Difference Between PermsQ: What's the difference between African-American's perms and perms white people use? I know one is used for straightening and the other for curls, but can white people use African-American perms? If so what would it do?
A: When it comes to perms, there is basically no difference in the key chemicals used to change the wave pattern of the hair. Perms (and some straighteners) use thiol compounds to break the chemical bonds of the hair and reform them. If a perm formula is produced and marketed specifically for African-American hair types, the differences will be in added conditioning agents and smoothing ingredients.
You make the statement "I know one is used for straightening and the other for curls" which is not entirely true. Yes, there are thiol compound straightening formulas that use the same chemical reactions to remove natural curl from the hair, but a permanent wave is meant to add or reshape the curl of the hair, regardless of the ethnicity of the hair it is used on.
A white person could use a perm that is formulated for African-ethnic hair, and in most cases there would be no appreciable difference between the results with it and with another perm formula. If, however, there are added oils and conditioners in the perm formulation and the white person's hair doesn't need the extra conditioning, the results would be the same as if conditioners or oils had been improperly used regardless of whether it was in a perm or not.