I've installed semi-permanent hair extensions for someone with no professional cosmetology training, far more than the average person. My adventures began in high school when I gave myself a full set of box braids with embroidery thread leftover from my days making friendship bracelets. In my 20s, I dreadlocked my hair, for which I made extensions sewed in, and in my early 30s, I was a regular at micro-rings (human hair extensions shaped like tiny shoelaces that you thread with a bead through slivers of your own hair). As a result, I’ve alternated between crochet braiding for the last ten years when I want my natural texture and tape-in extensions when I want straight hair for a spell.
When you research tape-in human hair extensions, the number one piece of advice you’ll find online is to go to a professional because you can’t possibly perform this task well yourself. By far, the process is the simplest of all semi-permanent extensions but, like anything, can be damaging if you do it incorrectly. Thankfully, you needn’t heed that advice because I’m here to tell you how to safely DIY tape-ins so they look great, last a while, and cost about 10% of what you’d pay in a salon. These tips have been approved by hairstylist, Manic Panic ambassador, and educator Nico Norris.
The act of installing tape-ins, which we’ll review in depth below, involves sandwiching two extension pieces in-between bits of your own hair. The tape on each extension faces internally, meaning the hair is taped to both your own hair and itself. It can last for about a month, but some people keep them in for up to two. The hair can be reused if you remove the adhesive and apply new adhesive strips to the hair wefts. And it isn’t so much the installation of tape-ins that requires finesse, as where you place them and how you treat your own hair so that they blend as well as possible. We will, of course, review that, too. Below is a DIY guide for beginners, with tips and tricks to make your hair life more exciting—no salon needed.
A Few Basic Rules
- The first time: Add volume and/or color, not length. Adding length will potentially require cutting, which is actually pretty easy once you’ve mastered the tape in the installation process, but you don’t want to start out trying to tackle both of those things.
- Purchasing hair: Choose extension length based on your own hair length (you can measure it with a tape measure). Typically a long bob is 10 inches, shoulder-length hair is 14 inches, and 18-20 inches will land at mid to lower back length. Amazon is the easiest place, with the broadest selection of choices. If you want to add volume only, choose your exact hair color. If you want volume and color, choose a color that isn’t your own but will pair well, such as a blonde/brown mix if you have naturally brown hair or jewel tones for naturally black hair. I suggest two packs to start, as that will be more than enough to add volume/color pieces all around your head.
- Matching textures: most tape-in extensions sold are straight. If you have perfect S-wave curls, you’re safe to get the curly ones. If you have a different curl pattern, wavy or straight hair, I recommend the straight ones and committing the duration to flat ironing; in my experience, that allows for the most natural look. Because human hair extensions are preternaturally shiny, you may want to buy a shine spray to spritz over your own hair for the best matching.
I created this guide using my own recent hair extensions, which I selected for two reasons: to combat my growing-out shaved side that’s significantly shorter than the rest of my hair and add dimension to my bright hair color. So in the two final image photos, pretty much all the hair you see on the right side of my head below my ear is extensions, as are the lighter pieces near the bottom on the left side.
I intentionally bought cheaper hair for this tutorial than I normally do because I understand not everyone can spend big money. And since saving money is the point of DIY’ing, it made the most sense to get an easy-to-find, inexpensive choice. Because there was no hair available in the pinky-peach fashion color I am presently sporting, I purchased color 613 (platinum blonde). I dyed it myself with the same semi-permanent dye as my own hair. Also, I intentionally didn’t flat iron the extensions after they dried on a towel so they’d be more visible in the installation step images.
Once you have the hair, remove it from the packaging, then follow these steps:
- Step 1: Part your hair where you’d like to place the first extension, which can be anywhere at least one inch from the top or sides of your head. The higher up, the more visible it will be. Bobby pin the hair above tightly. Then, drag a thin line of hair the width of the extension pieces with a bobby pin, comb, or other thin points such as a long tail brush. Bobby pin the hair underneath that down to avoid it getting caught.
- Step 2: Until you are well experienced with extension placement, this additional step is necessary. Before actually taping in the extension, use a bobby pin for practice placement by securing two extension pieces to the strip of your hair at the root. This ensures you know 100% how the extension will look. Next, release the bobby pin from the hair above the extension and let it fall. If satisfied, bobby pin that loose hair back up, remove the pinned extension, and move to the next step. If not satisfied, repeat these first two steps until the extensions are in a place you like the look of.
- Step 3: Remove the adhesive from the two extension pieces.
- Step 4: Place one extension piece under the strip of your hair, ⅛ to ¼ inch from the root.
- Step 5: Place the other piece exactly on top of that first piece, with your own hair strip in the middle, and press to seal. Remove bobby pins and shake your hair around to ensure the extension sandwich sits naturally.
With two packages of hair, you’ll have enough for twenty sandwich pieces, sufficient to add significant volume and/or color. The bobby pin practice step will prevent mistakes or odd placements, so use that until you have complete confidence in placement. A few notes for keeping them looking as good as possible:
- Avoid hair oils near your scalp. Oils are Kryptonite for adhesive.
- Try not to wash or even wet your hair more than every few days. Instead, use dry shampoo when needed in between. You’ll find that the extensions absorb oil, so you don’t need to wash as often.
- Know that your wash days will be particularly fluffy and time activities/photo opportunities accordingly. Even if you flat iron the extensions, the first day always looks extra voluminous.
When ready to remove your extensions, use a thick oil like coconut or an adhesive remover made for hair glue and tape. Rub it into the extension sandwich root, pushing with your fingers to separate the sandwich, and gently remove the extensions. Use a fine-tooth comb to release any bits of tape left behind, and wash thoroughly.
DIY’ing tape-in extensions may seem daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, the process is swift. In addition, installing your own extensions gives you the freedom to change colors without damaging your own hair, helps to disguise awkward grow-out phases, and gives you the pleasure of long hair without a long-term commitment—all at a small fraction of the professional cost.