My No-(Sham)Poo Perm Experiment

I first heard of the no-shampoo method of haircare (dubbed the “no-poo” method) when I read the book “Curly Girl” by Lorraine Massey in 2004. My hair has always had a bit of curl, and I bought the book out of curiosity to see if it could help me get more out my hair’s natural wave. The book is sub-titled a curly hair “manifesto,” and it really does read like one. It’s fun and inspiring, but ultimately the methods described in the book just did not work on my baby-fine, fairly limp hair. I tried all the products and strategies, including going “no-poo” for about four months. But eventually I concluded that while the Curly Girl method probably worked great for women with very curly hair, for someone like me with just a touch of wave it was less successful. I abandoned it, but always kept in mind the styling tips for times when I wanted to use get more out of my hair’s natural wave, and I still believed Massey made some great suggestions for curly-haired persons.

Fast forward to getting my perm in July of 2014, and spending many weeks figuring out how to manage it. I liked it right away, and expected to need some time to adjust to having an all-new head of hair. One of the things I decided to try again was the no-poo method. I found that after the perm calmed down I had less spring in my curls than I would have liked, and of course my hair was particularly dry after all the chemical processing. Another reason (besides just being in an all-around hair-experimenting mood) was how awkward it felt to use shampoo on my hair after the perm – lathering up felt downright unpleasant, because my hair would immediately foam into a mass of tangles, and my fingers would snag into all these snarls of hair, and it was a pretty awful experience. So one night while in the shower, I remembered the no-poo method and decided to try using conditioner instead, like I did way back in the day.This time, I’m experiencing terrific results with it.

There’s lots of information out there about how to go ‘no-poo,’ but on a basic level it requires using nothing but conditioner to wash your hair. The theory is that shampoos are drying and damaging as well as unnecessary, because you can use your conditioner to cleanse your hair as effectively as you can a shampoo. Once again, when trying this before I had a perm and my hair was just a bit wavy, I did not care for the results at all and got no extra bounce or curl out of my hair. But with the perm- WOW. The difference has been striking.

The secret, at least for me, is to use a TON of conditioner as a cleansing agent. I put a load of it in my hair and scrub vigorously at the scalp to loosen any dirt or product residue, then only lightly scrub the rest of it. I use so much conditioner that it almost lathers. With the perm, this is much easier to do than use shampoo, because my hair doesn’t tangle, so it feels like it gets cleaner – but I do scrub at it for quite a while. And did I mention I use a ton of conditioner? Then I rinse that out, continuing to scrub my scalp for cleansing purposes. Then, I actually put more conditioner on it to use as, well, a conditioner, and leave that on my hair while I finish showering up. Then I rinse that out and follow up with my DevaCurl No-Comb Detangling Spray.

Now being me, I’ve got before and after photographs to share, because ever since I got the perm I’ve been taking tons of pictures of it. So yay for photographic evidence. Here is a photo taken before going no-poo. I’d just re-wet my hair, added spray gel, and diffused it after washing it with shampoo and adding mousse the night before:

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And here’s a photo taken using the exact same styling process (washed and moussed the night before, then wet down , spray-gelled, and diffused the next morning) but washing only with conditioner and forgoing the shampoo:

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Even though my fill flash was bit more harsh in the ‘before’ photo, that’s the only difference between the two shots. The amazing thing to me is how after washing without shampoo (the second photo), my hair didn’t get all crunchy when adding product. It stayed soft, as if my hair absorbed the styling products better than in the before photo, when they appear to have stayed more on the surface (not very technical descriptions here, since I know nothing about how hair products actually work) and gotten crispy. Again, I promise I did absolutely nothing different styling-wise between the two photos except for wash one night before with shampoo and the other night without it.

Here’s another example that’s even more dramatic.  The photos are iPhone ones and are pretty horrible; in the “before” shot I was at LensCrafters trying on new frames so the picture is particularly bad (no, I did not end up getting those glasses, and I’m frowning because I had on fake glasses instead of real ones and literally could not at all see what I was doing when I took the shot) and once again I’d washed my hair with shampoo the night before, then done my usual styling routine as previously described (I’m sure by now you’re tired of reading how it works so I’ll stop describing it). In the after shot, once again, the only thing I’d done differently was wash my hair with conditioner only:

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I mean, WOW, right? That’s a huge difference! Even though Massey claims in her book that it can take weeks to see positive results from this method, I’m seeing a pretty dramatic change right away. Perhaps this is because it’s a perm? I don’t know what it is, but so far I am loving it. It’s not even been a week yet, so we’ll see if it continues, but for now? No shampoo for me!

