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Perm—it’s quite possibly one of the few words in beauty with the power to send people spiraling into beauty flashbacks filled with regret. It’s 2023 now, and perms have truly (honestly!) come a long way, thanks to new techniques and technology. “You don’t have to have a tight perm,” Lucille Javier, a color and texture specialist at the Mark Ryan Salon in New York, says. “Perms today are infused with conditioning agents that keep them looking smooth and healthier than you would assume.”
For the first time in a decade, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon decided to venture into the beauty world to bring back Perm Week, which originally aired in 2013 on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The premise? A lucky audience member (or two) receives a professional perm, which is then revealed for the first time on the show not only to the audience, but to the participant as well.
“We’re just looking for anything that is a blanket of fun,” Fallon tells BAZAAR.com. “We’re at a time now where people are experimenting with their looks. They’re game for anything.”
And Fallon knows a thing or two about experimenting with looks, having been the unfortunate recipient of a “body wave” gone wrong back in his sophomore year of college. “I didn’t go in looking for a perm,” he explains. But a visit to a mall hair salon before Christmas break turned into just that after a hairstylist said she could add a “little movement” to his “very straight hair” at no extra charge.
Picture it: Jimmy Fallon under a dryer (“the dome of no return,” he recalls) in the front of a mall salon flipping through a magazine. “It was tight! I looked like Mike Brady, the father from The Brady Bunch, or Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. It looked like a wig,” he laughs.
Ahead, BAZAAR.com reports backstage from Fallon’s Perm Week.
Meet the Perm Recipients
Love is in the hair for day two of Perm Week, which coincides with the show’s annual “Fallontine’s Day” episode. The show decides to test the limits of a couple’s relationship by having them undergo perms together live on the air. For Tamara Doherty and Kami Cotter, neither of whom has ever received a perm before, it will be a Valentine’s/Fallontine’s Day to remember.
Although Doherty doesn’t have a plan B if the look doesn’t work out, she has no regrets about any of this. “I’m excited to see what it looks like, I’m excited for the laughs, and we’re doing it together, so that’s even better,” she tells us before the big reveal.
For Cotter, this is the most drastic thing she’s done with her hair aside for some chunky highlights and dying a pink strip of hair for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Even though she does admit to wanting a perm back in high school, her main motivation for being on the show is mostly to support Doherty. “She wanted to do it, and I didn’t want her to do it alone,” Cotter says. “But I’m hoping to have a Julia Roberts or Mariah Carey moment.”
The New Perm Rules
Javier and hairstylist Randy Darden work their magic backstage on the couple. While perms seem to be making some waves again in beauty, both hairstylists blame the treatment’s bad rep on the fact that ’80s perms often appeared tight, dry, and damaged.
But with the changes to techniques, tools, and the emergence of newer brands, perms can “look more like beach waves or just add body and texture so they don’t look as severe as your grandma’s perm,” Darden explains.
It all comes down to preparation and a great consultation. “A professional consultation is really important,” Javier says. “Making sure you go to your hairstylist where they can assess your hair and take into account things like having chemically treated hair is key, because getting a perm on top of that might be too much, leading to damage.”
For Darden, conditioning treatments and not going the at-home DIY route are integral for maintaining the style. “Good conditioning and bond-building treatments will determine how well your perm comes out and is maintained,” she says.
Watch the video above to see the perm and big reveal in action, and catch the rest of Perm Week on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:35 p.m. ET.
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