A long time ago, my hair got cut into a literal mullet. After coming down from the psychological trauma, I dipped my toes into getting hair extensions for the first time because: desperation.
Turns out the mullet was a good thing, because now I’m a major hair extension enthusiast and self-proclaimed expert. Hair extensions allow me to have the high-volume waves I crave (my hair is fine and semi-straight) in addition to added length. Without extensions, I could never achieve Victoria’s Secret Angel-worthy hair. With them, I get compliments all the time on how lucky I am to have long, voluminous waves from people who are none the wiser.
If you’ve never dabbled with faux hair, you’re probably wondering how extensions work, if they’re worth it and if we regular non-celebrities can pull them off. After five-plus years of wearing a variety of extensions, here are my tips.
All Your Different Hair Extension Options (And How Long They Last)
The first thing you should ask yourself is: “Do I have commitment issues?” Hair extensions come in two forms: temporary and semi-permanent. The former you can remove any time you feel like, while the latter lasts you for weeks to months.
Temporary extensions include clip-in or halo (an invisible headband with attached hair you can slip on), both of which you can buy and add yourself. If you want semi-permanent extensions, on the other hand, you have to get your butt to a salon (not to mention have hours and lots of cash to spare).
These customizable hair wefts are applied close to the scalp using a “sandwich” of clear or tinted adhesive tape. They tend to be comfortable, come in a variety of lengths and shades and are relatively easy to maintain. These are my personal favorite, as they’ve never damaged my natural hair during the growing-out process. Once they’re removed with an oil-based solution (oil dissolves the adhesive), my actual hair stays on my head instead of being ripped out along with the tape. (Sound painful? That’s because it is.) Application time is roughly under an hour.
These hairpieces are woven or even glued into tightly braided, natural hair using thread. Also known as weaves, this type of hair can be slightly uncomfortable and require regular upkeep (in a salon). They can be damaging to hair, causing breakage when sewn or glued in too close to the scalp. They can also increase sensitivity in the scalp or cause tenderness. The application process typically takes an hour or two in the salon.
Extensions of this type are applied to natural hair with heat or ultrasonic waves. They tend to be individual pieces of hair with a microscopic keratin loop that’s attached to natural hair. These last the longest but are often known to damage hair upon removal. Horror stories of bald spots and broken ends result when these types are applied or maintained incorrectly. The other downside is the application process can take hours stuck in the salon chair.
Lifetime: 3-5 months
What It’ll Cost You: $600 & up
So what’s my all-time favorite, you ask? I LOVE tape-ins. Platinum Seamless is my go-to for this method. They’re lightweight and comfortable, making them a good fit with my active lifestyle. I can braid, ponytail or put them in a top knot or bun when working out or teaching a yoga class. Best of all, they have never caused damage or breakage to my natural hair. Their adhesive gel attachments are tinted to a deep brunette, making them virtually undetectable within my natural strands.
According to my mane man Ryan Nickulas at Vidov Salon in NYC, tape-ins tend to work for nearly all hair types and lifestyles; weaves and bonded hair can be harder to manage, especially if your hair is prone to breakage or easily damaged.
This isn’t to say that nobody should get sew-in’s or bonded extensions (because people do, and they look awesome), but make sure you understand the downsides and time commitment!
Human Hair Is the Best
Both temporary and semi-permanent extensions are available with synthetic and human hair. For obvious reasons, human hair delivers a more natural look and feel. “Virgin” (never processed or colored) hair, known as Remy hair, is considered the creme de la creme of faux hair. This type can be curled, ironed and heat-styled.
Synthetic hair can sometimes be heat-styled but tends not to hold or retain curl as well (if at all) as human hair. Plus, certain synthetic types run the risk of melting and/or damage from heat styling.
I say when you’re faced with the choice, go human!
You Still Gotta Shower (the Strands)
Now that you’ve got your dream hair, make sure it stays that way by caring for it accordingly. My daily routine includes a sulfate- and sodium chloride-free shampoo like It’s a 10 Potion 10 Miracle Repair Shampoo. Salt (a.k.a sodium) and/or sulfates can be very drying and weaken the extension bonds.
Also, make sure to keep oil- or cream- based conditioners or products away from the attachment areas, as oils dissolve or compromise the strength of the bonds. When you condition, avoid your scalp and focus only on the mid-shaft to the ends. You can use shampoo around the attachment areas, but do so gently!
Steer clear styling products with alcohol listed as one of the first or main ingredients, which can also be disastrous for the attachments and very drying for hair.
Finally, if you’re at a blowout bar, tell your stylist you have extensions! Otherwise they might tease the crap out of it. And this might sound OCD, but I always bring my own products so I can avoid extension-killing ingredients.
Don’t Skimp on Styling
To prolong the life of your extensions, prevent tangles before they start! There are two things I do to make sure my hair doesn’t turn into a rat’s nest.
Blow-dry hair your immediately after you shower, concentrating on removing all the water from the attachment area. I mist on a lightweight, leave-in conditioner spray, such as It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Conditioner, before blow drying to boost shine and keep the ends hydrated.
To eliminate knotting, I also braid hair in a loose side pony before I sleep on silk pillowcases, which prevent friction (and wrinkles). I use The Wet Brush (since it can be used on wet or dry hair) or the Tangle Teezer to keep breakage at bay. I slowly brush through hair in a downward motion to seal the cuticle.
Just Faux Tonight
If you’re clipping in temp extensions for a night out, you might be anxious about getting exposed (literally, like someone sees your extensions falling out or notices the clip sitting on your scalp). Here’s how to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Apply your clip-in extensions close to the scalp around the occipital bone (the middle of the back of your head). Place two pieces in a row underneath your actual hair and if you want, add a piece right above each ear underneath side layers at the temples. Secret trick: Use a teasing brush to create texture before applying extensions. This way, the pieces have a better shot at staying put; after they’re in place, brush out your actual hair to cover the clips.
So, are extensions worth the time and effort? Absolutely. There’s nothing sexier, more empowering or confidence-boosting than a fresh set of long, voluminous, look-at-me waves. I hope I’ve made you feel more confident about getting fake locks. Now if only I can do the same with faux lashes…