What to Know Before Perming Your Kid's Hair

It Might Seem Appealing But Consider the Consequences

Curly vs Straight Hair
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When it comes to hair, it seems like everyone wants what they don't have. People with thick hair wish it was thinner, those with dark hair envy the blond, and straight hair just seems boring when you have it. It seems like the dream for curls begins at a young age, and a perm is a seemingly logical step to make a girl's dream come true, right? How young is too young for a perm? 

This article is only discussing the in-salon service called a permanent chemical wave, or perm for short.

What Is a Perm?

Before you decide to perm your child's hair, it's important to understand what a perm is and what it does to the hair. Basically, hair is wrapped around a perm rod and a chemical called ammonium thioglycolate, sodium thioglycolate or glyceryl monothioglycolate is then applied to break down the structure bonds of the hair. These bonds are the building blocks of hair that cause it to be straight or curly. When the bonds are broken the hair is, quite literally, reduced to a mush-like state. After processing, hydrogen peroxide is applied to the hair, restructuring the hair's bonds and reforming the hair to the shape of the rod, creating curls.

Risks to Your Child's Hair and Scalp

Over the years it's likely been obvious to you that your child's hair changes as the years go by. Color, thickness, texture, and curls can go through several changes from birth until puberty, and sometimes even after that. Many recommendations from professional hair stylists to medical professionals indicate that chemically changing a child's hair before puberty is not recommended. Children's hair before this time is typically thinner and more fragile and can be easily damaged by even the most gentle perms.

The same holds true for your child's scalp. Children's skin and scalp are more tender, sensitive and prone to irritation or allergic reaction than teenagers' or adults'. It's the reason specially formulated shampoo, body wash, and sun protection is used for kids. The chemicals of a perm can be irritating. Perms can cause an allergic reaction in some cases, but more often chemical irritation can cause broken skin, hair loss, itching and in some cases chemical burns to the scalp and surrounding skin. It is important that a patch test is given to any child that is getting a perm to prevent serious problems.

Other Considerations 

While skin and scalp irritation is the primary focus for consideration as you decide whether to perm your child's hair, other considerations are also extremely important.

  • Perms require products. Many people are of the impression that a perm will result in carefree, fun hairstyle for their child. The opposite is true. Even the best perm can result in dry hair and requires regular maintenance and additional hair products to keep the perm looking nice. Leave-in conditioners, deep conditioners, and styling products for curly hair are necessary for proper perm maintenance. 
  • A loose wave perm is still a perm. Another misconception is that a body wave is a better or safer option than a perm. The perm chemicals are the same regardless of the size of wave or curl. The only thing that changes is the size of the perm rod. A body wave is not a safer option and will not result in less frizz or dryness.
  • Beware of frizz and breakage. While perms have come a long way in terms of causing frizz and hair damage, they are still quite capable of leaving your child's hair a disaster, especially considering the more fragile nature of a child's hair. A poorly processed perm can result in major damage, frizz and unmanageable hair. If this happens, the only solution might be to cut significant length off.
  • Perms are expensive. The initial cost of a perm is not cheap, although this varies greatly with salon and location, and can soar based on hair length, thickness and the type of perm chosen. The costs don't stop there; maintenance product costs add up, too. 
  • Perms take time. A properly rolled perm takes significant time to accomplish. At a minimum, a perm takes two to three hours on shorter, thinner hair and upward of four to five hours for longer hair. That's a long time to ask a child to sit in a salon chair.
  • Beauty is pain. Adults can endure a little pain for a beauty treatment. For kids, pain is a big deal. The process of getting a perm can really hurt. The rods can be heavy and pull your child's hair. Rinsing is also a painful process. A successful perm requires a minimum of two five-minute rinsing sessions, typically with the rods still rolled in the hair and pressing up against the sides of the shampoo bowl. It's incredibly uncomfortable. 
  • Perms just aren't kid-friendly. Kid-friendly activities and perms aren't exactly a match made in heaven. Kids love to run and play, which can make the frizz in a perm make an appearance in a big way. Perms and pool water can be a giant disaster, causing additional dryness and even a green tint from the pool; heat and humidity also wreak havoc with a perm. 
  • Most people hate their perm. The idea of a perm often involves a romantic idea of beautiful waves, but in reality, perms often just don't pan out like you expect them to. Fighting frizz, chemical damage or uneven curl can be a nightmare. It's often the case that people get their first and last perm at the same time. 


Avoid perming a child's hair before the teenage years. Instead, embrace the options your child's current hair texture offers; don't fight nature. Explore ideas to give your child curl that isn't as permanent as a perm.