11 Best Kept Secrets to Getting the Perfect Korean Perm

PATIENCE and MONEY are all you need to get that elegant Korean perm anywhere in the world.

And that hard work pays off for up to 6 months.

Lingua Asia Best Kept Secrets to Getting the Perfect Korean Perm

Quick Summary

  • Korean perms are known for their soft and natural curls that can be tailored to complement your features and style.
  • There are so many types of Korean perm, including build perm, rain perm, jelly perm, cloud perm, and flower perm.
  • You can shampoo a day (24 hours) after getting a Korean perm.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Koreans aren’t born with perfectly wavy hair.

Korean perms are known for their soft and natural curls that can be tailored to complement your features and style.

They may cost you some money and time up front, but you’ll get it all back by not having to style your hair every morning. Best of all, you’ll only need to visit the hair salon once or twice a year (you can find Korean stylists at a Koreatown near you)!

I’ve gotten many perms in my day and interviewed a Korean stylist to write this article.

What is a Korean perm?

Have you noticed how every Korean man and woman has perfectly styled wavy hair?

Some use hair irons or Dys*n Airwrap, but most would’ve gotten a wave perm at a hair salon.

Of course, the flawless hairstyles of K-celebrities are blow-dry/iron done by professional hairstylists.

And, when you show their photos to a hair designer as a reference, you’ll hear, “this was done by iron, ms./mr.” 99% of the time. In other words, manage your expectations.

Still, a Korean wave perm will guarantee a natural, elegant and volumizing hairstyle for 3-6 months.

Don’t be shy to go to a Korean hair salon whether you’re in Seoul or Koreatown in the States.

Oh by the way, Koreans used to call perm as “pah-mah”, but this is associated with the ajumma perm image of super curly short hair. Younger Koreans now call perms, “peom without an R sound”.

What are the types of Korean perm?

Build perm, rain perm, jelly perm, cloud perm, flower perm… It’s so hard to keep up with Korean perm names. It’s difficult not just for us, but for hair designers too!

As a matter of fact, despite the million names, there are 2 main perm types: standard cold perm (ilban) vs. thermal hot perm (yeol)

Standard “Cold” PermThermal “Hot” Perm
MethodPerm agents/chemicals applied to dry hair and hair put into curlers (perm rods). Cold wave solution is added and left on for 15-30 minutes then neutralizing solution is applied.Perm agents/chemicals are applied and rinsed. Hair is divided into sections. Then, hair is rolled up with rods and attached to heating machine. Neutralizing solution is applied to fix the curls.
DurationShort (1.5-2 hours)Long (over 3 hours)
(usually double the cold perm price)
Hair DamageLowHigh
Recommended forThin hair that can be easily damagedThick hair that’s prone to get frizzy
ProsQuick, easy and causes less damageGlossy waves, less maintenance and long-lasting curls
ConsCurls don’t last long
Hair gets frizzy
Skill level of hair designer matters the most
Styling TipsApply essence to wet hairFollow the instructions of hair designers as blow-drying is important
Types1. Wave perm
2. Hippie perm
3. Baby perm
1. Lovely perm
2. Magic perm
3. Setting perm
4. Bonnie or Bob S curl perm
5. C curl perm

Setting perm and digital perm are both types of “hot perm” using different machines with different temperature settings.

Setting perm:

  • Uses a machine with high temperatures over 248℉
  • Creates bouncy curls that last the longest
  • Is for long hair, and doesn’t touch the scalp due to high heat

Digital perm:

  • Uses a machine with temperatures starting from 176℉
  • Creates natural, flowy curls and volumizes hair
  • Is for both short and long hair as it can touch the scalp with low heat

The boundary between setting and digital perms has become vague, as technology advanced. Now, one machine can handle temperature settings from 104 to 266℉.

Insider Tip!

Korean blow dryer?

No matter what hairstyle you have, your blow dryer really matters.

I’m using a model by JMW, which is the one Korean hair salons use the most. It quickly dries hair, minimizing damage.

Your Korean hairstylist will teach you how to blow dry and style depending on your perm.

Using a large hair roller for bangs also helps volumize!

What are the popular perm styles?

Korean perms for women

Most perms that Korean women get now are considered Wave Perms.

Korean wave perms have natural volume that make your face look smaller, and they’re easy to style in the morning.

I started getting “magic” in middle school. Read on to find out what magic means and other trendy perms for women!

1. Bonnie Perm

Lingua Asia_Bonnie Perm for Women_IU
Korean singer-songwriter/actress, IU with Bonnie Perm

Bonnie Perm means C-curls in the back and S-curls on the side (or just C-curls) to bob hairstyles (short to medium length haircut). IU started this trend and made everyone catch “short hair syndrome”. It makes you look younger and lovelier with volumized hair.

