Hair extensions are a great hair accessory. They allow you to try a new ‘do with little commitment. You can go from long to short or short to long and back again. You can experiment with colors or textures different from your own. Or you can use them to add volume to beef up a skimpy mane.
Some women wear extensions as a protective style while transitioning from chemically processed hair to their natural hair texture, so as not to compromise their healthy hair goals in the process. “The trend of wearing curly/textured extensions really ties into the overall natural hair movement and the desire by women to have options that fit within, rather than disrupt, their personal style choices,” says Ngozi Opara, certified hair manufacturer and founder of Heat Free Hair.
Others, such as celebrities, models and entertainers may wear extensions as a protective means to shield their hair from the daily stresses that it endures on a film set, photo studio or stage. Whatever your reasons for wearing extensions, choosing the right type for your needs and maintaining them properly is key.
“The first thing you should do when considering getting extensions is that you should have a consultation with a professional hairstylist who specializes in extensions to determine the best match for your hair and desires. Bring in reference photos. You should have an idea of the style that you want and you can discuss with the stylist the best types of hair you would need,” says Amoy Pitters of Amoy Couture, a celebrity extension expert whose star clientele includes Joan Smalls, Naomi Campbell and Chanel Iman.
Depending on the type of extensions that you get, they can either last you a few months or a few days.
Hairpieces with tiny combs or clips that attach to the base of your hair. These last until you take them off at the end of the day. Clip-on bangs, ponytails or highlights are some popular fun options to try.
Temporary Glue-on Bonded Extensions
Hair wefts are glued to the scalp using liquid glue and removed with an oil-based solvent. These can last up to a week. It’s best to have a hairstylist remove the glue-in hair, but if you must do so yourself, use a scalp oil or silicone spray to gently remove the extensions. Saturate your scalp and bonded wefts thoroughly with the oils or spray so the glue completely softens, then gently slide off the wefts. Use a generously oiled, fine tooth comb to remove any remaining glue residue from your hair and scalp.
Long-Term Bonded Extensions
Extensions are fused by a hairstylist to a few strands of your natural hair with a heat-activated, keratin-based polymer. This option allows for greater versatility and movement, but can be very damaging if removed improperly.
- Interlock version: The hair weft is sewn down directly on top of your hair. Pitters utilizes this method for very fine or stick straight hair that can not support a braid.
- Braided version: Pitters employs this method on clients with thicker manes or textured tresses. Hairpieces are sewn onto cornrowed tracks.
Small hair wefts are taped to your roots. This type of extension is great for fine, blond hair because the point of attachment is barely visible.
Synthetic Hair vs. Human Hair Extensions
The main difference between synthetic hair and virgin hair extensions (human hair that has been untreated and uncoated) is that synthetic hair is artificially manufactured hair, while virgin hair is natural human hair provided by donors. “Quality and authenticity is very important when purchasing virgin hair extensions. So, it’s important to make sure you purchase from a reputable brand or retailer that can provide quality assurance,” says Opara. “Another difference between the two is the price and quality; synthetic hair is available at lower price points, but it does not last nearly as long as virgin hair extensions,” continues Opara. Virgin hair can last up to a year with proper care and maintenance. Human hair extensions can also be heat styled and colored, while synthetic hair can not.
And be aware that some women are allergic to synthetic hair. So if you opt to go the synthetic route, ask your stylist to attach a test strand before you fully commit. If done correctly, weaves can look gorgeous and unbelievably real.
Tips for Maintaining Your Extensions
- Treat them the way you would your real hair. “Naturally textured virgin hair extensions should be treated and cared for the same way you’d treat your own natural hair. Regularly washing, moisturizing and detangling your textured hair extensions is key to extending the life of the hair,” advises Opara.
- Dry your hair well. Hair that hasn’t been dried properly can lead to scalp issues, including fungal ones. So if you have thick hair, be sure to clip your hair in sections and dry your braided sections thoroughly.
- Don’t neglect your real hair. “Hair that hasn’t been maintained under a weave may begin to suffer from breakage or matting when the extensions are removed,” warns Pitters.
- Remove them in a timely fashion. Extensions will damage your hair if left in too long. Pitters recommends redoing interlock sew-ins every 6 weeks and the braided sew-in version every 8 to 10 weeks.
- Avoid oils. If you have glue-on bonded extensions, oils will break down the extension glue. And that is something that you don’t want to happen until you are ready to remove your pieces.
- Take a break now and then. Allow your natural hair and scalp to breathe from time to time. Relieve the stress placed on your hair and scalp by waiting a week or two after removal of your extensions before getting them replaced.