Can You Perm Bleached Hair?

The 1980s were a celebration of big hair and fashion trends that just might be making a comeback. With that, the rise of permed hair hit the mainstream as people strapped on their velcro Reeboks and made a dash to the salon to get their hair permanently curled. Admittedly, it was semi-permanent, but it felt like eons when it didn't go well, and your hair got damaged to crispy whisps.

These experiences were so dramatic that hairdressers like YouTube host Brad Mondo still use the '80s as the go-to reference for when perms go oh-so-wrong. But praise the hair gods — perms have been regaining popularity over the past couple of years. 

L'OFFICIEL reported that celebrities have been revisiting their approach to curls — some embracing their natural curls, while others look to achieve the goal with a perm. Along those lines, Selena Gomez has been skipping the straightener, showing off her natural waves, and adding to the buzz around the permed hair trend (via Cosmopolitan).

But part of the reason that we abandon perms is the potential damage. So with this in mind, are the new perm styles safer than their brittly-brutal predecessors? This is a question that has implications for everyone, but especially those with bleached hair.

Your hair type affects its ability to hold a perm

The good news is that perm formulas experienced a glow-up over the years. As a result, today's salon perms are gentler than in the past, according to Well + Good, who chatted with hairstylist Trey Gillen about this process. 

As with most hair-related decisions, Gillen advises those considering a perm to chat with a professional hair stylist first. Generally, people with virgin hair — that has never been colored — are great candidates for modern-day hair perming. But he's clear that colored, bleached, or thin hair might not be strong enough to be permed safely.

It's definitely a moving target. Nuances such as the texture, thickness, and overall health of your hair should be evaluated by a salon expert. Once a consultation has been done, a stylist will usually review the options. "Alkaline perms are the most damaging to your hair because our hair lives on the acid side of the pH scale," Gillen explained.

If you've consulted with a stylist and are still wanting to perm your bleached hair, proceed with caution. This is echoed by beauty outlets and scientists alike. A study done in association with McMaster University in Canada, published by PeerJ, showed that perming previously processed tresses might result in breakage of the hair. And that same caveat is heard from Style Craze — it is possible to perm bleached hair, but it must be done carefully.

If you have bleached hair, start here

The decision to perm bleached hair should not be taken lightly. If you decide to move forward with perming your bleached hair, there are ways to minimize the risks. The folks at Wow Skin Science note that already bleached hair works better than trying to perm and then bleach. This is because the perm solution that is used in salons today, is specifically meant for already colored hair. In terms of which chemical process is best, hairstylist Trey Gillen explained that acid perms are the least damaging (via Well + Good). 

Once your hair is bleached and permed, after care is crucial. The more chemicals and processes your hair endures, the more care it will need to stay healthy. As the perm trend continues to become popular with celebrities, Refinery29 chimed in with a reminder that it's especially important to upgrade your hair care products after a perm to ensure hydration, noting that you should use products known for moisturizing and hydrating your hair.

The most important takeaway is that the initial health of your hair will directly impact the results of your perm. And within that range, bleached hair is the most challenging to perm successfully due to its existing damage. 

So, if you're asking if you should think twice before getting a perm, the answer is yes. It is doable, but definitely discuss the risk factors with a professional hair stylist before perming bleached hair.