What’s the difference between a relaxer and a perm?

What is the Difference Between a Relaxer and a Perm?

When it comes to hair treatments, understanding the difference between a relaxer and a perm is essential. Both processes involve altering the structure of your hair, but they yield different results. In this article, we will explore the distinctions between relaxers and perms in detail, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of each treatment and helping you decide which one suits your needs best.

What’s the Difference between a Relaxer and a Perm?

Relaxers and perms are popular hair treatments that help people achieve different styles and textures. While both involve chemical processes, they serve distinct purposes. Let’s dive into the key differences between relaxers and perms to understand their unique characteristics.


A relaxer is a chemical treatment primarily used to straighten curly or coiled hair. It is a popular choice for individuals who want to achieve sleek, smooth, and more manageable hair. The relaxer works by breaking down the protein structure in the hair strands, allowing them to be reshaped into a straighter form.

Relaxers typically contain alkaline ingredients like sodium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide, which help to weaken the bonds in the hair and alter its natural texture. The process involves applying the relaxer cream or lotion to the hair, leaving it on for a specific amount of time, and then rinsing it out. This chemical treatment permanently changes the hair’s structure until new growth appears.

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It is crucial to note that relaxers are meant for individuals with tightly curled or coiled hair and should be performed by a professional hairstylist. Incorrect application or excessive use of relaxers can lead to damage, hair breakage, and scalp irritation.


Unlike relaxers, perms are intended to add or enhance curls and waves to straight or less curly hair. The term “perm” stands for “permanent wave,” as the treatment creates long-lasting curls. Perms are suitable for individuals who desire voluminous, bouncy curls or defined waves.

The perm process involves using a chemical solution, usually containing ammonium thioglycolate, to break the hair’s natural bonds and reform them into the desired curl pattern. After the solution is applied, the hairstylist will wrap the hair around rods or rollers to set the shape. This process allows the hair to take on the new curl pattern when the rods are removed.

Similar to relaxers, it is important to be cautious when getting a perm. Overprocessing or using harsh chemicals can result in excessive damage and weaken the hair. It is advisable to seek the expertise of a professional stylist who can evaluate your hair type and determine the appropriate perm treatment.


In summary, relaxers and perms are distinct treatments that serve different purposes. Relaxers are used to straighten tightly curled hair, while perms add curls or waves to straight or less curly hair. Both treatments involve chemical processes that should be performed by professionals to ensure the best results and minimize the risk of damage. Understanding the difference between relaxers and perms can help you make an informed decision about which treatment is appropriate for your hair type and desired style.

According to a recent survey, 42% of hair salon customers opt for relaxer treatments, while 35% choose perms.


1. What is a relaxer?

A relaxer is a chemical treatment that is used to permanently straighten curly or tightly coiled hair.

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2. What is a perm?

A perm is a chemical treatment that is used to create or enhance curls or waves in straight hair.

3. How do relaxers and perms differ?

The main difference between relaxers and perms is their intended effect on the hair. Relaxers straighten the hair, while perms create or enhance curls or waves.

4. Are relaxers and perms permanent?

Both relaxers and perms are considered to be permanent treatments as they chemically alter the structure of the hair. However, new hair growth will not have the same effect, so touch-ups are required every few months.

5. Can I get a relaxer if I have naturally straight hair?

While technically possible, it is generally not recommended to get a relaxer if you have naturally straight hair as it can cause damage and weaken the hair.

6. Can I get a perm if I have naturally curly hair?

Yes, you can get a perm if you have naturally curly hair. However, it is crucial to consult with a professional stylist who can assess the condition of your hair and determine the best approach.

7. Are relaxers and perms safe for my hair?

When performed by a skilled professional and used correctly, both relaxers and perms can be safe for the hair. However, these chemical treatments can cause damage if not done properly or if the hair is already compromised.

8. How long do relaxers and perms typically last?

The longevity of relaxers and perms can vary depending on factors such as hair type, texture, and maintenance. On average, relaxers last around 6-8 weeks, while perms can last anywhere from 2-6 months.

9. Can I switch between relaxers and perms?

Yes, it is possible to switch between relaxers and perms. However, it is important to give your hair enough time to recover from the chemical treatment before undergoing another one.

10. Are there any alternatives to relaxers and perms?

Yes, there are alternative methods to achieve straight or curly hair without using relaxers or perms. These include temporary styling techniques like heat styling, braiding, or using hair rollers.

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In conclusion, the key differences between a relaxer and a perm lie in their purpose, process, and results. A relaxer is a chemical treatment designed to straighten curly or coily hair, whereas a perm is used to create curls or waves in straight hair. The relaxer process involves applying a strong chemical solution that breaks down the hair’s protein structure, making it easier to manipulate and straighten. On the other hand, a perm uses a different type of chemical solution to break and reform the disulfide bonds in the hair, resulting in a perm rod set or spiral curls.

It is important to note that both relaxers and perms can cause damage to the hair if not applied or maintained properly. Relaxers can lead to hair breakage, scalp irritation, and thinning, especially when over-applied or left on for too long. Perms, on the other hand, can result in dryness, frizz, and breakage if the hair is not properly conditioned and cared for post-treatment. Additionally, the lasting effects of both processes differ, with relaxers requiring regular touch-ups every 6-8 weeks to maintain the desired straightness, while perms may last for several months before the curls start to loosen.

Understanding the distinctions between relaxers and perms allows individuals to make informed decisions about which treatment best suits their desired hairstyle and hair type. It is essential to weigh the potential risks and consult with a professional stylist to ensure the health and integrity of the hair throughout the process. Ultimately, whether opting for a relaxer or a perm, proper hair care practices and maintenance are crucial for achieving and maintaining healthy, fabulous locks.