 

Another Perma-Post: The Perm Summary

So, Day 4 post-perm is over (see part 1 and part 2 of the saga at the links), and so far the hair is a hit. I went to lunch with an old friend on Sunday and didn’t mention the perm at all until right before we parted ways, and she was totally surprised – she said she thought it was just my hair un-blowdried (not a word, sorry). I thought that was a pretty nice compliment.

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A little bit of end-frying there, but not bad

On Monday I tried not washing it for a day, but then I went and put way too much extra product in it and it got crunchy and heavy. Total user error there; I am now in the stage of trying to figure out a whole new hair routine so I’m bound to make mistakes. I’ve never been one to go days without washing my hair, it makes me crazy to go every other day even, but I do think it would be better for my hair to wash less frequently, so we’ll see if I can find a way to pull that off now. I read Lorraine Massey’s book Curly Girl years ago (since my hair does have some curl) and tried to follow her “no ‘poo” rules but I just couldn’t swing it, and chalked it up to my hair being so fine and limp that it made it impossible. But maybe I can work some no-‘poo days into my routine now, days where I just cleanse with conditioner and skip the shampoo altogether (hence the phrase “no poo”). Then again, maybe not; one of my friends who used to perm her long hair regularly said she actually felt like she had to shampoo it more, not less, and she regularly goes three or four days without washing hers un-permed.

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I was actually using my macro lens for these shots, hence all the close-ups

Other than that, I have been using Moroccan Oil on the ends especially (blog follower Alma suggested Emollient by Aveda, but I didn’t have any on-hand and read online that it was a gloss so I thought this was similar), which has really helped with the frizz. I have two bottles of that stuff based on a friend’s insistence I buy it about a year ago – never had any use for it until now, but it’s been great so far. I also picked up Aussie’s 3-Minute Miracle moisturizer but I haven’t yet that yet, and I’ve been using Framesi’s Curl Shampoo and Conditioner when I do wash it. I put plain old grocery store mousse on it when it’s wet along with the Moroccan Oil, and have tried out various other products just to play around and see what I like.

I’m also trying to figure out what products are best to use and doing a lot of experimentation, so I’ve amassed a little arsenal of bottles to use. Probably I’ll end up sticking with my old favorites, but it’s been kinda fun to try out new things here and there. I haven’t gotten to the “Sea Salt Spray” yet because I’ve read it can be drying (which my hair does not need right now), but it sounded so tasty I had to buy a bottle (hey, remember when there was beer in shampoo? Yep, me too).

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…but don’t drink it!

So if I had to sum up the whole hair-perm experience at this point (and I know it’s still too early to do so, but that won’t stop me from trying) I’d recommend the following, if you’re considering one:

  • Go to a stylist who does perms at least semi-regularly, even if that means it isn’t your usual stylist. I went to a guy named Philippe who said most younger stylists don’t know how to do perms since they’ve been out of favor for more than 20 years, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. He did a good job though, and he was 60, so take that with a grain of sea salt. Or not.
  • If the stylist doesn’t insist on a consultation before giving you a perm, run from them. He or she should want to know about the condition of your hair and if it’s been chemically treated recently before jumping in. I called two places to make appointments for perms, and both salons insisted on a consultation before they would book it, so I felt good about going to either place (one could see me sooner than the other though, which is why I went where I did).
  • Having dyed hair does not rule out getting a perm, but talk to the stylist about it, and keep in mind that chemicals from the perm will lighten dyed hair a shade. And bleach is more problematic than plain old hair dye, so be sure to talk to the stylist about your highlights or if you’re a bottle blonde.
  • Be prepared for a shock at first if you’ve not had a perm before or in a long time; I could be wrong but it seems to me that no matter what kind of perm you say you want, there’s a good chance you’re going to look like a poodle initially, so you need to be prepared for that (still not sure mine is ever going to tone down into waves, but in my case, I like it fine as is and am not worried about it. But it’s way curlier than I asked for).
  • Don’t be averse to getting a cut at the same time; Philippe wanted to cut my hair also but I’d just spent $75 on a haircut the week before (then impulsively decided to get the perm a week later) so I insisted he not do this, but – I should have allowed it. My non-perm cut was almost entirely devoid of layers, and post-perm I’m still thinking it’s going to need more shape. So a new cut is in my future. Going from straight to curly will most likely require a different shape, so don’t be too committed to keeping the same exact cut.
  • Don’t judge the perm too quickly! It takes a few days for your hair and your nerves to settle down, so I’d caution against going home and immediately trying to wash the perm out or buying chemicals at Sally’s Beauty Supply to “reverse” it. When reading the Google results for OMG I GOT A PERM AND I HATE IT, I found loads of people recommending immediately washing the hair to “wash the perm out,” and that sounded crazy to me even in my frazzled state. I mean, I wanted the perm, so why would I immediately flush all that money ($125) down the drain just because it didn’t look like I thought it would? I’d recommend giving it at least 2-3 days before attempting to change it, and even then, go see the stylist for help.
  • If it’s your first perm, try to schedule the appointment when you at least have the weekend to hide out and let the hair calm down. I had several days to stay home and acclimate to the new me, and knowing I didn’t have to see anyone else right away really helped calm me down when I went into intermittent freak-out modes.
  • Go back to your stylist in about 4-6 weeks for a trim to get any damaged ends snipped off.
  • Don’t perm it yourself! Go to a salon, unless you know someone who is a trusted stylist and is willing to do it for you. But even then, proceed with caution!

