there isn’t much you can do until the perm fades or grows out. The chemicals that allow waves and curls to develop on straight hair aren’t easy to reverse, so it’s important to think of a perm as a months-long commitment.

The hair perm kits of years ago were notorious for having strong, unpleasant “perm” odors that often lingered for days. However, today’s modern perms are less offensive, and many of them have little to no odor at all.

Hair perm kit features

Chemicals

A hair perm kit includes a waving solution that’s used to set the curls and waves in the hair rolled on the perm rods. It also includes a neutralizer solution that is applied after the desired processing time.

Alkaline vs. acid

You can choose between alkaline and acid perms.

Alkaline perms have a pH level of about 9 to 9.6 and are best for healthy, coarse, and hard-to-process hair.

Acid perms have pH range of about 4.5 to 7 and are gentler on fragile hair. This type of perm is recommended for hair that is color treated, dry, or damaged.

Instructions

All hair perm kits come with instructions that walk you step by step through the perming process from start to finish.

Extras

Additional items that may or may not be included in the hair perm kit vary from brand to brand, and can include end papers, gloves, drip guards, and other solutions like activators or conditioners.

Hair perm kit prices

If you decide that giving yourself a perm in the comfort of your home is for you, the affordable price of hair perm kits is another selling point. Quality kits of different varieties, including alkaline, acid, and those for color-treated hair, range from about $8 to $20, with salon brands falling on the higher end of the price spectrum. When compared to what a perm costs at a salon, you can save hundreds of dollars by using a perm kit. However, remember that you’ll also have to purchase the rods and additional supplies, though they’re fairly inexpensive.

DID YOU KNOW?

It’s common to not like the way a perm looks immediately after the process is complete. If this happens to you, don’t panic! Perms typically “settle” in the first 48 hours, and during this time the curls relax a bit.

Tips

  • Condition hair first. Before you give yourself a perm, start by using a deep conditioner on washed hair. This will build up moisture, strengthen your strands, and provide extra protection against potential damage from the perm chemicals. However, don’t use a conditioner for at least 24 hours before you perm so the solutions can penetrate the hair more effectively. If your hair is severely damaged from heated styling tools, hair-color products, or other chemical treatments, hold off giving yourself a perm until it’s in better condition.
  • Wash your hair before you perm it. Most perms require your hair to be wet before you roll it anyway, plus hair that’s free of product buildup will process curl more effectively than hair that’s not clean.
  • Carefully follow the instructions that come with your hair perm kit. Don’t take any shortcuts or leave the waving lotion in your hair longer than indicated. Your results could be disappointing or you could damage your hair.

Other products we considered

If your goal in perming your hair is to end up with enviable body, the Zotos Quantum X-Body Perm is likely to give you the long-lasting results you want. This salon-quality acid perm isn’t too harsh, and it’s an excellent choice for turning straight strands into soft waves or loose curls. You’ll also appreciate that the scent doesn’t alert everyone that you just had a perm. Sometimes gray hair requires a little extra pampering to keep it soft and shiny. That’s why we love that the One ‘n Only Shiny Silver Perm for Gray Hair is formulated with these needs in mind. It contains argan oil and vitamins to soften hair, making it suitable for coarse textures, but it’s also gentle enough to use on fine hair. The chemicals are made to prevent silver hair from developing a yellowish tint, keeping your gray hue true. The kit includes a post-perm conditioner for an added softening boost.

Set aside at least two hours to use a hair perm kit and longer if you’re new to giving yourself a perm or you’re applying it to long hair.

FAQ

Q. My hair is too long to roll around standard perm rods. Can I still use a hair perm kit?
A.
The good news is that it’s possible put a perm in your long hair if you use a special technique called a piggyback wrap. Using this method, you place two perm rods in each section of hair. First you roll a section of hair from mid-strand to the scalp, then you wrap and roll the end to the first rod. It takes a little extra time and a lot of perm rods, but you’ll be able to perm the entire length of your hair with this technique. 

Q. What is a perm strand test and why should I do one?
A.
Think of a strand test as a trial run that gives you an indication of how long you’ll need to leave the waving lotion on your hair, or in other words, how long it will take to get the type of curls you want. To do a strand test, once the rods are in place, select one rolled segment of hair and apply the waving solution. Check it periodically to see how well the curl “takes” before you proceed with the rest of the perm. While not everyone performs a strand test, it’s especially important to do one if you’ve never permed your hair before or if your hair is very dry or damaged. This will help prevent overprocessing your hair.

Q. How long do I have to wait to wash my hair after using a hair perm kit?A. It’s best to wait at least 48 hours before washing your freshly permed hair to securely lock in the waves or curls.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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