Don’t like your natural length, thickness, texture, or volume? Alarmed by the aggressively short haircut your stylist’s unveiled on you? Longing to try out a new color but don’t want to actually dye your hair? Need something a little more ‘more’ for a special occasion? Hair extensions are the perfect solution to all these problems.
I recently wrote a post discussing the teal women’s hair trend, and we touched upon the topic of hair extensions a couple of times. And it hit me: this is not the first time that hair extensions have come up in conversation, or popular media, in recent times. In fact, hair extensions seem to all the rage right now: from YouTube gurus and bloggers to everyday folks- just about everyone seems to be talking about or asking about hair extensions.
It’s a really interesting development because up until very recently, hair extensions were considered the dominion of celebrities and models: everyone else sort of made do with their own natural hair. However, with the skyrocketing popularity of the blogosphere and access to a lot more information than ever before, the average consumer has now exposed to tons more options.
In fact, hair extensions have become some of the most researched, most talked about, and most purchased styling products/ items of recent times. Gone are the days when trying out a new look involved the risk of getting stuck with something disastrous until you could grow it out. The styling industry has evolved into a very sophisticated place: the everyday enthusiast can now enjoy experimenting without paying too heavy a price for the same.
If you’re new to the hair extensions idea, it’s really important to do your groundwork first. Most women go through a hit-and-miss period before they can zero in on a brand/ range they really like. More reasonable than many other hair care and styling products, hair extensions are still something of an investment. Here’s everything you need to know for choosing and using the right set:
There’s no end to the kinds of hair extensions you get in the market: these vary in terms of material, length, type, application style, and so on. I’ve included some of the most common kinds of hair extensions based on the application method involved to help you choose your pick:
Probably the most common variety, clip-in extensions have little clips at the mouth, and these can simply be clipped into place at the roots of your natural hair. They’re definitely the most inexpensive option on this list because you only have to pay for the extensions and can apply and remove them yourself. You also get more wear-time out of these: human hair extensions can be used for around a year. They’re a great option if you’re new to hair extensions and/or you want to experiment with lots of different styles, lengths, colors, etc.
Your natural hair is inserted between the extensions, and each section is pressed and locked in together using a straightening iron. These last about 5-6 weeks before they need reapplication. This type works well with short/ fine hair. They’re rather inexpensive because the application isn’t particularly technical.
Weaves/ Braided Sew-ins
Involves braiding your natural hair to lie flat on the scalp, and then the extensions are introduced to the braids using a thread and a needle. You can weave in all your hair or only sections of it. It needs to be done by someone with a certain level of practice and expertise. A weave can stay in for about 2 months. It works best in hair that is thick, stiff, or coarse.
Beads/ Braid-less Sew-ins
Your natural hair is inserted into tiny micro-cylinder beads that rest against the scalp and act as a cushion. This is done strand-by-strand. The beads act as a base for the hair extensions to be sewn into. You’ll have to have your extensions tightened every 4-6 weeks. It works well with medium-long hair that’s pretty manageable on its own and just needs more length or volume. It’s not exactly cheap, but it is a more affordable option than the two techniques coming up next.
Keratin, U-Tip/Hot Fusion
Has to be added in by a trained professional. Heat is used to fuse your natural hair with the extensions, strand-by-strand. They can be left in for about 6 months, though it is recommended that you have them removed every 8-10 weeks to keep your hair from breaking and to allow new hair to grow healthily. This technique requires a professional to apply as well as remove the extensions to prevent damage, and so it can be quite expensive.
Micro-Link, I-Tip, or Cold Fusion
These have to be applied by a trained stylist: each extension is affixed to a strand of natural hair through bead-like micro-cylinders. You need to get them tightened every 8-10 weeks. These are recommended for all hair types. They’re especially great if you want to add highlights/ colored streaks to your hair without using actual dyes. They can be expensive.
How to Wash and Dry Hair Extensions
- You don’t need to wash your hair extensions every day, or even every time you wash your natural hair. Because they’re not actually attached to your scalp, they won’t get dirty as quickly as the rest of your hair. This is especially true if you wear clip-ins, and you take them out and keep them away after a few hours of use. Over-washing will only strip the extensions dry and ruin their texture and softness.
- Buy a shampoo and conditioner that’s specifically engineered to care for hair extensions. The needs of your natural hair are greatly different from what your extensions need, so using a regular daily shampoo might do more harm than good. There are products particularly formulated for hair extensions, and these are a lot gentler on them.
- When you do wash your extensions, gently build up a lather and work it through the extensions. Cover every bit but don’t rub your extensions roughly between your palms, and don’t try to scrub them clean. Just apply the product through the extensions and then run water over them and let it wash the cleanser out.
- You should let your hair extensions air-dry as much as possible. All the same wisdom about heat styling applies to hair extensions as well: the less you indulge in it, the longer you can enjoy happy, healthy hair. And since hair extensions are a product, they’ve got a shelf life.
- Use a wide-tooth comb to ease out any knots and tangles that might have to develop in the extensions. I also recommend using a looper brush with hair extensions. When you’re combing them, always start at the bottom and slowly move up the shaft. Use small strokes and brush in a downward direction.
Choosing By Need
- You can choose hair extensions based on your need. The most popular choice, of course, is that of the full-length extension sets. If you’re just looking to experiment with styling, this is the best way to go.