2. Hippie Perm

Lingua Asia_Hippie Perm for women_Han Ji-min (한지민)
Hippie Perm on Korean actress, Han Ji-min

Hippie Perm creates a unique look with tightly coiled curls and exotic image. It can look cute and sexy at the same time, depending on how you style with it. I once got a hippie perm unintentionally in Spain when I asked for “natural curls”.

That’s when I realized the definition of natural can be so different in other countries. (Natural-looking curls mean loose waves.) FYI, baby perm is a form of this one for shorter hair, but it’s out of fashion now.

3. Magic

Lingua Asia_Magic Straight Perm and Magic C Curl
Left: Magic Straight Perm
Right: Magic Setting C-Curl on Song Hye-kyo

When it comes to hair, magic means magic straight perm. It gets rid of frizz and creates that silky smooth hair you see on shampoo commercials. Korean girls usually start getting it in middle and high school.

Hairdressers will use chemicals and straighten every inch of their hair with an iron. It removes volume though, so most people now get volume magic or magic setting perm to have smooth texture with a bit of volume and curls.

4. Grace Perm

Lingua Asia_Grace Perm for women_Bae Suzy (수지)
Grace Perm on Korean singer/actress, Bae Suzy

Grace Perm is also known as goddess hairstyle in South Korea. It adds S-curls to naturally volumize, making it perfect for long hair. It has a really nice feminine look. I think this perm looks great throughout the year, but especially in fall and winter. It just has that F/W mood.

Here are some more Korean perm ideas for women.

19 Versatile Outfits to Match Your Korean Perm

Korean perms for men

You might be surprised, but many Korean men get perms.

Korean male perms are characterized by natural, wavy curls with volume that are layered and styled to flatter features. With the right perm, you won’t even know it was done professionally.

My brother gets permed up at a hair salon more frequently than me, like every three months.

Let’s check out trendy perm styles for men!

1. As Perm

Lingua Asia_As Perm for men_Seo Kang-joon
Korean actor, Seo Kang-joon with As Perm

As Perm is a smooth style that’s created by making hair float in the air for sophisticated volume. They’re known for natural loose waves instead of strong curls.

They’re similar to middle part perms, but the biggest difference is that they cover the forehead with curls up to the front, showing a tiny window of forehead.

This style is perfect for men who are self-conscious about their foreheads. It’s the quintessential boyfriend perm. As Perm costs about 46-61 dollars.

2. Middle Part Perm or Parting Perm

Lingua Asia_Parting Perm for men_Gong Yoo
Korean actor, Gong Yoo with Parting Perm

Middle Part Perm is when the hair is parted in the middle or slightly off center for a calm and smart look. Parting Perms volumize bangs and reveal about half the forehead, making it a perfect summer look. This style has been trendy steadily since the K-drama, “Goblin: The Lonely and Great God” on Netflix.

It should also cost about 46-61 dollars.

3. Shadow Perm

Lingua Asia_Shadow Perm for men_Lee Dong-Wook (이동욱)
Shadow Perm on Korean actor, Lee Dong-Wook

Shadow Perm has layers of curls like shadows. It softens the impression with a warmer look. Since it volumizes hair overall, it’s best for spring, fall and winter, not summer.

4. See Through Perm

Lingua Asia_See Through Perm for men_Cha Eun-woo (차은우)
Korean singer/actor, Cha Eun-woo with See Through Perm

See Through Perm gives a neat and tidy look. It’s perfect for men who want to cover their foreheads or M-shaped hairlines.

Well, anything will look great on Cha Eun-woo, who’s known as “face genius” in South Korea, but this perm does look great.

Here are some more Korean perms for men!

How to get the best Korean perm?

  • Figure out what you want first, then look for salons that specialize in your look and hair type
  • Do you want a Korean or Japanese perm? Like the two cultures, Japanese perms are milder whereas Korean perms are wavier and more expressive
  • Start with healthy hair by giving it a break a few days before getting one
  • Check Instagram for the look you want. Remember that they took a lot of time getting the lighting and angle right though.
  • Read reviews on Google and Yelp, preferably ones written in Korean
  • Show don’t tell. A picture is worth a thousand words, so have a few handy!
  • Ask about the price beforehand
  • You get what you pay for sometimes. Make sure the stylist uses better hair products with natural ingredients free of parabens, silicones, sulfates and behentrimonium chloride
  • Let your stylist know if you feel any discomfort during the process

How long does it take to get a Korean perm?

Cold perms take about 1.5 to 2 hours, and hot perms take at least 3 hours.

I have long hair and normally spend 4 hours at a hair salon, which includes haircut, lots of shampoo in between, either coloring or perming, and styling at the end.

Don’t worry though! It’s tiring, but not that boring since Korean hair designers will serve you a cup of coffee or tea, give you a magazine to read on a comfy cushion over your lap, and have a chat with you.

Once your hair is done, you’ll feel so confident!

How long do Korean perms last?

Korean perms last about 3-6 months depending on your styling and conditioning.

