Pin Curl Perms: A Step-by-Step Tutorial of a Vintage Hairstyle

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Everyone loves to bring back fashion and hair trends from the past. It seems that most trends repeat every 20 to 30 years.

Well, we’re not complaining. In fact, we’re absolutely loving it!

A woman with brown curly hair posing in front of a flower wall.

One of the styles making a comeback is pin curl perms. It’s a hairstyling technique that reminds us of old Hollywood glamor.

Since the pin curl hair trend ever started, everyone has developed tricks and tools for recreating the style. We’ll show you the most popular ways to do this.

But we’ll also tell you how it’s done the old, original way.

So whether you want to create permanent waves or get them done for a special day, we’ve got you covered. Continue reading to learn how to do this beautiful hairstyle at home.

What Is a Pin Curl Perm?

A pin curl perm or pin curl permanent wave is a setting technique used to achieve vintage-style wavy hair. As the name suggests, it involves the use of pins to create the curls.

That differs from the perming rods you’re probably more familiar with.

Traditionally, pin curl perms are created by rolling a section of wet strands and then securing it with a bobby pin or prong clip.

It started as a more practical way to style hair after the Great Depression as women had to move away from the extravagance and decadence of the 1920s lifestyle.

But even though the pin perm is considered a thriftier style, it doesn’t look less glamorous. It still gives off a feminine, vintage celebrity vibe.

It’s a simpler and less damaging method of recreating the curly-haired look of movie celebrities and can easily be done at home.

This style remained until the early ’60s. But now it’s making a comeback, especially among vintage-style lovers.

Finger Waves Vs Pin Curls

The beginnings of the pin curl perm are rooted in the finger wave hairstyle (then known as flapper waves and Marcel waves) of the 1920s.

But these two styles should not be confused with each other as there are significant differences between them, including the following:


In finger waves, the hair is wet and saturated with a setting lotion. Then the strands are pinched between the fingers and combed in alternating directions to make S-shaped waves. 

Clips or clamps are then used to secure those waves afterward. These clips or clamps are left overnight and removed in the morning.

Here’s TheLongHairedFlapper walking viewers through the various sophisticated tools used to create these iconic waves:

On the other hand, pin curl hairstyles for short hair are set by saturating the hair with setting lotion and then winding or rolling sections of hair up to the scalp and pinning them in place.

Here’s makeup artist Ern Westmore from 1961 demonstrating how to do pin curl perms on short hair.


Finger waves are defined, flawless, shiny S-shaped waves that lie close to the head. This style looks best with bob haircuts.

As for the pin curls, the waves have a softer and fuller form. This gives you a more feminine look and a lower-maintenance style.

Pin Curl Perms Vs Pin Curl Styles

Before we create pin curls, it’s important to know that there’s one major distinction between pin curl perms and pin curl styles. Here’s a clue: it’s in the word “perm.”

Perm is short for permanent wave. It’s done by using chemicals to set the curls and make them last for months.

So a pin curl perm is when you use pins and chemicals, specifically a perming solution, to permanently set your curls. This hairstyle will last for several months.

On the other hand, pin curl styling is curling your hair without the use of chemicals.

This is a heatless styling technique where you curl your wet hair and hold them using pins until the locks are dry and ready for styling.

Because of that, the style is only temporary. The curls will most likely be gone once you wash your hair. So if you have a vintage party to attend, this would be perfect.

How Does a Pin Curl Perm Work?

As we’ve mentioned, pin curl permanents are done with pins and chemicals.

The curls are set using pins just like in regular pin curl styling, but the chemicals you use make the result long-lasting.

The process of altering the hair shape is similar to a traditional cold perm where two chemicals are used:

  • Waving lotion
  • Neutralizer

Waving Lotion

A waving lotion or perming solution alters the shape of the hair. How does it achieve this?

To understand the science behind it, let us tell you first about the chemical bonds in hair.

  • Salt bonds
  • Disulfide bonds
  • Hydrogen bonds

These bonds keep your hair structure and are responsible for hair strength and elasticity.

The strongest of these three are disulfide bonds. They keep the shape of your hair. 

A waving lotion works by breaking down the disulfide bonds in the hair using ammonium thioglycolate or perm salt. 

When you apply the lotion, the bonds will be broken and your hair will take the shape of your rolled curls.


After the hair has taken a new shape, the bonds need to be reformed for the new shape to last. That’s where a neutralizer comes in.

A neutralizer or finishing lotion has a mild acid and bond-forming agent, usually hydrogen peroxide, that neutralizes the action of the waving lotion and lets the hair take this new shape.

Pin Curl Patterns

The results of your curls may vary depending on the length of the hair, the thickness of your hair sections, and the size of the curls.

Small strands make tight curls, and large sections make loose curls.

To pin curl perm long hair, it’s best to use large rods in forming the curls before pinning them. Take note that tight curls are harder to achieve with long hair.

That’s why pin curl sets for long hair usually come with a large rolling rod for you to use.

For a short pin curl style, you can make smaller circles with your strands.

Additionally, the direction of your curl affects the path of your waves. There are different curl patterns that you can use when doing the pin curl.

Stand-Up or Barrel Curl

Used for height and fullness, this pattern is usually done at the top front of the hair with the curl pinned standing up.

Flat Forward Curl

Each strand is curled clockwise and the pinned curl lies flat on your head. This is meant to direct the wave up and toward the face.

Flat Reverse Curl

The section is turned counterclockwise to create waves that are away from your face. This is usually done on the next row of hair after the flat forward curls to create S-waves.