So, did I miss anything? Am I way off the mark with any of this? Let me know if I am, or if there’s anything else we should add.

Here’s one more pic – my skin is WAY over-softened here because I actually was hot when taking these pics and my makeup was melting, so it looked awful in the original and took a lot of work to repair (too much work, I think, but hey, it shows the hair).  Our air conditioner is out on my side of the house so it gets sweltering during the day…getting that looked at Monday night. It’s always something around here!

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Too much Photoshop made me look doughy, but still, that’s way better than looking sweaty.

I’ve written a lot more about this whole perm experiment, but it’s too many posts to link. Just type “perm” into the search bar at the top right of this page if you actually want to read more about this for some insane reason.

Got Perm, Will Travel

I couldn’t think of a better title, sorry. Hey, if you have one let me know and I’ll change it! Moving on.

Well the three or four of you that read here regularly know I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a perm for awhile now. About a year, in fact. I love curly hair, and I like my hair curly when I can get it to actually curl without falling out halfway through the day. Recently I bought this styling tool called a ‘bubble wand’ that can create lovely beach waves in the hair – when it works. As with all things heat-styling, my ability to consistently create the same result from it each time was sketchy at best; sometimes it came out great as in the photo below:

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And sometimes it just looked unbrushed and sloppy (for obvious reasons, I do not have photographic evidence of this). When it looked great, I loved it to death – enough to bother with the 15-20 minutes or so it took to style it each morning (and in spite of my concerns over what all that heat-styling was doing to my hair). Well, after two days of attempting to use the bubble wand and having it turn to mush almost immediately and being ticked off at losing twenty minutes of my time only to end up with it in a ponytail at the end  of all that, I decided to go for a consultation to get a perm. I’d been reading and researching and debating about this for some time, so I knew the risks as well as the flat-out truth that I was going to be frying my hair, it would need time to recover, and I was most likely going to hate it the first week or so. I was also prepared for it not to look anything like the photo above, because perms rather do their own thing depending on the hair of the person who’s getting one. I felt ready to take the risk.

I also knew you needed to go to someone who does perms regularly, even if that person is not your regular stylist. I knew my regular stylist did not give perms, and I also knew, based on an article about perms that came out in the newspaper two years ago, that the salon where I get my nails done has a few stylists that do them (the article was on how perms are “coming back,” which I have been reading about for a years or so, ever since I started to get the desire to try one) so while I was out running errands Thursday I called the salon and set up an appointment for a consultation. We met, I showed him the above photo, he told me my  hair would work fine with a perm, and we got down to it. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer:

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Yyyyyeah, not exactly like the big waves of the previous picture. But I expected that. Everything I’d read in the past year said I’d have to wait at least a week to get the curls I wanted, and that my hair would look like a frizzball at first while I waited for that to happen. But it was still a huge jolt when I put on my glasses for the first time and saw it (one thing about getting anything done to my hair – I have to take my glasses off so the stylist can work. which means I never know what is happening to my hair until it’s over and I can put my glasses back on). The whole experience at that point became quite odd – I was in shock and just trying to process (no pun intended) what was going on with my hair and stay calm, while also trying to get a read for what other people were thinking about it. And, get this – it was July 3rd, around 5:30 PM at this point, and I was literally the only client in the salon. I guess everyone else was already heading out of town for the holiday instead of getting their hair done. This salon is quite nice and incredibly big (a  huge two-story building) and none of  the other stylists or technicians appeared to have clients, so, there were loads of people standing around while I was trying to remain calm and get out of there, and not one of them looked at or said anything to me while I was at the register.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time reading people in my years of wig-wearing, going out in some fake hair and trying to get a sense of whether or not others are noticing what’s on my head, so I immediately shifted into that mode, and the lack of reaction felt ominous – this was a hair salon after all, so it’s pretty typical for the receptionists to at least comment on whatever it is you just had done to your hair, especially when it’s something drastic. But then again, I don’t normally get my hair done there, just my nails, so maybe I’m wrong about that. For my part, I was still shaking a little bit, and the only thought that was going through my head was “oh my God, I’ve ruined my hair.” I finally asked the woman checking me out why none of them were looking at me, and if that meant it was as bad as I thought. She just said no, it looked fine, and some ramble about how she used to get perms a long time ago and it always looked like that, but the whole experience was terribly uncomfortable, and the guy who’d permed me had also disappeared, so I feared the worst – that somehow the perm had gone horrible awry and everyone was waiting for me to leave so they could stop holding their breath and pretending like I looked OK and talk about how terrible it turned out. Awkward.