- However, if you’re looking to address a very specific need, hair extensions can come in handy there too. For instance, if you’ve got short hair and you want a thick, long ponytail, you can buy an extension ponytail. Simply clip it into place and mask it in with your natural hair by twisting some of it around the mouth of the ponytail. Longing to get a cute flirty fringe but can’t forget the horror of the last try gone wrong? We’ve all been there. And waiting for bangs to grow out is a torturous experience indeed—the answer: clip-in bangs. Fix them in and greet a whole new you. Switching looks has never been so easy.
Hair Extension Placement
- Try not to clip the extensions in at flat, horizontal lines all the time. This might work well at the back of your head and near the neck, where the hair falls heavy, but it can show up really plainly towards the front and the crown where the hair is finer. Instead, place the clips at angles so that the hair extensions also fall along the natural contours of the head. This way, instead of straight sheets of hair just falling flat from the head (and looking fake), you’ve got a more diffused, much softer effect.
- There’s no denying the fact that hair extensions add weight to your own hair and can tug at the roots and scalp. However, there’s a way to keep this from becoming a problem: just make sure you place the extensions at the roots where your hair is the strongest. We all have (and know of) patches where our hair is stronger and weaker; all you need to do is use this information to your advantage.
- Here’s a pro tip to get really natural-looking results from your hair extensions: teasing the roots where you clip in the extensions helps blend it all together. The teased sections will cleverly camouflage those telltale gaps and raised bits where you put in the extensions. You also want to tease the hair right above where you clip the extensions in; the teased hair will rise over the clips and keep them hidden.
Hair Extensions Styling Tools
- Avoid using heat-based styling tools on your hair extensions unless they’re made of 100% human hair. Hair extensions that use synthetic hair do not hold up well against heat styling.
- If you do decide to use heat styling tools, make sure you invest in ceramic tools with ion-boosting and conditioning properties. Hair extensions don’t come cheap, and you shouldn’t ruin them with inferior tools. For that matter, you shouldn’t be using anything but the best on your own natural hair either.
- Don’t over-style your hair extensions. Excessive heat styling is not recommended for natural hair either, but at least natural hair responds to care and can be nourished with a good diet, sleep, strength-boosting products, and home treatments. You can also always trim your natural hair to keep it healthy and damage-free. Hair extensions, once damaged, can’t be revived.
- Never use a heated tool on an entire set of extensions all at once: you must check to see if it works well before going the whole way. The idea of doing a patch test applies here as well. Style a small section first, and let it cool for five-ten minutes. Proceed with the rest only if you’re happy with the results.
Make It Last
- We talked about teasing the hair to help blend in the extensions; it also prevents the extensions from moving around. Tease the roots in one-inch sections wherever you plan to put the extensions in. Also, tease the areas directly over the clips. This added bit of body gives the hair extensions more support and gives them a little something extra to latch onto.
- Once you’ve teased your hair, but before you put the extensions in, spritz some stronghold hairspray into the roots for some serious lasting power.
Make It Match
Look, there’s no shame in using hair extensions to add that extra bit of oomph to your hair, but if when you’re putting them in, you might as well make them look as natural as possible. A lot of people have a hard time blending in extensions with their own hair, but it’s fairly simple once you get the hang of it.
- For starters, it always helps to straighten your hair before you add the extensions. And once you get the extensions in, go over all the hair with the flat iron to really merge it all together. Straightening helps create an even, uniform texture and is a favorite trick of stylists all over the world. This is an essential step, even if you’re ultimately going in for curls or waves or braids. Getting the base to look the same is the key to a really natural look.
- Give your hair some time to cool down before you continue styling. Wait at least ten minutes before you pick up that curling wand.
- Another trick is to add a shine-boosting serum to your natural hair. Hair extensions are usually quite glossy, and your own hair can often look dull in comparison.
- If you’re using the straightening trick, avoid a serum as it can combine with the heat to fry out your hair. Instead, use a heat protectant spray that also adds shine and silkiness.
These little tricks can go a long way in matching your natural hair to the extensions.
- Volumizing products can be really great with hair extensions. Look for powder products that you can sprinkle into the roots before you tease the hair. The added volume and grip helps to blend hair extensions into natural hair and keeps them in place until you choose to remove them.
- Whenever you’re shopping for products that you know you’ll be using with your extensions, look at the ingredients list to check for alcohol content. Using styling products without alcohol helps extend the life of hair extensions.
- Try minimizing the amount of products you use with your extensions. Product buildup is as real with extensions as it is with natural hair. You don’t want to have to worry about clarifying your extensions next!
Short Hair Stressors
- Adding hair extensions to short hair can be stressful because most people don’t know how to make them look natural. If you randomly place extensions all around the head, your own hair is going to jut out and ruin the overall look. Instead of following traditional placement techniques, take your own length, and cut it into consideration.
- Clip-in the wefts as close to one another as possible: this way, you create a whole new mass of hair without leaving any spaces, gaps, or lines peeking through. The closer the extensions are clipped together, the more densely the hair will fall together, and the easier it will be to blend it all. Doing so will also disguise the disparity in layers, thicknesses, and planes between your own hair/current haircut and the extensions.
- Don’t worry about hair extensions getting in the way of a proper workout: all you need to do is arrange your hair into a secure ponytail or a bun, using bobby pins to make sure it holds up while you sweat it out in the gym.
- Adding a headband also helps keep everything in place and prevent slipping.
- If your hair is prone to frizzing, use a humidity-combatting leave-in product to protect your extensions.
A final word of advice: it’s great to get used to doing your own hair extensions, especially if you plan on sticking with the clip-in variety, but I do recommend going to a stylist the first time for best results and a smooth beginning.