Difference between perm and set

Hair with curlers or rollers
Q: I am man thinking of getting a perm because I would like some curl and movement in my hair. Can you explain the difference between a perm and a set?
Is a set a temporary way of giving curl so I can get an idea of what a perm would look like on me? Does a set wash out easily if I don't like it?

A: The key difference between a “set” and a “perm” is that a “permanent wave” uses chemicals to create what is in effect a permanent change in the wave pattern (curl) of the hair. Both procedures will add curl to the hair, but the “set” is merely a styling technique, while the “perm” alters the structure of the hair.
Here’s a brief explanation of the principles behind the process of perming the hair: The hair is made up of long chains of proteins bound in multiple directions. These protein chains are configured and secured into the “shape” of the hair by side bonds. Some of these are physical side bonds and can be broken by the application of heat or moisture and reform when the hair cools or dries. However, some of these side bonds can only be broken through more intensive measures.
It’s these side bonds that are broken and reformed in a perm. The end result is that the hair is given a “permanent” change in its wave pattern.
Now, if you want to get an idea of what kind of results you can expect from a perm, then using perm tools to wrap your hair in a wet set will give you an idea of the size of the curl. Just bear in mind that the curl from a perm won’t likely appear as “hard and tight” as a set since the curl from a perm will survive getting wet. A salon stylist can help you get a true sense of what your hair would look like permed.
And yes, after you see what the curl looks like with a simple set, you can simply re-wet the hair and the curl will go away.
Photo: Vasiliy Koval/Shutterstock
See also:
Perms and perming
Roller styling techniques
Various methods to curl hair
How can I get heat-free curls?