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Instead of heading home right away after I checked out, I went down to the Marriott hotel that is a part of the town square center where the salon is and headed straight for their guest bathrooms to get a private gander at it and think. And well, it was pretty bad. Super-frizzy, tight, 80’s-perm curls, no doubt about it. But. Everything I’d read over the year I’d been researching the subject told me to expect this and that it took days if not weeks for the curls to relax (and the stylist said the same), so that kept me from going into complete shock. I’d had no delusions going in that I was doing anything other than damaging my hair with chemicals; I’d just weighed the short-term negatives of that against the ongoing heat damage I’d get from the various methods I used to wear my natural hair either straight or curly (I was either using the bubble wand to get decent  curl from my air-dried hair or blowing it dry straight) and figured in the long run it would come out to be the same, since with the perm I could just air it dry and be done (not to mention the time I could save with the day-to-day styling). So I knew the first few days were going to be tough, but wow – I was still stunned, let me tell you.

And, I had to go home and face my husband. I don’t mind sounding a bit like a Stepford wife here and telling you I was terrified he was going to hate it – and I’m someone who has worn her hair in a manner for most of her marriage that her husband hated. I just knew he was going to take one look at it and we’d be back to that ‘we’ll just agree not to talk about your hair’ arrangement we had for twelve years, and I really did not want to go back there (fortunately I’d told him I was having the process done, so at least he wasn’t going to be totally thrown). I decided to take some time and “test run” my new hair as I often did when trying out a new wig – wander into some shops and pretend to look around while really monitoring other people’s reactions to me instead. What I noticed was that while no one was going out of their way to compliment my hair by  any stretch of the imagination, no one was reacting to my hair negatively either; I was being more or less ignored, which for anyone who wears supplemental hair will tell you is exactly what you want. If it’s not what you want, it is at least perfectly OK and way preferable to people staring at your head and smirking or scrutinizing. In short, while my hair clearly did not look amazing, it also clearly did not look horrifying, so I started to calm down.

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By this time it was about 7:15 PM and I figured I had to go home sometime, so I put on my best and brightest happy face, snapped a selfie in the Marriott bathroom, and sent it to my husband with a text that read “I look amazing!”  – which I saying to myself as much as to him, in that Stuart Smalley sort of way. Then I got in the car and headed home. By the time I got close, he’d already responded by saying that he thought it looked cute, but that it would “look even better if it was longer,” which is so typical of him it’s hilarious. I reassured him that no length had been cut and that it was just the curl shortening it up a bit, and that yes I was still growing it out and the frizz would die down in a few days and then it would look better. And by the time I walked through the door I was in the lemonade-out-of-lemons mode I can go into quite quickly when it comes to my hair, wherein I know I can deal with it and make it work as long as it doesn’t fall out – the loads of hair fiascos I’ve had over the course of my life have trained me well. It’s definitely going to help as I get through the 48-hour period here where I cannot wash or do anything to this new adventure I’ve got going on top of my head. Because right now it’s wait and see for sure.

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So it’s Friday morning now, and although it still looks like a frizzy puffball, it doesn’t feel nearly as dry as it did yesterday, so that’s a good start. And I don’t have much to do the next two days so I can hide out until it calms down, or at least until I can wash it on Sunday. I will keep you all alerted of my progress, but please, keep the comments gentle. My hair and my ego are a little delicate right now – although I think in the long run I am going to like it. If not, I’ll make it work. I always do. And I am glad I finally took the plunge and gave this a shot, since I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time and at least now can say I’ve done it and get it off the to-do-someday list. If nothing else, it will take interesting pictures!

You can read an update to the perm adventure here.