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What Is a Spot Perm?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A spot perm is a permanent wave technique in which only a small section of a client's hair is permed. There are a number of reasons to choose a spot perm; some people with uneven hair get them to create a more uniform look, for example, and older clients with thinning hair may use a spot perm to increase volume, covering the hair loss. Any salon which offers perms will offer spot perms, which tend to be less expensive since they are not as time-consuming as perms which are applied to the whole head.

Like other permanents, a spot perm is accomplished by applying chemicals to the section of hair in question to relax it before wrapping it around a roller or permanent rod, depending on the type of curl or wave desired. The hair is left wrapped for a set period of time before a relaxant is applied to set the curl. Depending on the width of the tool used to wrap the hair, the result can be tight curls or a more gentle wave.

The process of performing a permanent is very hard on hair. The chemicals tend to turn hair dry and brittle, and it is very important to moisturize hair well and to use products recommended for permed hair when caring for a perm. Most stylists also advise against coloring and perming within a short time period, since the combination of chemicals can cause hair loss. Since this perm is not applied to the whole head, it could be considered a happy medium of perming, balancing the desire for structured curls and volume with a desire to keep hair healthy and strong.

Any section of hair can be treated with a spot perm. These perms can help even out uneven haircuts, especially layers as they grow out, and they can be used to add volume and texture to hair of any length. This technique can also be used for curl control, in some cases, especially if someone with curly hair has areas of flatter, less springy hair. A spot perm can also be used to make a natural wave more pronounced.

If you are considering a permanent, make sure to talk with a technician before he or she touches your hair. Bring in a photograph which shows the exact look you want, to eliminate any confusion, and ask to see a portfolio of a stylist's work. If a stylist recommends a service like a spot perm to you to create a desired look, ask him or her to be specific about which area will be permed and what the end result will look like.

How To Do a Spot Perm

The process behind a spot perm is nearly identical to that of a regular perm. The main difference is in the perm's purpose. A traditional perm applies a curl to your entire head, while a spot perm only curls certain areas.

If you've opted against chemically straightening your hair and want to even out your curls instead, a spot perm is a great choice. You can either hire a professional to do your perm or do it yourself at home following these steps.

Materials Needed

  • Clarifying shampoo
  • Rubber gloves
  • Towels
  • Plastic cape
  • Perm solution
  • Neutralizer
  • Rods
  • Curling iron 
  • Rattail comb
  • Hair clips

1. Wash Your Hair

One of the most important steps of doing a perm is starting with clean hair. So, head to the store and pick up a bottle of clarifying shampoo. This type of shampoo is best at getting rid of oil, residue, and dirt in your hair, giving you a spotless work surface.

Any protein-rich shampoo will do if you don't want to use a clarifying shampoo.

Once your hair is clean, let it dry a bit before starting your perm. It can be damp, but you don't want it soaked.

2. Suit Up

Since a perm involves harsh chemicals, you'll want to adequately protect your skin and clothing before you start.

Start by wrapping a towel around your neck and shoulders. Then, secure the plastic cape around the towel to prevent the solution from leaking onto your clothes. You might also want to consider putting on old clothing, too.

Last, put on a pair of rubber gloves. You'll be handling harsh chemicals throughout the process, so you'll need to keep your hands protected.

3. Separate Your Hair

Your next step is to separate your hair into three sections. You can use the rattail comb to evenly split your hair into one middle section and two side sections. The middle section should consist of the hair running from the nape of your neck to your forehead, while the two side sections will sit right behind your ears.

4. Start Curling

Slowly begin separating out small sections of your hair, starting from the middle. Keep the sections thin, about as wide as the rods you'll use to secure the curls.

Then, fold an end paper and sandwich it between the root end of the section of hair and your scalp. Once that's secure, you can start curling each piece using your curling iron. Do this for each section of hair you want to spot perm.

5. Apply Solution

Once your desired spot perm sections are wrapped, it's time to apply the perm solution. First, wrap a cotton strip around your hairline to prevent the chemicals from touching your skin.

Then, apply the perm solution using small, circular motions. Since you're doing a spot perm, you should pierce the tip of the solution bottle with a pin so you have greater control over how much liquid comes out. Snipping off the top could lead to missteps.

6. Let it Set

After you've applied the perm solution in all the necessary spots, you have to let your hair set for a bit. Set a timer for 5 minutes, then check your hair. You want to see a tight S-shape when the curl unravels. If the curl still looks a bit loose, wrap it back up and check every minute until it has the right shape.

7. Rinse and Dry

Once your curl has reached the proper shape, rinse your hair for 3 minutes. Don't take the rods out yet. Simply get in the shower or run your hair under running water for 3 minutes.

After you've washed the solution out, continue to leave the rods in. Then, let your hair dry to fully set the curl.

8. Finish Up

Apply neutralizer to your dried hair, then wash out after 10 minutes. As with the perm solution, allow the water run over the rods for a full 3 minutes. Then, let your hair dry.

And that's it!

Can You Give Yourself a Spot Perm?

There are two ways you can spot-perm your hair. You can have your regular hairdresser do it for you, or you can do it yourself at home.

A professional will be a better choice in most cases because they'll be able to identify the best ways of evening out your hair. It's usually best to have someone with training take over when your hair contains a mix of curls, waves, and straight strands.

Or, if you'd like to save money and go the DIY route, you can attempt to do the spot perm yourself using the instructions listed above. If you're confident in your skills, you'll achieve great results.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered 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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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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