Even after the perm fades, your hair will still look natural and beautiful. So, if you don’t feel like it, you can revisit a year later, or not!

Some of my friends with perfect hair at all times get their hair done once a month or quarterly. I usually visit hair salons once or twice a year. It’s entirely up to you.

How to Enjoy Korean Spas Like a Local

Insider Tip!

When can I shampoo after getting a Korean perm?

A day after, as in 24 hours! When you want to wash your hair before that, try rinsing with lukewarm/cold water or use only conditioner/treatment to maintain the waves. If your perm is too strong, you can shampoo it to weaken the curls.

Can I put my hair up or wear a hat after getting my hair permed?

It’s better to leave your perm alone for a while (about 1-7 days). Since perming agents are still in your hair, ponytails/hair buns or a hat may leave marks or alter the hairstyle. Short story long, leave it alone!

Should I get hair treatment at a salon?

If you’re concerned about damaged hair, you can ask for hair treatment as an add-on. If your hair is already too damaged, your stylist might suggest it (or they might give you one as subeesu). When you want to save money, you can buy a product either from the salon or Sephora/CVS and use it at home.

How to make your Korean perm last longer?

  • Ask your stylist for some recommendations on how to maintain your hair
  • Don’t wash your hair for one full day (24 hours)
  • Make sure your conditioner has protein and minerals
  • Let conditioner and hair treatment/mask sit in for 5 minutes in the shower
  • Use a microfiber towel instead of a cotton one
  • Wash your hair every other day for the first week to make it last
  • Brush your hair with your fingers to ride the waves and avoid wearing them out
  • Avoid swimming and getting your hair wet
  • As tempting as it may be, try not to touch it

How much does a Korean perm cost?

Korean perms for men usually cost about 46-61 dollars, but this depends on the hair salon and stylist.

Korean perms for women cost about 77- 154 dollars. They’ll charge extra for longer hair.

You can kind of negotiate the price with a hair designer. When you pay in cash, they’ll give you a discount around 10 to 15% as well.

You don’t tip in Korea, but follow the tipping rules in the States. Some places in K-town won’t ask for a tip as well.


What type of Korean perm should I get?

The million-dollar question that most Korean girls think about A lot.

It depends on your face shape, hair type and hair length. Asian hair is different from other types, so check if your stylist is comfortable with yours. Here are the most popular Korean perms:

  • Shorter hair with a round or oval face looks better with bonnie or magic setting perm
  • Shoulder length hair with a heart-shaped face looks great with body perm
  • Longer than shoulder length with a square or rectangular face would work with magic, grace or hippie perm
  • Frizzy curly hair that goes crazy in humid weather responds well to magic perm
  • Flat hair can benefit from a Korean root perm to add volume (makes your face look smaller which is a good thing in Korean culture!)

Should I get a Korean perm first or dye/color first?

I know we want it all. We just need to get the order right for that perfect wavy hair with nice coloring.

Your hair designer will tell you the same, but basically, you can get a Korean perm first, then color your hair after a week or two.

Why? You may ask. If you color your hair first, it’ll damage the hair, making it difficult to form pretty curls. Also, perming agents will further brighten your hair color.

Do most Koreans get perms?

Yes! Most Koreans get perms on a regular basis. Within my family alone, my mom, brother and I get perms, except my dad, so the ratio is pretty high.

Most of my friends get perms, even the macho types. Only when my friends get pregnant, they put a pause on visiting hair salons. It’s because of all the chemicals.

Where can I get a Korean perm in the USA?

To be honest, most Koreans will just go back to the motherland since it’s cheaper. But, if you don’t plan on taking a trip overseas, here are some good options.

Sono Felice by Christine

928 S Western Ave #323, Los Angeles, CA 90006, United States

Atelier by Tiffany

400 S Western Ave #201, Los Angeles, CA 90020, United States

Maison de MI Salon

333 5th Ave 2nd floor, New York, NY 10016, United States

시승희 미용실

149-48 41st Ave, Flushing, NY 11355, United States

Miracle Hair Salon

3705 Old Norcross Rd, Duluth, GA 30096, United States

H St. Hair

407 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002, United States

Hair Salon K

4209 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105, United States

Nayoung Hair at salon D

13615 Inwood Rd #160, Dallas, TX 75244, United States

Salon Yangmi

9620 N Milwaukee Ave, Niles, IL 60714, United States

Did we miss anything?

Grooming well is always a good idea.

Let me know if you have any questions about Korean perms!

Related Articles

2 thoughts on “11 Best Kept Secrets to Getting the Perfect Korean Perm”

    • Hi Dyneamo,
      thank you for asking.
      I’m not sure which service you mean, but the difference between cold and hot perm solutions is the amount of “reducing agents”.
      In Korea, cold perm solutions contain 6% or less reducing agents, while hot perm solutions have no limit on the amount.
      The ingredients are the same as far as I know.
      I hope this helps! ^^


Leave a Comment