Learn to Boil Perm and Curl Your Barbie or Monster High Doll's Hair

Updated on November 14, 2016

Introduction to Curling Hair

If your doll has straight hair and you want it to be curly instead, a boil perm is the easiest way to accomplish it. One of the prettiest looks you can give is a spiral perm, which is long cascading vertical rows of curls.

Doll hair is a synthetic fiber and does not react to the same processes as human hair so different techniques need to be used. I will explain it all to you and then you will have all the information you need to give your dolls a new curly style.

Different Kinds of Hair Used

Saran, Kanekalon and Nylon are the most commonly used synthethic fibers used for hair on Barbie and Monster High Dolls. I have heard that Saran and Nylon are used most for Barbies and Saran and Kanekalon is used for Monster High Dolls.

Each kind of material has different properties, which makes it easier or harder to hold a curl. As a rule, Saran is much harder to hold a curl and needs to have a longer processing time, while Kanekalon and Nylon take a curl much faster and hold it better over time.

I find Saran to be silkier and nicer, very shiny. Nylon, to me, is stiffer and I don't like it much. Kanekalon is fluffier and prone to tangling and becoming unruly.

How Do Boil Perms Work?

The standard method of curling a Monster High or Barbie doll is to use the boiled water method- known as a boil perm. This is the process I am going to show you here.

The way this method works is to soften the fibers enough in the boiled water so that it can be reformed into it's new shape on your perm rods or curlers. In the same way that getting a perm on human hair works with a chemical solution that breaks down the bonds of the hair, the hot water serves as the "chemical" that helps curl the fibers.

Supplies for Curling Hair

Spiral perms refer to rolling the fibers vertically on long perm rods. This works best with longer material and looks really beautiful.

I find that perm rods that are used for human hair are the easiest to use for curling Barbie or Monster High dolls. The thinner the perm rod the tighter the curl will be. For much looser waves, you can use a larger diameter rod.

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Perm Rods and End Papers

Perm rods are really inexpensive. I like to keep several styles and sizes on hand so that I can create a variety of looks on my dolls. The rods come in different colors which are used to designate the diamter of the rods.

Mostly I use the pale blue rods. I have about 40 of them on hand. Along with perm rods you will need end papers. These are really cheap as well and a box will last you forever as they come 1000 to a box. They are similar in feel to tissue paper and are used to keep the hair on the perm rods.

You will also need a small comb, and hair clips to hold sections out of your way as you are working on your doll's head.

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Starting the Spiral Perm

For a spiral perm you want to use the longest rods, as you'll need the room to roll up the fibers.
Wet your hair and comb it straight down her back. Then you need to section the material. This means to part the hair in specific areas so you can work on other sections.

You will start by rolling the lower rows of hair, so comb out a section as shown and clip the rest of it up and out of the way. Leave the bottom row hanging down. This is where we will start to roll the material. We will work from the bottom layers to the top layer.

Next, take a 1/4 - 1/2 inch section of hair and comb it straight as shown.

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Take an end paper and place it behind the section of hair as shown to the right.

The moisture from the wet fiber helps it stick to the end paper and makes rolling the material up on perm rods easier.

Now fold the end paper over the hair as shown. It will be sandwiched between the paper. Make sure it lays flat inside the paper and is not all bunched up.

Open up the perm rod by making sure the end is popped off- you wil see what I mean when they are in your hand. Place the hair in the rod as shown.

Roll the hair up by making sure you start from the very bottom of the rod. You will need to roll it on an angle to get a spiral perm look.

You can either roll the fibers up on the rod to the top if you want it all curled, or just part way up if you want the curls to only be towards the end. I am going about halfway up as I still want her hair to be very long.

Once you have the material rolled up on the perm rod you will need to take that little plastic cap that is attached to the rod by the rubber band and clip it over the rod to the other side. The little cap fits into the hole. This is what holds it to the rod.

Now move on to the next section. Take another small piece of hair and repeat what you just did. Roll up the entire bottom row.

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When the bottom row is complete, you can unclip the top and repeat the procedure on the next row. Depending on how much hair your Barbie or Monster High doll has to start with will determine how many rows you need to make to curl the fibers.

Don't make the sections or rows too thick because the material will not curl evenly. It needs to be rolled in even sections in order for the curls to be the same size and diameter.

Now we can get to the actual curling part of this curling tutorial.

Get a pot of water boiling and have your sink cleared out so you can work in it. You'll need to dunk your doll's head in cold water after, so you may want to have a bowl handy for the cold dunk.

When the water in the pot has come to a boil, turn off the heat and bring the pot to the sink. Lay the doll's head into the water making sure all the perm rods are covered with water. If you are sure the material is Saran, then you will need to leave the head submerged for about 1 minute, but no longer. Nylon and Kanekalon curl in much less time and may frizz if left in too long. 20 seconds or less is best.

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You can always re-perm if it is not curled enough, but if you leave it in hot water too long and it over perms, it is not easy to repair the material. Better to ere on the side of caution if you are unsure what kind of hair your Barbie or Monster High doll has.

After the alloted time, remove your doll from the hot water and immediatley immerse her head in icy cold water. This is what sets the curl and stops the softening process. Forgetting this step can result in hair that is over processed and possibly ruined as the rolled material will keep the heat for quite a while.

You can test a curl now to see if the degree of curl is what you want. If it appears to not hold a curl, re-roll it and repeat the process. Don't dip in the hot water for as long the second time.

If it is curled to your satisfaction, you can either let the fibers dry on the perm rods or unroll it carefully and let the curls air dry off the rods. It doesn't make a huge difference either way. Toss out the used end papers.

I like to use a clear styling gel to hold the curls, as I most likely will be repainting my Monster High Dollor making an OOAK Barbie doll next. I just take some in my hands and gently pat it into the wet curls.

Once the curls are dry you can separate them by hand or use a wide tooth comb to pick them apart and loosen them up a little. Do not, however, use a brush on dry curled fibers. If you do, you are going to get some really big hair.

If you have ended up under-perming, you will find that the fibers droop and the curls wilt. But at least you will know better for next time.

Hope you enjoyed this curling tutorial for Barbies or Monster High dolls.

Monster High Doll Styling Photos

Questions & Answers

  • If you have curly hair, can you use cold water to straighten it out?

    You would use hot water to remove the curls if you wanted it straight again.

  • How do you know what type of hair your doll has?

    I don't know. I can only guess from the texture and how it takes a curl. If the curls droop easily, it is probably saran.

  • I want to curl the hair and paint some blue and pink in parts of the hair with acrylic. Can I spray a sealer on the hair and face of the doll to keep the hairstyle and color or will that ruin the curls? How to stiffen the curls and give hair a mix of color without rerooting?

    I am unsure what you mean when you say 'spray a sealer on the hair and face". The sealer one uses to prepare a face for repainting with pastels and colored pencils ( never needed for acrylic paints alone ) should never be applied to the hair. Curls can be held in place with either a clear hair gel, or if you want something really stiff you can use a watered down white glue. If you are painting acrylics onto those curls, this in itself will make the curls very stiff.

  • What size end papers do you use for the doll's hair and how many perm rollers would you use per head?

    I am pretty sure end papers only come in one size. Never saw an option for larger or smaller as they are made to fit the 4" length of the perm rods. In answer to how many per head- that's up to each individual. There is no one way that everyone does it. It depends on the look you are going for.

  • What size are the perm rods you use? How thick and long?

    They are the ones you can buy at any beauty supply store. I use all sizes depending on what kind of curl I want. They come in many widths from very skinny to the fatter grey colored ones. They are all the same length- about four inches.


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