Hair extensions can do a lot of favors for your hair. They can give you mermaid-esque length, sky-high volume, and the body you've always dreamed of.
I'm about to seriously date myself, but during my education assisting other hairstylists, there were only two base camps for faux hair: real and synthetic. Real hair (also referred to as Remy hair) can handle heat styling and was much more expensive; synthetic hair would melt under heat but was more affordable. To manipulate synthetic hair into a desired shape and style without heat, I learned to use methods like pin curling and carefully rolled roller sets that were set with a handheld steamer.
After chatting recently with celebrity hairstylist and Ulta Beauty Pro Team member David Lopez, I learned that synthetic hair extensions have come a long way. Today, plenty of manufacturers now make synthetic pieces that can handle a certain amount of heat (though the temperature tolerances may vary). Synthetic hair, be it extensions or faux hairpieces, has become more versatile than ever. Lopez walked me through a quick step-by-step on how to best curl synthetic hair. Keep reading to learn more.
Meet the Expert
- David Lopez is a beauty expert and celebrity stylist who has worked with clients including Hailey Bieber and Ashley Graham. Lopez is an Ulta Beauty Pro Team member offering expertise in non-gendered self-care.
What You'll Need
- Pin curl clips
- Wide-tooth comb
- 1.25" curling iron (Lopez recommends the Single Pass Curl Professional Ceramic Curling Iron by T3, $150)
- Styrofoam wig form
- Wig stand or tripod
- Heat-resistant synthetic hair (Lopez recommends Hairdo's 8-piece Extension Kit, $94)
- Optional: Dry shampoo (Lopez recommends Kenra Professional's Platinum Dry Shampoo, $22)
- Optional: Hairspray
To have maximum control over your desired outcome, Lopez recommends using a wig form and stand as a secure foundation for your synthetic hair to sit on while you style. "Use a styrofoam wig block to pin the extensions to," he tells us. By using t-pins, you'll avoid having the extensions slip or move around while you're working. The tripod or wig stand you use will also help you find stability as you style.
"And make sure to use synthetic hair that is heat resistant," he reminds us. As I mentioned earlier, heat-resistant synthetic hair is newer to the hair scene and not all synthetic hair is heat resistant, so be sure to pay close attention when you're shopping for your hair. Before you get started, "I always like to spray a little dry shampoo on synthetic extensions," says Lopez. "This helps take away some of the shine and will help it appear slightly more realistic."
Curl in Sections
Once your hair is primed and secure, it's time to start curling. Before taking the iron straight to the hair, "make sure to turn your iron down below 320 degrees (or follow the manufacturer’s heat guide)," Lopez warns. Going above the recommended temperature could melt and ruin your synthetic hair. Every synthetic hair type is different, so be sure to take note before you get started.
"Using a 1.25" curling iron, curl each section starting near the 'roots' and feeding the hair in to get even heat distribution," says Lopez. When sectioning your synthetic hair, try to aim for roughly the same size section as your barrel, so in this case, a little larger than 1" (eyeball this—there's no need for perfection).
When feeding the hair into the iron per Lopez's directions, keep the clamp down and gently tap it out all the way down to your ends to avoid leaving a clamp crease in the hair. If you open up the clamp too much, you may let some of the hair slip through without getting grazed by the heat and, as Lopez notes, feeding the hair through the hot barrel is important to getting that even distribution. If this is a new way of curling to you, practice on yourself and try it out a few times first. You'll want your hair to match the extensions anyway, so take the time to find your comfort with this.
Using dry shampoo on synthetic extensions will mattify some of the shine and help the hair appear more realistic.
Pin Your Curls
When you've come to the end of your section and your synthetic hair is wrapped neatly around the iron, use that same gentle tapping of the clamp to slide the iron out from the curl without releasing the new shape you've just created in the hair. "After curling, allow each section to rest in your palm before pinning into place," suggests Lopez. "Do not allow the hair to unravel."
If your curl falls out a little bit, use your fingers, as Lopez shows us here, and gently wrap that hair up into a curl again. At this point, you'll want to grab one of your pin curl clips to secure the section to its "root" at the base of the extension strip. Do this with every section of hair you curl so that when you're finished, your entire strip will be pinned up like a roller set.
Let it Cool
Cooling the hair is crucial when it comes to changing the shape of your strands with heat. Similar to the cool shot on your blowdryer, allowing the hair to cool is going to give it some time to lock in the desired style you just created with the help of applied heat. Your hair will hold its style for much longer if you allow it the time to sit in its new shape. Give it at least 10 minutes of cooling before you let your synthetic hair down.
Comb Through Curls
"After the hair is completely cooled," says Lopez, "use a wide-tooth comb to gently comb out your hair." You may have to do this a few times depending on how soft of a finish you'd like to see in the hair. Combing through will help break loose those pre-sectioned separations in the hair, drag out the bounce and body along every strand, and generally loosen up the curls you made so you don't have any Shirley Temple-looking ringlets.
At this point, add the extensions to your pre-styled head of hair and finish it all off with the product of your choosing. You could use texture spray, shine spray, smoothing cream, or hairspray depending on the finish you desire. Lopez recommends finishing with a light hold hairspray for added definition.
The Final Product
Voila! Now we realize there are plenty of curling methods you can use on your heat-resistant synthetic hair (Hollywood Glam or Beachy Waves, anyone?), so consider this one an expert-guided jumping-off point. No matter how you decide to curl your synthetic strands, remember Lopez's key takeaways:
- Take note of the specific temperature recommended for the hair you buy.
- Use a wig form and t-pins for maximum control.
- Give the hair some time to cool and lock in its new shape.