What is a Jheri Curl

Spread the love

Is the Jheri Curl Coming back?

The Jheri curl was an invention of Jheri Redding, a white entrepreneur and chemist from Chicago, who saw fame in reinventing the curly perm for black people. A curly perm, or permanent, is the process of permanently curling straight European hair. Redding probably thought to himself that since we were already chemically straightening our hair, a curly perm would give us more variety and less breakage.

In a way he was right, but the dream was temporary. Some say Rhedding invented the Jheri curl process, and others ran with it. Others claim that he also created the Jheri curl, as a product, but it was only available in exclusive salons for people like Luther Vandross, Ice Cube and Donna Summers.

Whatever the case may be, the most popular Jheri curl back then was the Carefree Curl, made by black-owned Softsheen, which is now owned by L’Oreal. The Carefree Curl was readily accessible to all who could afford it, and is still available for salon purchasing and application today.

This is how a Carefree Curl was applied:

Getting a Carefree Curl done took 4-6 hours, as some of the stages took an hour to complete.

  1. A thioglycolate form of permanent straightening was applied to the hair in the form of a cream.
  2. Once the hair bonds have been broken and the hair was bone straight, the cream was rinsed out.
  3. The hair was then rolled using perm rods. During this process, another thioglycolate substance, this time a liquid, was added to the hair. This aided the process of rearranging the bonds inside the hair to make the original curl pattern like the pattern of  the perm rod.

Some perm rods are as small as an 1/8th of an inch, and the big ones are an inch and a half. Therefore, you could get teeny tight curls or big loopy curls as part of the Jheri curl process. Whether you had hair that was one inch long or down the middle of your back, you could get curls, curls and more curls.

7c4f7dbf20328c9860548eb446309aa1 perm rod sizes perm rods


  1. A plastic bag was put on the hair, and the person went underneath a hair dryer to set the curls.
  2. After the hair was thoroughly dry, and the person’s head was on fire from the chemicals and the heat, the thioglycolate solution was again added to the hair and left for some time.
  3. The hair was rinsed while still in the rollers, and a neutralizing solution was applied.
  4. The neutralizer was also rinsed out and Carefree Curl conditioner and activator were  added to the new curls.

The Carefree Curl also came with an at-home regimen that included:

  • How to use the leave-in conditioner and curl activator and how often to apply them.
  • The method of using a shower cap to hydrate the hair.
  • Relaxers on top of the curl were forbidden. Heat tools were huge risks for breakage.
  • The regimen was kept up until the following appointment, 2-3 months later.
  • Depending on the stylist, you were threatened with what seemed like life or death hair consequences, if you didn’t use the curl activator daily and other products weekly.

It’s hard to say how many stylists overdid this advice, but judging by the rampant greasiness that was around… probably a great many.

In retrospect, however, the advice wasn’t far from being sound. After all, the stylist was the one who knew exactly how much damage your hair had sustained! And as mentioned above, the damage would eventually manifest.

Once the Carefree Curl began to be associated with greasy, smelly hair, breakage and parodies we moved on. It wasn’t until decades later that Jheri curls made a comeback.

What was old is new again

As a style, the Jheri curl comeback happened years ago. And a lot of us have been working with our curl patterns trying heartily to reinvent this distinctive, curl popping look.

But if you ever had an actual Jheri curl in the 80s, the very thought that a wash and go might have taken its inspiration from the Jheri curl might give you some shocking flashback.

The Jheri curl style of yesteryear.

https://giphy.com/explore/jheri-curl The Jheri curl style of yesteryear.


The Jheri curl style of today.t

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCPMkEnIiOQ The Jheri curl style of today.

We have different names for things now, so it may not have hit you what was happening the first time you got your curls to pop. But you may have seen killer curl definition on someone else and said, “Hmn. That kinda looks like a Jheri curl…”

If you had one of the most popular and most taunted African American hairstyles, it can take a while to own up to the fact that it’s back.

The New, Modern Jheri Curls

Today, there are a variety of ways to get popping curls and ringlets. None are greasy and dripping, unless you want them to be.

These are listed in order of the degree of harsh chemicals used, so the natural wash and go comes first.

The Wash and Go

To get great curl definition on natural hair and avoid permanent processing, try a wash and go. The wash and go caters to our desire for volume, whereas curly perms tend to be more flat.

However, the name “wash and go” is misleading, because you can hardly just wash your hair and head out the door with this styling method.

The main product used in a wash and go is a curl definer, usually a gel. Here’s how to choose a great curl definer.

Have a look at vlogger Chizi Duru going to a salon for her wash and go.

Here’s vlogger Mini Marley with a looser curl texture, doing her own wash and go.

But even with all the effort, not everyone’s hair clumps and defines readily. Different wash and go regimens have been developed to help define all textures, including the Curly Girl Method and the Maximum Hydration Method.

