History of The Permanent Wave

September 13, 2011 by Amber Denise  
Published in Hair

A brief history of the permanent wave and it’s impact on the cosmetology industry.

     A permanent wave, or perm, is a chemical hair treatment used to change the hair’s natural curl pattern. Aside from producing waves, perms can be used to make straight hair curly and curly hair straight. This diversity has greatly contributed to the popularity and evolution of permanent waves.

    Throughout history, women have generally been more attracted to curly or wavy hair. For centuries before the invention of the permanent wave they achieved this look using finger waving and thermal styling. Both were only temporary fixes and fell flat as soon as the hair was washed. It wasn’t until 1905that the first permanent waving system was introduced by German hairdresser, Charles Nessler. Nessler’s system consisted of wrapping long hair around large brass rollers that were suspended from an overhead chandelier and then electrically heated. A mixture of cow urine and water was initially used as the waving solution, but was later replaced by sodium hydroxide.

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     Swiss immigrant, Eugene Suter, attempted to improve on Nessler’s machine shortly after it’s invention. He designed a smaller version for use on shorter hair but was unsuccessful in designing the heating element. He then took his idea to an electrical workshop where Isidoro Calvete designed a simple model which Suter patented and manufactured in his own name. Calvete also designed the croquignole heater to replace the original tubular heater. This modification allowed for more freedom in styling. A few years later, Calvete recruited chemist J. Bari-Woollss to further research the chemical properties of hair. This led to the introduction of reduction, which is a major component of the perms we use today. By 1930, permanent waving was a regular part of their beauty routine due to these advancements.

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     The modern perm we use today stems from the invention of the cold wave. The cold wave was developed by Arnold F. Willatt in 1938. It used only rods and chemicals, eliminating the need for heat and dangerous machines. This major advancement not only made the already popular permanent wave more practical, but also opened the door to the inventions of other types of perms including the acid wave, exothermic wave, permanent relaxer, and digital perms.

     The permanent wave has had a dramatic impact on the cosmetology industry. It has given people the option of achieving their desired look without the constant maintenance of wet sets and thermal styles. For this reason, perms of all types remain a popular service in salons around the world.


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