Korean Perms: 8 Great Looks for Your Next Pahma

What are Korean perms and why are they so popular? If you are like me and enjoy watching Korean dramas, you’ve probably noticed the long gorgeous hair of the female actresses. They’ve got such pretty hair. Yes, I know they have personal hairstylists who work on the hair for hours before a shoot but wouldn’t it be nice to have beautiful locks like them? But wait… maybe we can? The secret may be in Korean perm technology.

My challenge whenever I go to Korea is deciding on what kind of perm I should get by the end of the trip. During my most recent summer trip, I asked myself multiple times whether I should get a straight magic perm or a digital perm. What kind of perms are these you may wonder. There seems to be an endless list of perms: hippie perm, lovely perm, magic perm, wave perm, C curl perm, S curl perm, baby perm to name a few.

First and foremost, there are two main types of perms, pronounced pahma in Korean: regular/cold perm, ilban pahma 일반 파마, and heat perm, yeol pahma 열파마. Perming, or permanent waving, is a chemical treatment that breaks and rebuilds your hair to a desired look altering your natural texture. 

  • Traditional/cold perms do not involve heat but do involve applying a chemical solution, wrapping hair around rods, and then neutralizing the curls with another solution.
  • Digital/heat perms involve a chemical solution that sits on the hair, is rinsed off, and then the wet hair is rolled up and rods are heated digitally to activate the perm.

There is no one perfect style. And luckily many of the new digital perms are available in the US at Korean hair salons. Be proactive and ask your stylist about the different styles and combinations for the best waves for you. I personally wouldn’t mind trying the S Curl digital perm in the near future.

Here’s a Handy Guide to Korean Perms:

Traditional Perm (Cold Perm)Digital Perm (Heat Perm)
Treatment methodDry hair is segmented and rolled up on a plastic rod, then the cold perm solution is poured all over the hair. After fifteen to thirty minutes, another solution is applied to neutralize the previous solution and set the curls.A treatment of permanently curling hair utilizing a combination of chemical and heat restructuring. The hair is divided into sections and treated with a chemical solution that breaks down the structure of the hair. Each part is then rolled up on a rod that is heated for various lengths of time (according to different hair types). The rods are then removed and additional solution secures the waves permanently.
Characteristics1. Causes less damage
2. Curls are more obvious when wet and loosen up as they dry
3. Tighter and more voluminous curls
4. Shorter process
5. Less expensive  
1. Waves look more natural and bouncy
2. Less maintenance
3. Curls last longer, even after a cut
4. Similar flowing curls as if using a curling iron
5. Rods cannot be used too close to the scalp
6. Post-perm care is essential since heat-permed hair is more vulnerable to damage
Types1. Hippie perm
2. Wave Perm
3. Baby Perm
1. C Curl Perm
2. Short Bob S Curl Perm
3. Lovely Perm
4. Setting Perm
5. Magic Perm

Cold/Traditional Perm

korean perm pahma
Regular perm rods come in various size
  • Causes less damage 
  • Curls are more obvious when wet and loosen up as they dry
  • Tighter and more voluminous curls
  • Shorter process
  • Less expensive  

Heat/Digital Perm

Korean Digital Perms
Digital perm machine (left) and Setting perm machine (right)
  • Waves look more natural and bouncy 
  • More waves as it dries  
  • Less maintenance
  • Curls stay in longer
  • Curls seem to maintain even after a cut
  • Similar flowing curls as if using a curling iron
  • Setting perm uses a much higher temperature, so rods cannot be used close to the scalp
  • Post perm care is essential since heat permed hair is more vulnerable to damage

Types of Korean Cold Perms

1. Hippie Perm 히피펌

Hippie perms feature curls that are ideal for volume.

korean perms pahma
Kim Go-eun in Cheese in the Trap

Volume with looser curls are also achieved with layers and thicker rods.

2. Wave Perm 물결펌

Soft wavy curls deliver a structured, romantic look.

Kim Nam-joo in Queen of Housewives

Try beachy waves at home with a triple barrel hair curler.

Try beachy waves at home with a triple barrel wave iron.

3. Baby Perm 베이비펌

Baby perms offer cute short curls for volume.

Types of Korean Heat/Digital Perms

Below are the many types of digital perms you can get in Korea, but when abroad, many Korean salons will simply refer to all of them as ‘digital perms’. Be sure to show the stylist a picture of what you want so that the heat and time can be adjusted accordingly.

1. C Curl Perm 컬펌

C Curls speak for themselves since the ends resemble the letter C whether flipped in or out.

Kim Ji-won in Descendants of the Sun and Jun Ji-hyun in My Love From the Star

Simulate a C Curl digital perm with a jumbo 1.5 inch curling iron.

2. Short Bob S Curl Perm S컬펌

These perms also look like their namesake with ends that resemble the letter S.

3. Lovely Perm 러블리펌

A Lovely Perm features long, loose, natural looking waves that can start at the top of the head.

To try this look at home, a triple barrel hair waver offers dummy proof temporary waves.

4. Setting Perm 셋팅펌

This Korean perm starts at the midsection due to higher heat and is best for longer hair. The look mimics one that results from having your hair set in hot rollers.

5. Magic Perm 매직펌

If sleek and straight are what you seek, ask for some Magic. This is one perm that you can try at home if you’re brave!

From frizzy and wavy to sleek and shine

Special Korean perms are available in most major cities where there is a large Korean population. Bring along some pictures of the style you are going for and your stylist can help you decide which perm is best for you. The Korean pronunciation of perm is ‘pahma’ so keep that in your back pocket in case there is any communication difficulty. As with any perm, your hair will benefit a little extra TLC so consider a protective shampoo and treatment.

For more articles like this please sign up for the Best of Korea newsletter!   


One thought on “Korean Perms: 8 Great Looks for Your Next Pahma

  • February 25, 2023 at 7:38 pm

    Reading your article helped me a lot and I agree with you. But I still have some doubts, can you clarify for me? I’ll keep an eye out for your answers.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to Best of Korea!

Please Sign Up for Updates

We hate spam.
You can unsubscribe