Perms vs. Relaxers

When I was a kid, getting a perm was like a right of passage. It was the time in my life where I was entering a new chapter, the big girl stage. Perming meant getting rid of my little girl curls and heading over to my adult hair. I was around 5 years old when I started my journey into big girl land. I still remember when my mom permed my hair. She sat me down and put the creamy crack all over my hair.

The brand that was used frequently was Just for Me. It’s a gentle perm made for children‘s hair.

I don’t really remember much after that but that perm changed my life. It completely erased every curl that I had in my head and made them all bone straight. I went through this process over and over and over and over again. Each time I sat down I would get the perm put on my scalp and then down to the ends. I became so good that I even learned to sit through the burning. I knew that if it didn’t burn then it didn’t take well.

I never knew that with each application my hair was actually becoming weak and brittle. The length of my hair became stuck at my neck for a long time. I had become convinced that my hair was meant to be at that length. I became used to having hair strands breaking off and falling to my shoulders. It was actually quite common for me to see dozens of strands on my shirt after a long day.

By the time I entered my teenage years I went to Cosmetology school and learned that what I was getting wasn’t a perm at all. It was actually something completely different, it was a RELAXER!!!

Yes! A Relaxer is what breaks down our beautiful curls, not a PERM! I’m not sure when people started to confuse the two but I heard the word perm being used to describe this straightening process. I heard it in my household and so many other households that I frequently visited.

A perm is a chemical process that makes hair curly, not straight.

A relaxer is a chemical process that makes curly hair straight.


The two processes aren’t even applied in the same way. One of them is applied using rods (perm) and the other is applied using a cream (relaxer). Their jobs are to break our hair down and change the structure but they are doing so in completely different ways. So the next time you hear someone refer to it as a perm be sure to politely correct them and tell them they’re actually getting a relaxer.

Let me know your relaxer experience in the comments. Did you call it a perm growing up?

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