THE JHERI CURL was a popular hairstyle in the African American community in the early to mid 1980s. The Jheri Curl gave the wearer a glossy, loosely curled look. It was touted as an "wash and wear" style that was easier to care for than the other popular chemical treatment of the day, the relaxer.
A jheri curl was a two-part application that consisted of a softener (often called a "rearranging cream") to loosen the hair and a solution to set the curls. The rearranging cream used pungent chemicals, causing the naturally tight curls to loosen and hang. The loose hair was then set on perm rods and a chemical solution was then added to the hair to permanently curl it.
Besides the fact that it eventually went out of style, the jheri curl's decline in popularity probably occurred because of the damage it caused to the wearers hair and its labor-intensive and expensive upkeep. The harsh mix of chemicals required to make the style caused the wearer's natural hair to become extremely brittle and dry. To maintain the look of the jheri curl, users were required to apply activator and heavy moisturizers several times per day and to sleep with a plastic cap on their heads to keep the hairstyle from drying out. These products were expensive (a typical bottle of activator was small, retailed anywhere from $3 to $6,and was quickly depleted.) The activator in particular had the undesireable side effect of being very greasy; this would often stain clothing and anything that came into contact with it.
Washing the hair cleansed it of the styling products but also exposed the damage done to the hair by the chemical process. Also, as the hair grew out, the wearer would be forced to return to the hair salon for a touch-up, further adding to the overall expense.