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To perm or not to perm... that is the question

Oh, the age-old question of whether or not to perm. 

Spoiler alert right here in the second paragraph: I chose natural.

But I did “perm” (aka, used a relaxer), for MANY years. It’s like any other habit. You fall into it, it becomes routine and comfortable, and you just keep doing it. Your hair looks so smooth right after perming, you get addicted to it! Chris Rock called perm solution the “creamy crack,” and he was right!


However, it is damaging to the hair. It permanently changes the structure of your hair by disrupting the chemical bonds in the hair shaft. The next step is “fixing” the changed structure with more chemicals called “reducers.” They are harsh and burn skin if they come into contact with it for too long. They strip what little natural oil multi-ethnic hair has in it and because of the change in the hair structure, it becomes more susceptible to environmental damage.

So when people ask me why they shouldn’t perm there hair, that’s the reason why.  Permed hair does look really nice at times. REALLY nice. However  perming could be damaging to hair.

For a teenage girl with a white mother and tons of white cousins with perfect, straight hair, relaxing my hair seemed like a miracle. Well, not really, but a life-changer to be sure. I had lots of other excuses to keep perming along as I became older. One of the biggest? My fear of not looking professional enough for a doctor due to my natural hair.  Another one? I wouldn’t be able to exercise with natural hair because it would become too frizzy.

Over the years my hair was dry and thinner at times – even breaking off in places. I also finally realized the place where I spent more time and money than anywhere else was at the hairdresser. It’s like waking up from a bad relationship after being in it for too long. So I decided to go natural. I broke it off with perms.


This journey to natural is a long one. Get ready. It’s not super easy. Sometimes it’s so difficult to deal with that you‘re tempted to return to perming. But try not to. It will be worth it in the end, I promise.

For the first few months my hair looked like it always had with the relaxer, but then it started to get bushier as time passed. Wide hairbands became my No. 1 hair accessory for getting the hair out of my face and smoothing the natural roots down a bit. A lot of women do what often is called the “big chop” after their hair has grown in an inch or two. They simply cut off what remains of the permed hair and go natural early with a short curly style. I didn’t want to do that. I would advise you stick with your stylist as you take this journey, or find one that is comfortable helping you transition to natural: Work together to achieve a full natural approach rather than taking the chop route. As your natural hair grows in longer and longer you will see how thin, dry and damaged the permed hair looks in comparison.

My next style choice was to flat iron all my hair, permed and natural. I also added a few extensions to fill in the thinner areas. Let me tell you how surprised my coworkers were when I came in with 6 inches of hair growth overnight! But it worked for me. I had a lot of fun with my hair.You can also try “bantu knots” to give your permed hair some curl when you are at the halfway mark.

After about 18 months my natural hair was long enough to debut in a style all by itself. I started sporting a “high poof.” Again, co-workers were surprised by my sudden hair makeover. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I am free from perms. It is liberating, first and foremost and I have received more compliments than over the many years with a permed style. Oh and there are times when I miss having straight hair. But when I do, I can simply blow dry and flat iron at home. But not too often – the heat can be damaging to the hair, too, if overused.

So good luck to all of you at the beginning of this road, and to those who are contemplating going natural. Fear not! You CAN do it. Give it some time and reach out if you need help.

I am happy to have created Many Ethnicities simply out of multi ethnic hair care frustrations.  Our hair care products are sulfate-free, gentle and work for every hair type on the spectrum. Don’t worry, if you decide to go natural, we’ll be there with you all the way.

Dr. Ena

* Dr. Ena Hennegan is the founder and CEO of Many Ethnicities, LLC, the industry’s newest personal care brand. Many Ethnicities was created specifically to address the unique challenges of multi-ethnic hair. Dr. Ena’s brand launches and will be available to the public in the spring of 2017.

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