Information on history and types of hair curling

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Curling hair
A common term for curling hair is permanent waving or perming. It is a chemical treatment applied on hair to produce curls. Perming or permanent waving is largely popular with the younger generation of the present age, and this is regarded as a modern trend, as it was also practiced in the past.

Some historical facts on hair curling
The ancient Egyptians practiced curling hair with wooden sticks and mud. First they wrapped the hair with a layer of mud from hot springs around sticks. Then they dried the mud wrapped hair in the sun and later removed it. Presumably the mud had an alkaline chemical makeup that helped the curls to set.

Hair curling has journeyed a long way to attain its present status. In 1906, Charles Nessler invented a permanent waving system using ammonia and borax. These chemicals were used to soften the hardened keratin protein which is present in the hair fiber. After applying the lotion the hair was twisted around electrically heated rods.

Though the hair curling process invented by Nessler was cumbersome, it was continued for a few years with some minor additions like the use of chemical heating pads. Later it was replaced by the phenomenally successful cold wave and thioglycolic acid treatment – the basis of most current hair curling techniques.

Popular modern hair curling techniques
In 1938, Arnold F. Willatt invented the cold wave, which is the precursor to the modern perming or permanent waving. This modern technique does not require any machine or heat to produce curls in the hair.

Mechanism of modern hair curling techmiques

In this modern curling hair technique the hair is wrapped on rods after the application of a thioglycolic acid lotion. This lotion breaks open the disulfide chemical linkages between the polypeptide bonds of proteins that are present in the hair shaft structure. This makes the hair receptive to a new shape. By arranging the chemically treated hair on rods the hair can be molded into a new curly shape.

Next, an acid neutralizer lotion containing hydrogen peroxide is applied, to close the disulfide bridges again. This fixes the hair to the shape of the rod.

Earlier techniques of hair curling used to take a long time, probably several hours, but thanks to the modern curling techniques and improved chemicals in products that are currently available it is now possible to completed the whole hair curling process with in a few minutes.

Safety tips on curling hair
While curling hair it is necessary to keep the lotions and other chemicals away from the skin as much as possible. Though modern chemicals are less irritating, measures should be still taken to reduce contact with anything other than hair.

Although most of the disulphide linkages present in the cortex of the hair structure reform during neutralization, a significant portion of the chemical bonds in hair fail to do so and remain broken. The chemically hair is thereby weakened and never fully regains the strength of untreated hair.

To maximize the chances of chemical rebonding it is better to have the hair curling done by a professional expert. Experts are familiar with the appropriate chemical concentrations to use and the duration of application. It will minimize the chances of the hair being severely weakened.

It is also advisable to avoid any other styling treatments like permanent coloring, bleaching etc for quite a few days. After permanent waving as the chemical bonds are still repairing themselves for some time adding new chemicals during this time may limit the chemical rebonding and significantly weaken the hair.

It is advisable to avoid cleansing till 48 hours after curling, it is very necessary to apply the right shampoo and conditioners that are specifically formulated for chemically treated hair.

Following the safety tips on curling hair is essential for wonderful results with perming. Beautiful permed hair is in fact a tribute to the skill of stylists and technicians who are able to give you hair the required look in spite of the complexity of the procedures.

Chantal Bolduc, Jerry Shapiro, “Hair Care Products: Waving, Straightening, Conditioning, and Coloring”, 2001, Clinics in Dermatology;19:431–436
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