The first important fact I want to stress is that there are not genuinely "permanent" hair treatments that will last forever without upkeep. The reason for this is simple. Our hair grows out and renews itself on a daily basis, and once it grows, any chemical or dye treatments that are on our existing "already grown" hair, are now nullified because of the new growth.
Any permanent straightening treatment is technically permanent, it's just permanent on the hair that is currently on your head when you get the treatment done. What some people don't realize is that any hair straightening treatment will need to be re-administered as the hair grows out, which for most people with moderate to fast hair growth, can be anywhere from every 6 to every 8 months.
If you have hair that grows exceptionally slow, this period can be lengthened of course, but you should usually count on going back at least every 8 months if you want to maintain the exact results of your initial appointment or self-application if you are trying an at home version (which by the way, I usually don't recommend unless you are professionally trained).
Now, let's get down to the options you have for permanent straightening. I'm going to go over the three that I have had personal experiences with, since I can give it to you from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and give you an idea of my personal satisfaction with each type.
The first one I'm going to discuss is generally the most expensive option, but of course you usually get what you pay for, and this is certainly no exception. The first one goes by two names, thermal reconditioning, which is it's technical name, and Japanese straightening, which is it's given name since the procedure has it's origins in Japan where it became insanely popular with Japanese women due to the naturally coarse nature of their hair.
Thermal reconditioning had been around for years already in Japan before it hit big here in the US, with women first hearing about it widely in the beginning of the new millennium. The first big star to reportedly be rumored to have had the straightening treatment done to her signature long, straight locks, was Jennifer Aniston, and from there the Japanese straightening craze began.
I had this treatment first back in 2004, when I wrote about my experience. I have nothing but great things to say about this procedure. It leaves the hair exponentially shinier and healthier looking than when you go in, and it lasts for as long as your hair takes to grow out. Japanese straightening usually runs anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per treatment, depending on the texture and length of the person's hair who is getting it done. If you have very long hair, or very curly hair, these types will take longer to process and you will be charged accordingly.
I ended up walking out of a specializing salon in Columbus Ohio, spending around $550 with the tip included, and that was with long hair. The reason I got it so reasonable was because the particular salon, called City Cuts, was so experienced they had it down to a science, and they charged less than most other salons where the treatment was more of a novelty than an almost every day occurrence.
I'd recommend them to anyone since the staff is highly trained, and they are headed up by a gentleman who was trained in Japan to do the procedure, so their results are pretty much flawless. I have a coarser hair type, and I was amazed at how this technique smoothed my hair and made it look as if it were naturally straight and full of shine.
You do need to make sure you do not get any moisture whatsoever on your hair for at least 2-3 full days before you wash it, and this is key to getting the best and most long lasting results possible. I'd recommend this treatment to anyone to straighten their hair, I just suggest you do your homework on where to get it done and make sure you are attending an experienced and reputable salon.
Another technique I have personal experience with is one that is less known called cold smoothing. Let me explain why I think this one may not have caught on as much as thermal reconditioning did. It simply does not leave your hair as healthy as the Japanese procedure does. In fact, my hair felt a lot drier, although it was definitely straighter after the cold smoothing.
Cold smoothing is a technique that uses no heat in the actual chemical process, and unlike Japanese straightening, it does not leave the hair completely poker straight, and allows the client to still do curly and wavy hairstyles, just with less frizz. I have to say, I did notice less frizz, but I still felt as though cold smoothing pulled some of the shine out of my hair.
If cold smoothing left the shine in and the healthy feeling, I'd say it's a great process, however, I was left a little "cold" feeling on this one, if I may use such a bad pun! It's less expensive as well, but only by about $200 usually. It is also less time consuming at the salon, so those are definitely two plusses to this option.
Now, onto the final straightening technique that I've had personal experience with. It's home straightening. I went to a local beauty supply store to try my hand at my own straightening to save a little money and to experiment and see what kind of results I could get. I would not recommend this method to anyone unless they get a superior home system and know what they are doing.
Furthermore, I don't think there are any home straightening kits out there that do an exceptional job. If there are, I don't know about them and would certainly like to, but my experience is a mediocre outcome and a messy, smelly application that seems to suck the shine and health right out of your hair.
The results with these home hair straightening kits also are not long lasting, and they tend to be more damaging than nurturing and moisturizing in most cases. There may be a time when they come out with a better option, but for right now, I'd say avoid them if you can and instead opt for a professional treatment.