Pin Curl Permanent Wave Tutorial

When you’re ready to get long-lasting pin-up curls, you can try achieving it at home. The process would take around two hours.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Wash Your Hair

Hair must be freshly washed before curling so there is no dirt or product buildup that can interfere with the chemicals.

Remember that dry hair may have loose and frizzy strands that are difficult to curl. As such, we advise starting the curling process with damp strands that are much more pliable.

2. Comb the Strands

Flatten and stretch your hair using a fine-tooth comb until every tangle is gone. This will ensure smoother waves. Then begin separating your hair into one-inch sections.

You can go for thinner sections to get tighter curls or thicker sections to get bigger curls.

3. Curl the Section

Hold a section of your hair firmly and draw the comb in the direction you want your curl to take. 

There are three ways to form your curl:

  • Hold the ends of the section and carefully roll it up toward the base of your scalp.
  • Place one or two fingers an inch away from the scalp, then wrap the hair around your fingers. After wrapping, hold the curl and gently remove your fingers.
  • Use a rod to roll the curl. 

The last one is the easiest way. Whichever method you choose, remember not to twist the strands while rolling.

4. Pin the Curl

By this time, you should have formed your hair into a small circle. Place it on the base of your scalp.

Use a curling pin or clip to keep the curl in place. You can use a bobby pin, but this may leave unwanted creases. Curl pins or prong clips are better for smoother curls.

Continue rolling the rest of your locks.

5. Apply the Waving Lotion

Place a tissue or a long roll of cotton around your hairline to protect your skin from chemical burns.

Then saturate each curl with waving lotion.

Some perm solutions come with applicator tips and are easier to use. But if your product doesn’t have one, you can use a sponge instead.

6. Rinse Your Hair

Beautiful young woman getting a hair wash. Hair salon styling concept.

After 10 minutes, rinse the hair with the curl pins still intact. You can rinse for three to five minutes to ensure that the perm solution is completely rinsed off.

Then pat your head with a towel to remove excess water.

7. Apply the Neutralizer

Pin curl kits usually come with a foaming neutralizer. Shake the bottle until it forms a foam and apply the product to your curls.

If the neutralizer is in liquid form, you can just apply it like how you did with the waving lotion.

8. Remove the Pins

After saturating the hair with a neutralizer, you can then gently remove the pins and let the curls down. Once all the pins are removed, rinse the hair thoroughly.

9. Style Your Hair

You can dry your hair using a hair dryer with a diffuser or low heat setting, or just let your locks air dry. Just make sure not to rub them with a towel.

Once your beautiful curls are dry, they are ready to be styled the pin-up way.

Use a brush to fluff out the curls and form your waves.

How to Do Overnight Pin Curls

To get the temporary classic pin-up curls, you can style your hair before you sleep. This will give you curls that will last all day.

The curling process is similar to the one above. You’ll also roll the hair to create your pin curls. However, you won’t use chemicals, except for a curling cream or setting lotion.

Styling Tools You Need

  • Water
  • Setting lotion or curling cream
  • Rattail comb
  • Brush
  • Single or double-prong clips
  • Lightweight pomade or styling gel
  • Silk scarf

Steps to Create Your Pin Curls

  1. Apply the setting lotion to your damp hair. For this hairstyle, we recommend the Lottabody Setting Lotion. Evenly distribute the product to your strands.
  2. Make your hair sleek and frizz-free by combing it with your rattail comb.
  3. Gather a section of your hair. If you have fine hair, gather a larger section. For thicker hair, go for smaller sections.
  4. Roll your curls like a wheel up toward your scalp. See the sections above for pin curl perms for a more detailed way of how to form the curls.
  5. Once you finish curling your hair, cover it with a thin scarf to protect your curls while they dry or while you sleep.
  6. The next day (or when the hair is completely dry), remove the pins from the curls.
  7. Brush your hair out and apply a lightweight pomade or styling gel. Try Curlsmith Curl Defining Styling Souffle. The brushing may take a while before you get smooth, soft waves.
  8. Once you have your waves, you can style them the way you want.
  9. If you want to get spiral pin curls, you can skip the brushing to keep the curls tight.

Let’s look at Lauren Rennell’s tutorial on how to do a pin curl for shoulder-length hair.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There a Pin Curl Perm for Men?

Yes. Pin curl perms can also be done on men with short hair. This hairstyle technique is popular in Japan and Korea.

The method is similar to pin curl perms, but since the hair is shorter, there won’t be big waves like the original pin curls of the ’50s.

What you’ll get is textured, messy looking waves that can give body or volume to your short hair.

How Long Do Pin Curl Perms Last?

Pin curl perms can last as quickly as a month to as long as 18 months, depending on your hair type and your hair care. It has the same longevity as other types of cold perms.

Creating Pin Curls

Pin curl perms is a retro hairstyle that you can either ask from your hairstylist or you can try at home.

And if you don’t want something so permanent, you can also style your hair with pin curls but without the perm solutions.

As long as you know the right products and curl patterns for this hairdo, you can easily recreate the glamorous old Hollywood look.

Interested in other hairstyles?

Try these other hair trends:


  • Rachelle Velasco

    Rachelle, is a sought-after freelance hair and makeup artist, shines particularly in the world of hair color. From subtle ombres and balayages to vibrant hues and intricate root work, she crafts unique styles tailored to individual preferences. Beyond her artistic talents, Rachelle also holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to learning.

  • Madeline Hall

    With ten years in hairstyling, Madeline Hall has trained with elite colorists Naomi Knight and Lupe Voss and assisted celebrity stylist Alex Chases. From building a solid clientele at San Francisco's Code Salon to impressing Nashville's finest, Madeline is a force in the industry. Passionate about educating clients and staying updated on trends.

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