My first problem was this: why on earth would Koreans (and Japanese for that matter) want to develop complex mechanisms for straightening hair when their hair is straight anyway?
The Chosun Ilbo has the answer:
Most Asians in fact do not have naturally straight hair, and today few of them have time to dry their hair naturally without a hairdryer.
Misconception number 2: I thought perms were something your average ajumma had, and were designed to make your hair go curly.
Wrong again. Kim Hye-soo, the owner of Korea’s most beautiful face, is far from being an ajumma.
So what are the problems? Well, it takes four to five hours and can therefore damage the hair
Another reason is that the perm gives a strong impression that it is artificially styled, which goes against the current trend of emphasizing naturalness. Another draw back is that the procedure doesn’t make thin hair voluminous.
But how, you might ask, does a “magic straight” work? The Seattle Post-Intelligence has the answer, as well as providing the helpful images displayed here.
The process is a complicated one: Hair is treated first with a specialized foamer to protect the hair, then the straightening solution, which breaks the shaft’s cystine bonds and has the same potent smell as regular perm solution. Hair is then coated in plastic and left under a heater for up to 40 minutes, depending on its texture and wave. After a washout and blow dry, specialized flat irons (which can adjust heat between 150 to 220 degrees) are used on one-inch sections of hair. The ironing process can take up to an hour and a half, sometimes employing two stylists at once. The irons permanently lock in the straightness.
Like regular perms, neutralizer is then applied and left in, which stabilizes the pH balance. Hair is then rinsed, treated and blown dry.
As with perms, clients must not shampoo their hair for two days. During this period, they also must leave their hair perfectly still — no barrettes, pins or bands. Some even warn against tucking your hair behind your ear for fear of bending the hair permanently before the shaft has completely stabilized.
All of which sounds terribly complicated, not to say dangerous, and one can only wonder at the dedication of the voluntary victims of such a process. And also, these treatments don’t come cheap. The minimum price in London seems to be £150.
Still, asked to choose between someone with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo and someone with a magic straight, other things being equal I’d go for the latter.