Difference Between Alkaline and Acid Perm

Hairstyles have been around for as long as humans learned that their hair could be considered beautiful. A perm is one such hairstyle. ‘Perm’ is short for ‘permanent.’ Although, it is not permanent.


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As the man developed inventions that could be used in daily life, he realized that those products could also be used in cosmetics and beauty treatments. Perming is an example of one such invention.

Perms can be using different methods, i.e., thermal or chemical. The chemical method uses an acidic or alkaline base to create the hairstyle. You can either choose to color your hair or not.

For creating the hairstyle, the hair is coated with certain chemicals and then wrapped in rods to give them shape. If the chemical contains acid, the hairstyle is called an acid perm. And if the chemical contains a base, it is called an alkaline perm.

Key Takeaways

  1. Alkaline perms use a higher pH solution to break down and re-form the hair’s bonds, creating a looser curl pattern; acid perms use a lower pH solution to create a tighter curl pattern with less damage to the hair.
  2. Alkaline perms can be harsher on the hair and scalp but can create longer-lasting curls; acid perms are gentler but may require more frequent touch-ups.
  3. Alkaline perms are better suited for hair that is less porous and more resistant to chemical processing; acid perms are better for hair that is fine or fragile.

Alkaline vs. Acid Perm

Alkaline perm is used to create soft retro waves in the hair using ammonium thioglycolate with a strong PH of 9.5. This kind of perming lotion is damaging to the hair and can be used in more resistant hair type. Acid perm lotions are made up of glycerol Mono thioglycolate with a PH of 6.7. This type of perming is comparatively soft and less harmful to the hair.

Alkaline vs Acid perm

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Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonAlkaline PermAcid Perm
Active Ingredient The active ingredient is ammonium thioglycolate. The active ingredient is glyceryl monothyioglycylate.
Alternative Name Also known as cold perms. No alternative name.
Requirement of heat Heat is not required to set the hair. Heat is required for the hair to set.
pH Balance The pH balance for an alkaline perm is between 8.2 to 9.6 The pH balance for an acid perm is between 4.5 and 6.5
Time of setting Alkaline perms only take 20 minutes to set. Acid perms take a longer time to set.
Strength Alkaline perm is stronger. Acid perms are weaker.
Suited for Alkaline perm is more suited for thick and coarse hair. Alkaline perm is more suited for thick and coarse hair.
Effects Alkaline perms can be damaging to hair. Alkaline perms can be damaging to hair.

What is an Alkaline Perm?

Alkaline perms are much more common than acid perms and are known as cold perms. It has a strong chemical odor like that of ammonia. The chemicals used in alkaline perms are very harsh and can cause hair damage and loss in the long term.

It gives firmer curls that last for a long time. Alkaline perms can cause changes in the texture of your hair too. This perming method was introduced in 1938 as different chemicals started being used in cosmetics and beauty treatments.

Alkaline perming is a harmful method and shouldn’t be done frequently. The perm remains intact for several months, and the new roots of the hair grow to lessen the effect of curls.

What is an Acid Perm?

An acid perm was the first to be invented. It was introduced in the market around the 1970s. The chemicals used in acid perms are not very strong and harmful, so they take a longer time frame to set. In addition to applying chemicals, heat is also needed to set the hairstyle.

The results are much softer curls than seen in an alkaline perm. The effect does not last for a long time and can also cause allergic reactions in some people. A bonus point of getting an acid perm is that it is not as harmful to hair as an alkaline perm.

Acid perming is as harmful as alkaline perming but shouldn’t be done consistently. The perm doesn’t hold for more than a few months and isn’t all that much affected by new hair growing in.

Main Differences Between an Alkaline Perm and an Acid Perm

  1. Alkaline perm uses the base of a salt known as ammonium thioglycolate, while acid perm uses glyceryl mono thioglycolate.
  2. Alkaline perms do not require heat to set and are also known as cold perms. Acid perms require heat to set.
  3. While alkaline perms take only 20 minutes to set, acid perms can take much longer.
  4. The pH balance for alkaline perms is between 8.2 to 9.6 and 4.5 to 6.5 for acid perms.
  5. Alkaline perms are much stronger than acid perms and can cause hair damage.
  6. Acid perms can be used on soft and/or damaged hair, while alkaline perms use harsh chemicals more suitable for thick hair.
  7. Alkaline perms can cause hair damage, and acid perms may have allergic reactions.
  1. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/fiber/70/2/70_28/_article/-char/ja/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0190962284701381
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019096228370188X
  4. http://www.papersearch.net/google_link/fulltext.asp?file_name=27728739.pdf
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