What you MUST know about Perming: Difference between Digital, Ceramic, Japanese, Korean, Hot, Cold Perms

Published on Dec 01, 2014

We've finally entered the month of October, which means there's really 2.5 more months to prepare for year end Christmas and New Year parties. For those thinking of a new look, perhaps a more daring and sexy curl, we have with us this month Nicky, founder of Zinc Korean Hair Salon to tell us a little more about perms!

What is a Perm? What am I doing to my hair when I go for perming?

Perm is a process that creates permanent waves in your hair by breaking and rebuilding the disulphide bonds to form the desired shape.

There are however TWO ways to break the bonds:

  1. Cold Perm: Using alkaline perm solutions containing ammonium thioglycollate to break disulphide bonds while hair is wound around perm rod.
  2.  Hot Perm: Using acidic solution and heat to break down disulphide bonds.

Once the bonds are broken, a neutralizer will be applied to reform the disulphide bonds and set the desired hair shape.

There might be many different names for perms but all the perms in the world are simply variations of the two different processes – Cold Perm or Hot Perm.

So is how is a cold perm different from hot perm?

Interestingly, hair that underwent hot perm will take on more waves as it dries. Cold perm however requires you to apply gels or curling creams to achieve the same level of curl. What this means is that hot perms are inherently low maintenance; the only styling you do is a bit of hair spray and a twirl of your finger!

As Singaporean ladies prefer low-maintenance hairstyles, I recommend hot perms over cold perms for most of my customers.

Note however that hot perms do not add as much volume at the roots as cold perms because the hot rollers cannot be kept too close to your scalp. For those who want a lift at the roots, you can consider doing a root perm as well.

Why is it that there are so many different types of perms out there? How are they different?

The perming process is the same throughout the world. The difference lies in how the stylist designs the resulting curls. The preceding haircut and how the rollers are used can make a huge difference to how your hair looks. The following are some examples of the most popular perms.

Ceramic Perm

Ceramic Perm
Ceramic Perm

Estimated Time Required: 4 Hours

Ceramic perms are well-defined S curls achieved by heating your hair using ceramic curlers. As ceramic curlers heat up the hair to a higher temperature, the curls tend to last longer and create curls that are more voluminous and “heavier” than digital perm. You’ll notice that even the ends of ceramic permed hair remain curly and defined.

Best suited for: Coarse, not-so-fine bra-length hair that is not excessively layered

Ceramic perm tend to “shorten” the hair length more significantly than digital perm due to its more defined curls. Hence, longer bra-length hair that is not excessively layered is recommended for ceramic perm. Once again, coarse hair is preferred as they are better able to withstand the damage that comes with heat perm.

Digital Perm

Digital Perm (loose at the ends)
Digital Perm (though Ceramic also can)

Estimated Time Required: 4 Hours

Digital perms are very similar in technique to ceramic perm. The best way to differentiate a digital perm from a ceramic perm is to look at the hair ends - looser curls at the hair ends and softer overall curls are often digital. This is because the heat-resistant plastic curlers heats up the hair at a lower temperature than ceramic curlers, producing softer curls particularly at the ends.

Best suited for: Coarse, not-so-fine hair that reaches over your shoulder.

As the curls are softer, the hair length needed for digital perm is not as long as the hair length needed for Ceramic perm. Digital perm works best for coarse hair as coarse hair is better able to withstand the damage and retain its curls over a longer period of time.

Wave Perm / Body Perm

Body Perm
Body Perm

Estimated Time Required: 3 Hours

If you are not a fan of curls and still wish to increase your hair volume, a body perm might just be the right procedure for you. Body perms use C-curls instead of S-curls used in digital and ceramic perms to create waves (not curls) to give your hair a softer voluminous look.

Best suited for: Short to shoulder length coarse hair

C curls does little to shorten the overall hair length so it works particularly well for those with short hair length.

Classic Perm / Normal Perm

Classic Perm
Classic Perm

Best suited for: All Hair Types

It tends to be less damaging than heat perms though heat perms tend to last longer than cold perms.

Twist Perm

Twist Perm
Twist Perm

Estimated Time Required: 5 Hours

The Twist Perm is a cold perm that produces small tight spirals by twisting your hair, wrapping the hair around small curlers and applying chemicals to your hair. As the curls are meant to be very defined, it takes significantly longer than typical perms. As a result, this is a challenging perm as hair may be excessively damaged if it is not in a good condition at the point of the perm.

Best suited for: Shoulder-length healthy hair

It produces the voluminous look without being overly unmanageable at this length.

Pin Curl

Pin curl
pin curl


Popularized by Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and more recently, Mad Men, the pin curl produces a characteristically defined wave that brings volume and texture to the hair. The pin curl is so named because a pin is used to clip up the hair after twisting sections of hair into a single loop.

Best Suited for: Short and relatively flat and limp hair.

Interestingly, this hairstyle was very popular among Korean men years ago when Hong Kong stars such as Leslie Cheung sported pin curls as well.

I noticed that you didn’t talk about Japanese and Korean perms? Are they actual perm techniques? What is the difference between Japanese and Korean perms?

Japanese and Korean perms are typically variations of Digital Perm, Ceramic Perm and Body Perm. The difference really lies in the preceding haircut and how the stylist uses the rollers to create the relevant style.

Korean Perm

Korean Perm
Korean Perm

The Korean Perm has more defined curls, giving a heavier, more voluminous look – perfect for even the most formal and sophisticated of events.

Japanese Perm

Korean Perm
Japanese Perm

Japanese perms, on the other hand, look lighter with a natural wavy appearance. The slightly messy look emanates a youthful sexy feel.

Depending on your personality and the hairstyle you currently have, one type of perm may suit you better than the other.

How do I know which perm suits me best?

The type of perm that is most suitable for you is dependent on your hair and scalp condition, face shape, hair length, lifestyle and style preference. As there are many factors to be considered, I recommend consulting with a perm specialist; a stylist who has been perming hair for many customers would be better equipped to avoid mistakes and develop their unique techniques to achieve the ideal perm.

Any last words for our readers?

Perms are inherently damaging to our hair. Hence, it is important to find a salon that protects your hair to prevent excessive damage. Other than stylist experience, it is important to look out for places that help you apply adequate pre-treatments and post-treatments according to your hair condition.

That is why at Zinc, we include pre-treatments and post-treatment as part of our  price. Even though this makes us more expensive than other salons, we stand by our philosophy that your hair comes first – we make no compromises in hair care as we want you to leave with beautiful healthy hair.

If you want to experience what a great perm should feel like, drop by Zinc Korean Hair Salon at Millenia Walk to find out more.

Nicky from Zinc Korean Hair Salon

With more than 20 years of experience in hairdressing in Korea, Nicky, the director of Zinc Korean Hair Salon, is the BEST person to talk to about latest Korean hair trends. He is particularly good with perms and am well versed across many different perm techniques. 

Before you go for a perm, check our 10 tips to make sure that your hair is prepared for an awesome perm here!

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