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Hair Breakage and Scalp Pain Due to Perm Chemicals

author image Kathy Mayse
Kathy Mayse began her writing career as a reporter for "The Jackson-County Times Journal" in 2001. She was promoted to assistant editor shortly after. Since 2005, she has been busy as a successful freelancer specializing in Web content. Mayse is a licensed cosmetologist with more than 17 years of salon experience; most of her writing projects reflect this experience.
Hair Breakage and Scalp Pain Due to Perm Chemicals
A close-up of perm rollers in a client's hair at a salon. Photo Credit Alexander Rozhenyuk/Hemera/Getty Images

Even though getting a perm can be unpleasant at times, pain and hair breakage are not normal and should not accompany any perm service. All types of perms, including relaxers, use harsh chemicals that break down the chemical bonds of the hair. If used properly, the chemicals should not cause pain. However, operator error can lead to disastrous results including hair loss, chemical burns and severe hair damage.


Pain and scalp tenderness appear immediately after a harsh perm service. The irritated scalp and surrounding skin appears red. In extreme cases, blisters are present. Where there is pain, breakage usually follows. After a few days, breakage can be felt close to the scalp along the partings used for the perm rods. The breakage feels like stubble.


Several things can cause hair breakage and scalp pain after a perm. If the rods are rolled too tight against the head or if the rods are allowed to rock back and forth while rinsing or blotting, the scalp can become very sore. Breakage can occur if too much tension prevents the hair from expanding and shrinking during the perm process. The perm chemicals themselves can irritate or burn the scalp. If the chemicals are too harsh or if they are left on the head for too long, they weaken and break the hair.


In the case of blisters and third-degree burns, seek medical attention. Treat mild irritation with aloe gel or soothing lotions. Treat extreme breakage with weekly conditioning treatments. While you cannot reverse breakage that has already occurred, you can prevent new breakage by strengthening and repairing the hair. If you talk to your stylist about the breakage, she will likely offer to perform all corrective treatments free of charge.


Scalp pain and hair breakage are entirely preventable. Make sure that perm rods are placed in your hair with minimal tension. You should not be able to feel pulling once perm rods are in place. Wrap cotton rope around your hairline to prevent perm solution from pooling on the skin. Change the cotton immediately after the application of the perm solution. Alert your stylist to any burning or irritation felt during the perm process. Since most problems associated with perms are caused by stylist error, choose your stylist carefully.


In rare cases, an allergic reaction causes scalp pain. While allergies normally do not cause breakage, scalp pain is the most common symptom associated with an allergic reaction. Those with an allergy may notice burning when the perm solution is applied followed by localized redness, rash and swelling. If you suspect that you may be allergic, have your stylist place a dab of solution on your skin to check for a reaction before getting a perm.

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