How to Perm African American Hair

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Perm your hair at home.
Perm your hair at home. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

If you have never permed your hair before, it might be in your best interest to have it professionally done by a licensed and experienced hair stylist. Doing it on your own and messing with chemicals can result in a disaster. If you're confident you can do it, though, you can save some money by perming, also know as relaxing, your hair at home.

Things You'll Need

  • Perm/relaxer Kit
  • Friend to help you out
  • Rat-tail comb
  • Gloves
  • Applicator brush
  • Blow-dryer with a pic attachment
  • Towel

Purchase a perm/relaxer kit at a beauty supply store. Opt for a formula that has no lye (an ingredient that is very harmful on the hair and scalp) and is made for your specific hair type.

Don't wash your hair for a few days to a week before applying the hair treatment. The best time to apply a relaxer/perm is when the scalp is dirty.

Enlist a friend to help you out. Read the directions in the perm/relaxer kit thoroughly. Mix the ingredients according to the instructions.

Do a patch test on your hair first to make sure there aren't any negative reactions. If a bad reaction does occur, do not use the product and see if you can get a refund.

Apply petroleum jelly to the skin around your hairline, as well as your ears and the back of your neck. This will keep the chemicals from burning your skin. Your kit may come with a special jelly of its own to use instead of petroleum jelly. Next, part your hair into four sections and clip them up out of the way.

Take your applicator brush (many have a rat-tail end for easy parting) and dip it into the perm/relaxer mix. Be careful not to apply the chemicals directly onto the scalp or else you can get burned. Instead, apply the perm a little less than a 1/2 inch from the root. Continue to part and layer the perm until you've covered your whole head.

Once you've done your entire head, wait for the recommended amount of time given in the directions. However, if your hair takes really well to chemicals, you may not have to wait long. It is normal for a little burning or tingling sensation to occur, but if you begin to feel uncomfortable or start feeling a lot of pain, wash the perm out immediately.

Put on gloves and rinse out the perm/relaxer. If some happens to get on your bare skin, wash it off immediately. After you've gotten as much relaxer out as you can, use the special shampoo in the kit. Many change color to indicate that there is still chemical in the hair. Follow up with the kit's conditioner. Apply the leave-in conditioner if included and blow-dry with a pic attachment.

Tips & Warnings

  • To make sure the hairs get straightened, gently smooth your hairline with a fine-tooth comb while the perm/relaxer chemicals are in. This helps the hairs adhere to the chemicals.
  • To prevent the chemicals from doing long-term damage, do a deep-conditioning treatment once a week to keep your hair healthy, strong and free from breakage and excessive split ends.
  • Do not perm your hair too much or else you'll ruin your hair. At best, try to limit your perms to once every two to three months or whenever your roots/hair get too curly and hard to take care of.
  • The chemicals in perms can literally burn your skin. It is critical to do a patch test first to make sure your scalp, hair and skin are safe. If you get any perm/relaxer mix on your skin or in your eyes, immediately rinse with cool water.
  • Avoid scratching and picking at your scalp before putting the perm/relaxer in. If you do scratch or if you have open sores on your scalp, you'll feel it immediately once the chemicals come into contact with your scalp. It is ideal to have a healthy and undamaged scalp.

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