You always thought a perm meant curly hair.
But perms are made.
Curls or curly hair is hereditary and genetic. It is what a person is born with.
So, how do you tell the difference between someone having a perm and naturally curly hair?
I thought this would make an interesting post, so I decided to cover it.
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What is a perm?
According to Voce Hair Care, the process of perming your hair involves chemicals that actually change the structure of your hair texture.
Most people get perms because they want a whole new look. Some want more volume and bigger hair.
Chemicals are applied to the hair to alter the hair completely and break the bonds that determine the hair’s natural texture.
A perm takes about 2-3 hours and is done at a salon by a haircare professional.
What is the difference between a perm and real curls?
It is actually quite hard to tell the difference if you’re not used to seeing natural curls or don’t have curly hair.
The thing is, curls come in all shapes and sizes.
Here’s a diagram I drew from scratch to illustrate the difference:
If you notice the above picture, you’ll see that curls are more rounded whereas perms are more uniform and well-put together.
Here is a better idea of what different curl patterns look like:
Of course, there are more differences and that’s what I am going to cover.
Perms vs Real Curls: How to tell if someone has a perm or natural curls? 9 Easy ways
1. Perms are more uniform but curls are very non-uniform, uneven, and distributed
Because perms are artificially made, the curls formed by a perm are very uniform and have a specific shape.
Meaning the space between each curl will be the same and the overall diameter of each curl will also be the same.
Look at this picture:
Notice how the woman has extremely uniform curls – you can tell that it’s done by heat or chemicals.
However, naturally curly hair is far from that.
People with real curls have large curls, loose curls, and tight curls, and some parts may even fall flat or be wavy.
This woman has real curls.
You can tell because some parts are wavy, some parts are curly, and overall, she has multiple types of curls.
2. People with naturally curly hair will also have curly baby hairs and curly locks
This is something nobody can fake.
No matter how good the perm is, nobody touches baby hair – the little hair around your forehead.
A person with real curls will have curly edges or curly baby hair.
Even the locks at the nape of the neck will be curly – and often knotted. Note this girl and her flyaways or baby hair – she has real curls.
People with perms however will have straight or wavy edges or baby hairs.
This is the true texture of the hair – they cannot curl this because this hair is very sensitive and won’t be able to take the heat or chemicals without getting severely damaged.
This is also a fun way to tell if someone has straightened their hair – most people with straightened hair have curly baby hair.
3. Perms have the same shape and pattern as opposed to natural curls
See this picture and note the pattern of the curls.
You’ll notice that even though there are a lot of curls, they look very uniform.
They also aren’t twisting but are more zig-zag in nature and have that almost Barbie hair finish.
This is a perm.
Perms are easy to identify because the curl pattern is extremely uniform and looks almost like a Barbie doll’s hair.
People with natural or real curls don’t have hair like this.
Even if the curls are ultra-defined, there will be stray curls, some wavy bits, and some curls with more hair, some with less hair in the curls.
Real curls are also extremely unevenly distributed – you’ll find large curls, small curls, loose curls, and tight curls on a person with real curly hair.
4. Roots are more straight in perms as opposed to natural curls
Another easy way to tell if someone has a perm vs real curls is to look at the roots.
Note this woman’s roots and see how straight her roots are.
People with a perm will have straight or wavy roots – this part of the hair won’t take the shape because when you perm hair, you can’t really touch the roots.
Also, hair grows rather quickly, so the fresh hair that grows will grow in its original texture.
Meaning, if a person gets a curly perm but originally had straight hair, then their roots will be straight – it isn’t going to grow curly.
But a person with real curls will grow curly hair even from the roots. Note this woman and see her real curls at the roots:
5. Overall hair shape will be asymmetrical with natural curls
This is the easiest way to spot a perm and is by far the biggest difference between a perm vs real curls.
People with naturally curly hair will mostly always have an asymmetrical overall hair shape.
This is because they wake up with different curls, distributed unevenly throughout the hair.
So, sometimes, one part of their hair will be a triangle shape, and the other will be more circular.
It is almost impossible to have a symmetrical hair shape unless it’s a perm.
6. People with naturally curly hair will use curly hair products
People with curly hair or real curls use a lot of products and are super proud of their hair.
They would have most likely grown up hating their hair or wishing for it to be straight and eventually learned to embrace their curls.
Curly hair products were a godsend to us because they finally taught us how to manage our hair and embrace our curls.
People with real curls know the struggle of having curly hair and they will almost always be very vocal about it.
However, people with perms don’t have that kind of history and knowledge about curly hair usually unless they grew up with someone who has curls.
So, if you are really curious, just ask them about what curly hair products they’d suggest or which ones are their favorite.
Curly-haired people will give you a long list and a very detailed curly hair routine however people with perms won’t really be using as many curly hair products for their hair.
7. People with perms will have dry hair around the curls
Perms are very drying – and they look extremely unhealthy because the hair has been treated to heat and chemicals.
This is not a sure way of telling if someone has a perm because a person with a fresh perm will have really good-looking hair.
With time, the hair starts to become more damaged and dry.
However, some people with perms try as much as possible to maintain the healthy state of their hair by moisturizing it heavily. Meaning, their hair will be dry but have a glossy external look due to the serums and creams they are applying to their hair.
However, curly girls will always have uneven moisturized parts in their hair. Their hair may be soft or rough at the same time depending on the type of curl pattern they have and how often they moisturize it.
So, if you begin to notice that someone’s hair quality is decreasing with time and the curls are looking strung out and dryer, there is a chance that the person has a perm.
8. Hair with perms has marks and bends
Hair that is permed is usually made like this:
And the hair is pressed into this shape with heat and chemicals.
So the curls will be slightly bent and look like it’s been hot-pressed in some parts.
Notice in this photo, how the curls look more pressed and bent at the extreme parts.
It’s almost as if they have been squished to get the perm shape.
However, natural curls don’t have that. You can see this picture and tell how this girl’s curls are curly throughout – her hair doesn’t have those bends and marks.
9. Permed hair grows in one direction however curly hair is more random
This is one of the best ways to tell if someone has a perm.
Just note the direction in which the hair grows.
People with perms have more uniform curls that grow in one direction. Like I said earlier, it’s more tamed and doll-like.
Note this woman and see how her hair looks very tame – her curls appear to grow in 1 direction.
But take a look at this man and see how curls are haywire – they grow in different directions. You can also note that he has multiple curl patterns and it’s messy.
Curly hair is messy. It isn’t even, it isn’t evenly distributed and it’s haywire. Curly hair doesn’t follow the rules.
Bonus: Just ask the person
A lot of curly-haired women actually take really good care of their curls now.
They moisturize it heavily to ensure that it doesn’t look dry or frizzy and sometimes they finger coil their curls to make it look more uniform and get more curl definition.
It is easy to mistake them for getting a perm only because their curls look so flawless.
Likewise, some people with perms also take care of their perms and moisturize them well to ensure it lasts longer.
This can make them appear to have naturally curly hair.
So, if you are beyond confused and just want some clarification – simply ask.
Most people are forthright and honest about their hair and will tell you if it’s natural or permed.
I hope this article helped you understand the real differences between perm vs real curls.
It is slightly complicated especially now since technology is getting better and people are able to achieve better results with perms but the results aren’t permanent.
So, they may have a perm for a few months before switching to something else.
It isn’t practical to use a lot of heat and chemicals, so most people only wear a perm for a year or two because they don’t want to compromise the quality of their hair.
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