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Cold Wave Versus Digital Perm—Which Is Better?

I'm a new mom, newbie wife, who works as a nurse, and grew up with the family's salon business.

An example of a digital perm

An example of a digital perm

Digital Perm Vs. Cold Wave

Maybe you've had the same boring hairstyle for years now and have decided that you want long, luscious, curly hair. The only thing is that you have no idea how to get the look.

To turn your boring, straight, limp hair into dramatic curls, you can either go for a cold wave or a digital perm. Both hair procedures can get you permanent curls, but there is a difference between how the curls look, the procedure itself, and how you need to maintain your hair afterward.

What Is Digital Perming (Also Known as a Digi-Perm or a Hot Perm)?

Digital perming (also known as a digi-perm or a hot perm) is a procedure of permanently curling hair using a combination of chemical restructuring and heat. In the process, the stylist sections the hair and then applies a chemical that breaks down the structure of the hair. Each section is then curled to a rod on the machine and left to set for varying lengths of time (depending on hair type). The rods are then removed and additional chemicals are applied afterwards to set the curls permanently.

When done properly, digital perming should produce big, soft curls that are more defined when the hair is dry. The entire process, including a cut, takes about three hours. Because digi-perm uses heat, it cannot be used near the scalp. Spiral and small curls are also more difficult to do with this kind of perm.


  • Digi-perms take longer than cold perms and tend to be more expensive.
  • The curls from this kind of perm are bigger and look more natural.
  • The procedure makes hair look smooth and shiny.
  • This kind of perm is best for Asian hair and not recommended for other hair types. However, always check with your stylist.

What Is a Cold Wave Perm (Also Known as a Cold Perm)?

The cold wave or cold perm is a process that has long been used by salons in the Philippines and elsewhere. In a cold wave perm, dry hair is sectioned and curled around a plastic rod, over which the cold wave solution (usually Pagoda Cold Wave Lotion) is poured, completely soaking the hair. After fifteen minutes, another solution is applied to set the curls and neutralize the chemicals.

Typically, cold wave perms use small and medium plastic curlers, leaving you with kinky to medium curls which are more defined when wet. To get the best results, you should use hair products like setting lotion, mousse, and Finesse curly hair products to make the curls stand out.


  • Cold wave perms are usually cheaper than digi-perms.
  • Curls tend to be smaller and are best defined when wet.

Taking Care of Your Perm

Getting a perm will permanently change your hair, and as a result, you will have to learn how to take care of your hair in a different way. You should expect to invest in products and a routine that will keep your hair looking good and make your investment last as long as possible. Ask your stylist for some recommendations on products you should get and how to use them.

Before Your Perm:

  • Know if your hair can handle a perm. Schedule a consultation with your stylist and tell him or her about any hair coloring, highlighting, or texture services you've done on your hair. The more upfront you are, the better your results will be.
  • Talk about the look that you want with your stylist. Be very specific. Use pictures and ask your stylist if the look is achievable with a perm. Sometimes photos from the Internet use hair extensions, a curling iron, or are the result of a natural wave. Your stylist can help you understand the difference and make the decision to perm or not to perm. It's possible you might just need some curling tips.
  • Make sure your stylist is experienced in perming your kind of hair and actually enjoys doing it.

Situations Where You Shouldn't Get a Perm

  • You have colored or treated hair. The chemicals are too hard and will cause even more damage, and could cause your hair to break off at the scalp.
  • You have dry hair. A perm will dry out your hair even more.
  • You have many short layers. A perm could leave you looking like a poodle!
Typically, cold wave perms use small and medium plastic curlers, leaving you with kinky to medium curls which are more defined when wet.

Typically, cold wave perms use small and medium plastic curlers, leaving you with kinky to medium curls which are more defined when wet.

What Happens if You Hate Your Perm?

One drawback of perms is that you can't know for certain how they'll turn out until they're done. Even with proper planning, your stylist can only guess how you will look afterwards, and sometimes you might not be pleased with the results.

Perms can be reversed with permanent straightening which uses the same chemicals as a cold perm. However, if your hair is already damaged from the perm, straightening it will damage it even more. Try to make the best of it, and be sure to deep condition regularly. If the perm turned out too curly or frizzy for your tastes, the best way to calm it down is to use a semi-permanent smoothing treatment. That said, keep in mind that any additional chemical process runs the risk of causing more problems, and you'll definitely have to spend more money on the process itself and more maintenance products.

Now that you know the basics, choose the style that you want!

Generally, both of these tend to leave hair dry and brittle over time, so it’s best to make sure you get the procedure done by a professional and take care of your hair carefully afterwards.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Phyllis Mapara on June 22, 2018:

I have liked your page and would like to receive more tips on how to take care of permed hair and the right lotions to use

eatpraylove (author) from Philippines on April 15, 2018:

Marlene on August 08, 2015:

I have the same question who did the person before

jells on July 18, 2015:

Hello, I read your article on digi perm vs cold wave perm and I found it very informative. I was thinking of getting permanent loose waves and I was confused on which method to use. To save money, I was planning on doing the cold wave perm but I have a few questions. Will I still be able to get loose waves instead of tight curls if I did the cold wave perm instead of the digi perm? And is it possible to get loose waves if I just put the cold wave solution on and then put my hair in a bun (w/o using any rollers) ? :))