A New Perm and Chlorine

Swimming with permed hair
hoto: Sylv1rob1/Shutterstock
Q: I just made reservations for a cruise the last week of March. Before deciding to go on the cruise, I had made an appointment to get my hair permed. (I usually do this only once a year, because my hair is fine and I get highlights twice a year.) I am concerned about the effects of chlorine on a new perm. Should I be?
I see hair products that are designed to protect hair from the effects of chlorine, but I don't know whether I want to risk damaging my hair if I will be in the pool/sun a lot on this trip. I've never had a body wave, but I've heard that it isn't as harsh on the hair shaft. Can you help me decide what I should do?
P.S. Both my son and my daughter will be married this summer (June and July), so I want to do something soon to give my hair a chance to "relax" before the weddings. Thank you for your help!

A: There is a confusion regarding perms versus body waves that many people have. Body waves are often touted as being milder and somehow less harsh on the hair than perms. This is both true and untrue.
It's true that body waves give softer results than a standard perm, but only because the body wave is wrapped on larger rods and therefore creates larger curls. Plus because the hair is wrapped on larger rods and the curls are looser, you have fewer problems with potential "frizzy" looks.
However, the chemicals used in perms and body waves are exactly the same. It's only the size of the tools used that is different. You should treat the hair the same way whether you've had a perm or a body wave - shampoo with gentle cleanser, good moisture-rich conditioner, and alcohol-free styling products. You also want to be cautious when you're using heat-styling appliances on permed hair as well.
I wouldn't want to expose hair that has been freshly permed to heavy chlorination, but if you schedule your perm to be given a couple of weeks before your trip, you should be safe. The big problem with chlorine and hair in general is that it can dry the hair out, so being certain to keep the hair well-conditioned is important. This is doubly true for permed hair where the cuticle layer has been raised in the perming process causing it to lose moisture more readily.
The products you mentioned to protect the hair from chlorine are good even if the hair is not permed. Most of these products use essential fruit oils and other acidic ingredients to nourish and replenish the hair, as well as protecting it from penetration by the chlorine.
You want to be extra careful if your hair is artificially colored as well as being permed when exposing the hair to chlorine. Chlorine can cause some hair colors (usually blondes) to look green. The protective anti-chlorine products listed above can help to prevent this and reverse the effect.
Just make sure to use a very gentle shampoo and a good conditioner while on your trip, and to rinse your hair thoroughly in the shower (followed by using conditioner on it) after getting the hair wet in a swimming pool or other chlorinated water source.
See also:
Perms and perming
Will humidity affect a perm?
The effect of chlorine on hair
How to protect your hair from chlorine when swimming