S Curl and Other Texturizers

maxresdefault 1


In the wake of the expensive, $100-$300 Jheri curl varieties that were done in salons came cheap home kits that served the same function. These are texturizers, like the S Curl, which are milder forms of relaxers that break the hair bonds only enough to loosen kinks into curls. Texturizers are not as harsh as curly perms and full-strength relaxers. They require no perm rods, and are sometimes only semi-permanent.

S Curl


Soft & Beautiful Botanicals Texturizer

SBS 110284


These are just two examples of texturizers. There are many, many others. Men and women tend to use the same texturizer products. Vlogger Laddie Symone used the Botanicals texturizer on a man in the video below.

Texturizing with a Relaxer (Texlax)

Relaxer processing can be timed for a shorter time period to perform like a texturizer. Texlax-ing is a DIY process using a home relaxer, but leaving it in for less time. Texlaxing can help you transition from relaxed hair to natural hair by having a barrier of hair in between that is a blend of the two. This helps relieve tension on the point where the relaxed hair and natural hair meet, and can lessen breakage for that reason.

Here’s how vlogger Curly Monroe texlaxed her natural hair, and what her results looked like.

Modern Curly Perms

It’s a good thing that none of the curly perms in use today use heat on top of chemical processing. That horribly damaging process is history.

The New and Improved Gina Curl – Curly Perm

Gina Rivera’s hair salon Hair’s Talent in East Haven, Connecticut has its own version of the curly perm for black hair. BHS is impressed by the amount of care the Hair’s Talent salon gives to black hair, and Gina’s commitment to the health and growth of our tresses.

What sets the Gina Curl apart from other curly perms is that the ingredients are based on the slightly less harsh Japanese Thermal Reconditioning system. In addition, the Gina Curl supplements with very conditioning products.

However, the biggest distinguishing factor of the Gina Curl is how she uses the perm rods. In order to minimize breakage, she rolls using the piggyback method. By having a smaller perm rod cover the “line of demarcation” between chemically treated hair and natural hair while doing a touch up the curly perm process, Gina greatly reduces the possibility of hair breakage.

The piggyback method helps clients to go for extended periods without another touch up. Most only visit her salon twice a year.

She explains about piggybacking in this video:

The original Gina Curl used a two step process that only used a thioglycolate-based setting lotion and a neutralizer. Today, the New and Improved Gina Curl uses the full three-step curly perm process of the thioglycolate cream and setting lotion, and lastly the neutralizer.

Here is Gina showing a before and after of her curly perm method:

Wave Nouveau and Others

There are other curly perms designed for black hair like Ferm, Design Essentials Wave By Design, Wave Nouveau and Carefree Curl. There’s very little difference between these products. The Carefree Curl line and processing has changed a bit. There’s no heat used during processing and the aftercare ingredients have changed slightly.

The perm processing ingredients and treatment all use the same standard.

The following is the salon procedure of Design Essentials Wave By Design:

About the Jheri Curl Activator

Sometimes referred to as jheri curl juice, curl activators today are very similar products to the old juice. The difference is that the name “curl activator” isn’t used much anymore. The product makeup has changed slightly and other ingredients have been added.

The new curl activators contain drying ingredients like silicones and polyquaternium.

Is this a good thing? Here’s something to remember: The original activators contained little more than water, glycerin and mineral oil. Mineral oil isn’t a great ingredient, but it sealed in moisture. The overuse of the original activators actually became the key to having scalp that was so hydrated, the hair was jumping out of it. At the same time, misuse helped protect the damaged curly perm hair from breaking – up to a point.

It’s  important to note that, when used in moderation, curl activators will still help define a curly perm, but might not help grow hair and protect it from breakage the way activators used to when used in excess.

Curl activators today still used glycerin as a base, and that’s great, but glycerine only works well if the climate isn’t too dry. This is why when people try to substitute glycerin-based curl activators for curl definers like gel, they get mixed results in terms of hydration.

In the 1980’s, when people were soaking their heads with jheri curl juice, the moisture in the air hardly mattered. The quantity of product used made hydration a given.

The key to keeping curly permed hair healthy and moisturized might be the curl creams that are meant for natural hair and have natural and hydrating ingredients – including some with glycerin. Activators, curl definers and other products that have drying ingredients can make our hair suffer, especially if it has had 3-step chemical processing.

Then There’s Jheri Curl Hair…

Will you save loads of time by having a Jheri curl? In some ways you can and in some ways you can’t. You will certainly cut down on the time it takes to style your hair, but there is still a daily hair regimen involved.

If you want to save more time, you can get the curl definition of your dreams with jheri curl hair. Yes, that’s right: a Jheri curl weave or wig.

7161mxmSNkL. SX522


Whichever method you choose, a Jheri curl, wash and go or  Jheri curl hair, it’s time to let your ringlets loose! Check us out for more style options, explained regularly.

Spread the love
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply