2.1 The history of perming

Every expert in their respective industry should have a firm understanding of where their craft originated and the progression of trends and styles throughout the ages. In addition to the obvious protection that lashes provide our eyes, enhancing the aesthetics of lashes has been a practice since the dawn of civilisation. The timeline below provides a great summary of lash trends in ancient times:

The advancements in lash enhancement services are largely attributed to the evolution of hairdressing products and techniques. Let’s take a look at some key historical dates and inventors.

Marcel Grateau

Marcel Grateau revolutionised hair styling in 1872 by creating what was known as the ‘Marcel Wave’ or what we would call ‘pin curls’ today. He discovered and refined this technique while styling the hair of prostitutes in the slums of Paris, trying to emulate the waves his mother naturally had. He invented a curling system that used tweezers in the shape of tubes, the first one concave and the other one convex. These tubes were then heated using a gas stove and then clamped to the hair creating a wave. He kept his technique #lockeddown by only performing services in closed rooms. He eventually received the patent entitled “Curling-Iron” in 1905 and later developed an electric version called “Hair-Waving Iron” in 1918.

Karl Nessler

Karl Nessler, who later changed his name to Charles (and sometimes went by the surname Nestle), was a shepherd in his early life. In this role, he observed that the wool of the sheep was crimped (unlike human hair) and that certain plants would curl after rainstorms. Moving on from shearing animals, Karl went on to commence a barbering apprenticeship and ended up working at a high-end salon.

Leveraging what he had learned as a shepherd and in the salon, Nessler conducted a range of experiments to achieve curls, using his wife, Katharina Liable, as his test subject. In one of his attempts, he plaited his wife’s hair and applied a mix of cow’s urine and water. This technique did not provide permanent curls, so he kept tinkering. Next, he applied caustic soda and super heavy rollers, which were heated and placed for 6 hours. After two attempts at this, he burnt Katharina’s hair off and burnt her scalp! Over time, he kept refining the process and eventually developed the world’s first curling machine, which had suspended rollers using a chandelier-type contraption #redemption. He used Sodium hydroxide on the hair, which provided a permanent curl. He also patented the first artificial brow, so he became very wealthy indeed.

Marjorie Joyner

In 1928, Marie Joyner created and patented her famous invention, the Permanent Wave Machine. It was a massive improvement from earlier inventions as it heated the curl from the inside out, which meant the curls lasted longer. She later invented a scalp protector to make the curling experience less painful, which was a major downfall of Nessler’s invention.

Use of chemicals

In 1938, Arnold F. Willatt invented the cold wave. This revolutionised the permanent waving industry and paved the way for the modern-day perm. The process of the cold wave involved wrapping the hair around rods and applying a chemical containing ammonium thioglycolate. Over the years, chemicals have improved and have become a lot safer! In the 80s, hair perming was all the rage with both men and women. Some in the fashion industry predict an 80’s revival with an increase in perm popularity in the last couple of years.

Lash perming

For chemical perms to be effective, there are two key steps – the first step involves applying a solution that essentially breaks down or softens the hair structure, allowing hairs to mould into the desired shape. The second step, known as neutralising, reverses step one and fixes the hair in place. For lash services, we recommend a third step, which is where you add a moisturising serum to the lashes. Applying a serum helps to nourish and strengthen your clients’ lashes – this third step is also marketed as ‘lash botox’.

The basic process of perms is shown below:

Step 1: Soften and mould hair
Step 2: Fix hair in place

While the process is the same for perming hair and eyelashes, the processing time and the type of solution do differ. Put simply; there are acid perming solutions and alkaline perming solutions. Acid perms use an external heat source, whereas alkaline solutions process at room temperature. If you have ever had a chemical perm at the hairdressers, you will likely be familiar with the ‘eggy’ smell the chemical has and the over-the-head hair dryer – these are acid-based perming solutions. The hair on our head has weight to it, so chemicals need to process for a longer duration for the curls to hold. Plus, our scalp can tolerate a bit more than our eye area can, although chemical burns are likely if a hairdresser over-processes.

The eye area is super sensitive, so you must ensure that you only use quality solutions and follow the instructions on your kit and especially the recommended processing time. We recommend that you only use perming solutions that have been specifically developed for eyelashes. We will look at the differences between lash perms and lash lifts in the next section.

Lash tinting

Much like perming, tinting solutions have developed over the past century – how lucky are we that we don’t have to use kohl or donkey faeces anymore? These days, there is a range of tint products on the market, and much like hair dye, they comprise two-part systems – the dye and the developer. The colour chart below gives you an idea of the type of colours you can achieve when tinting a client’s lashes:

To learn more about the history of fake lash development, take a look at the below external videos:

If you would like to learn more about ways you can get yourself organised, access the resources below:

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