Why Does Getting a Perm Cause Your Hair to Fall Out?

If you've ever had a hair perm, you probably noticed a strong chemical smell in the salon, and maybe some minor hair loss or sensitivity once the treatment was done. Yet for many women, the after-effects of a "permanent wave" or other chemical treatment can be nothing short of disastrous. Some experience major hair loss after getting a perm. Before going for a chemical treatment, understand the risks involved in perming or relaxing hair.

Chemical treatments can damage your hair and scalp. (Image: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images)


Women and men have been styling their hair for millennia. It is not rare that a person with straight hair wishes to "go curly," and a curly-haired person wishes to make her hair straight. However, before the late 1800s, hairstyles could only be changed temporarily. In 1906, the first permanent-wave machine was invented, and lye was discovered shortly thereafter. Although the techniques and chemical processes have evolved significantly, lye is still an active ingredient in many hair relaxers and still causes frequent scalp burns and hair loss.

Chemical Burns

According to Skin Biology, lye or sodium hydroxide has a pH factor of 10 to 14. It penetrates the hair shaft, changing its structure. However, it can simultaneously penetrate the scalp and cause chemical burns. In an extreme case from 2005, a North Carolina woman used an at-home chemical treatment containing lye and claims to have received severe chemical burns within five minutes, eventually losing all of her hair. TeensHealth from Nemours claims that even "no-lye" relaxers and perms can carry similar risks, causing moderate to severe irritation, especially if your scalp already is sensitive.


A more common type of hair loss from perms is breakage. A hair strand is composed of multiple layers, with an outer layer that forms a protective sheath around the delicate inner strands. Perms and relaxers can damage that outer layer, causing hair to become dry and break off. Once the damage is done, it cannot be repaired.

Avoiding Hair Loss

If you're considering perming or relaxing your hair, it's best to see a professional stylist. A stylist can assess your hair's condition and choose the best product for you. You should also prepare for a treatment by making sure your scalp is very healthy, and avoiding brushing your hair or scratching your head during the day before you see your stylist. This avoids any scalp lacerations or irritations, making you less susceptible to chemical burns and damaged hair follicles.

Caring for Permed Hair

Apply a good conditioner directly after perming your hair to restore some of its natural oils and proteins. Continue to deep condition your hair regularly to ward off breakage. Treat your hair gently, avoiding blow dryers and other heat styling products. If you take good care of your hair and have it treated only by professionals, you can keep it in optimum condition and enjoy long, healthy, beautiful styles.

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