What is a Spiral Perm?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A spiral perm is a type of permanent wave. The look of a spiral perm can vary, depending on the width of the perming rods used, the skill of the hairstylist, the hair of the customer, and the chemicals used to set the permanent wave. The look of the spiral perm is intimately associated with fashion from the 1980s, when the high-volume look of this style was very popular. It is important to remember that a spiral perm is more of a technique than a specific look, and if you are considering a perm, you should talk about the look you want very specifically.

Woman in breeze
Woman in breeze

This technique uses long perm rods, rather than rollers. It is ideal for clients with longer hair, since the rods can accommodate the full length of the hair. The hair is treated with chemicals to relax it and then wrapped around the perm rods, starting at the ends and working up to the scalp. The rods are left in for a set period of time, and then a neutralizer is applied to set the curls.

When performed well, the end result of a spiral perm is a cascade of corkscrew curls. The curls are usually very tight and springy, and they may flare in multiple directions, depending on how the rods were handled during the perming process. The tension of the curls creates a lot of volume in the hair, since the permed hair is unable to lie flat against the scalp.

When a perm is done well, it can hold for around six months. Just like other perm styles, a spiral perm will relax over time; the curls may become slightly more loose and less springy, although if they start to flatten out, you should complain to your hairstylist. Special products also need to be used to care for a perm, to ensure that it holds and to nourish your hair after the depleting chemical process required to perm it.

Perms are among the more infamous of hair styles, because when one goes wrong, the client can be forced to live with it for months. Perms are also very hard on the hair, and they require the hands of a skilled stylist for the best results. Clients should always talk to their stylists before making an appointment for a permanent wave, and it is a good idea to ask for a portfolio of clients so that you can see the kind of work that your stylist does. It also helps to bring in pictures of the look you want, so that there is no confusion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Because perms employ such harsh chemicals, it's important to use a light conditioner designed for chemically treated hair. Contrary to popular belief, the right conditioner won't ruin a perm. In fact, it will assist in keeping permed hair from drying out.

Another essential tip for the upkeep of a permanent involves trimming the permed hair every 4-6 weeks. The regular trims allow the curls to stay springy and keep the hair from being weighed down by length.


A good example of a "spiral perm" can be seen on Taylor Swift. The curls end up being less tight and Shirley Temple-esque as a result of the type of rods used. This type of perm is a great update to the classic permanent.


There are different types of rods that are used in spiral perms. There are normal rods (which are are just straight cylindrical rods), boomerang rods (so named because they are shaped like a boomerang), and spiral rods (which have ridges like a screw).

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