Perms were once reserved mostly for women looking to add volume, waves and curls to their hair. Some men had perms as well, partly due to a Korean influence.
But local hairstylists The New Paper spoke to said that these days, they are doing perms for children as young as two years old, both boys and girls.
Last week, local blogger Xiaxue took her son Dashiel, who turns three in March, to Athens Salon to swop his bowl haircut for a curlier do.
She posted photos of the process and her son’s makeover on Instagram and added: “Dash did a cold perm and the liquids never touched him or his scalp. We were super careful to wipe any stray drops.
“He has no redness or rash and is perfectly fine. Any comments suggesting I torment/harm my child will be blocked. It’s just for fun, nobody got hurt, lighten up!”
The 31-year-old, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, was inspired to give her son a perm after she came across a Taiwanese blogger who did the same for her two-year-old son.
Ms Cheng told TNP over the phone: “I really like it on Dash and I think it makes him look very cute. It is just for a change.
“Dash likes it, too. He kept touching it and said: ‘Baby has curly hair.'”
Dash’s cold perm took nearly two hours, with the toddler sitting still throughout the process, thanks to iPad games.
His hair was washed before it was rolled around curling rods. A mild perming lotion was applied for up to 20 minutes before his hair was rinsed.
A neutraliser was applied for 15 minutes then rinsed off and the rods removed.
The hairstylist made sure the rods were curled very lightly around his hair.
These perms typically last from a few weeks to months, depending on the child’s hair texture.
When asked if she would get a perm for Dash again, she said: “Maybe, I’m not sure. As for other treatments, it is not likely. His hair is already naturally brown anyway.”
While most of the comments on Ms Cheng’s Instagram were positive, some dissenters wasted no time in letting the mum of one know how “horrible” or damaging the perming might be.
One comment read: “This is v sad ur influencing a child to be super conscious of his own looks at such a young age”.
Ms Cheng, who said that she did some research before the perm, told TNP: “The hairstylist has permed the hair of many children, including her own niece, so I felt it was safe. Besides, my friend and I were there to supervise to make sure that the perming lotion did not touch his scalp or skin. If it dripped, we immediately wiped it away.
“I was quite surprised by the positive comments, with some saying it’s cute or that they preferred his straight hair.”
To her haters, she turns a deaf ear: “It is none of their business and he is not injured in any way, so why kick up a fuss? I made sure he is safe.”
Celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee, 45, said that the hair treatment trend among little ones has been sweeping China in the last five years, with some children even dyeing their hair.
But he noticed it picking up in Singapore only last year, with 80 per cent of his young customers opting for a perm.
The chairman and founder of Monsoon Group Holdings said that his salons saw about 50 children, some as young as three years old, during the school holidays. Most are about seven years old.
Generally, all hair services at his salons are 30 per cent cheaper for children. A cold perm typically costs between $120 and $250.
Mr Lee said that many of the mothers give their children a perm so that they can post it on social media.
He said: “I wouldn’t encourage or discourage it, but it must be properly done.
“Try to use milder perming lotions and notable international brands instead of products made in China.
“Make sure that it is carefully applied and does not touch the skin or scalp. Stylists should also be more patient.”
Said Mr Lee: “It can be dangerous if the product gets into their eyes and ears, so for the more active children, try to keep them as still as possible.”
Hairstylist Mervin Wee, 57, said that requests by parents to perm their children’s hair have been on the rise in the past two years.
The youngest customer he has had so far was about 10 years old .
Mr Wee, the co-owner of local beauty and hair salon chain Jean Yip Group, said: “With improved technology and products, it is safer now, but parents should still take note not to request for tight curls, which have a higher chance of products touching the roots and scalp.
“As stylists, we try to understand the parents’ objective. Perhaps just a slight perm to give texture and movement.”
Celebrity hairstylist David Gan, 49, has yet to see children perming their hair at his Passion Hair Salon.
But he prefers to reserve hair treatment for older children.
“I wouldn’t advise it for young children, unless their hair is really out of control or too straight, but perhaps I am ‘old school’,” he said.
“I don’t think it is advisable as there is still exposure to some element of chemicals. Perhaps when they are at least 13 years old, it is okay.
“But for a child so young, chemicals can enter the eyes.”
Local celeb parents say…
“It is something they can think about when they are older but at the moment, they are still children and I’d rather let things stay in this natural stage and savour it as long as they are willing. “Some people are happy to experiment but in this household, learning and having fun, not style, is our top priority.”
– Host-presenter Diana Ser who has three children aged nine, seven and four
“I don’t have to consider it because my five-year-old daughter Aly has gorgeous, natural waves and light brown hair. Maybe if it were straight, I would have thought about it.
“I have no right to say if parents should or shouldn’t do it because I know how tough it is to raise a kid without the burden of judgment from someone else.
“You can do whatever you want because it is your child.”
– Radio DJ Jamie Yeo
“My wife (Taiwan-born actress Kate Pang) and I have always adopted a natural and organic lifestyle as much as possible and we try not to expose ourselves to chemicals.
“So it’s not our plan to do that for our children.”
– Actor Andie Chen who has a one-year-old son and is expecting a daughter in late June
Kiddy perm trend making waves here
Athens Salon owner Lin Zhi’an, who permed Dashiel’s hair with another hairstylist, said the trend originated in Korea.
“Parents want their children to look cute and fashionable,” the 31-year-old, who saw more than 50 children perming their hair in her salon last year, told The New Paper.
They are as young as two years old and at least 10 per cent are Singaporeans.
A perm costs between $80 and $100 for children at Athens Salon, which opened its first outlet in 2009.
Ms Lin has permed her five-year-old niece Yori’s hair twice and might do it again in the future.
“We’ll see. She is chubbier now, so her mother prefers her with straight hair. Yori likes big waves,” she said.
Ms Lin emphasised that research was done and necessary precautions are taken when attending to children.
“We use a digital machine for adults, but we are not allowed to use heat on children, so cold perms are more suitable.
“We also check every few minutes for any adverse reactions to the product. So far, so good, it is quite safe.”
Inspired by Xiaxue’s post about Dash as well as two Taiwanese blogger mums, Madam Tsai Wei Leng took her two-year-old son Dagan to Athens Salon last Saturday for a perm.
“It was for fun. I thought that the bloggers’ children looked cute and I wanted to see how my son would look like with curls. I love the end result – he looks very cute,” the 31-year-old marketing executive told TNP.
“I was worried at first. Anything with chemicals involved is not 100 per cent safe, but the rollers were put in only halfway so the lotion did not touch the scalp at all.
“I was there all the way to make sure he was okay and so far, there is no skin irritation.
“The effect is quite cute, but once is enough. It was just an experiment to see how he’d look like.
“I guess it also depends on how fidgety he is the next time.”
This story was originally published in AsiaOne.com. For more stories like this, head to www.asiaone.com/women.