Atelier Benoît Poirier d'Ambreville

Self Magazine – Are you bored with your hair?

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An ’80s-era staple, the perm is making a comeback—with a few improvements. Our reporter tries it out.

Self Magazine – I got my first perm in 1988. In exchange for my babysitting cash, I received ringlets so tight they turned my ear-length bob into a pouf worthy of a poodle. My fifth-grade cheeks, already plump, looked impossibly pudgy. I’ve embraced my hair’s natural straightness ever since, until recently. For months, I had been seeing curls everywhere—on celebrities, on the streets and at work, where, as a beauty editor, I think a lot about hair. By comparison, my thin strands seemed anemic. Then Cristophe, owner of salons in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., mentioned his updated perming technique to me. That same week, I heard of another top salon promoting perms. The idea of beachy waves was sweeping me away. I landed at Cristophe’s New York City home, the Roy Teeluck salon, for the second perm of my life.

What a difference 17 years makes. The chemicals still stink as they dissolve the hair’s bonds and then build new ones while you’re in curlers, but the simi­larities end there. Instead of small rollers, technician Benoit Poirier d’Ambreville used fat rods. To separate hair into sections, he zigzagged the hair at my scalp to avoid a kink where the curls start. I was left with waves and rock-star volume – as if my hair had been fed prime rib. To me, that’s worth the $150 to $250 price and the every-three-months maintenance

Tempted to try it? At your salon, ask which rods are used and be specific about how you want your hair to look. Big sections of hair, spiraled around big, bendy rods, make looser curls. Also consider a few other things I learned:

Perms aren’t for everyone. Benoit Poirier d’Ambreville used a solution (Dulcia from L’Oreal Professionnel) that encapsulates chemicals in protective conditioners. My hair is much healthier than it was after my childhood perm, but it is a bit drier, so I wash my hair less often (every three days) and I use more conditioner. But if your hair is very damaged, take a pass on a perm.

Your hair gets lighter. My shade (and highlights) didn’t seem different to me, but a few people asked when I had coloured my hair. If you’re particular about tone, color after a perm.

You need new products. I traded my volumizers for curl-enhancing cream, curl spray and a diffuser for my hair dryer. Willingly!

You can still go straight. When blow-drying, it took more time and more serum than I was used to, but my hair was smooth until my next shampoo.

Thick hair gets special treatment. A stylist may perm only 70 percent of hair with a lot of body. Mixing texture keeps it from becoming too voluminous, Cristophe says.

You can test-drive it. The pro treatment Nexture by ISO ($85 to $95; ISOHair.com) creates new bonds in hair without disolving the original ones. The waves last up to 20 shampoos.

You’ll love seeing how the curly half lives. It took a few days to get used to, but now I can’t even think about going back.

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