Some of us want longer hair, some crave body and volume and others just want to break free from a never-ending hairstyle rut. Lucky for us, this is where fake hair in all its guises comes in to save the day. With the promise of endless versatility, we’ve embraced wigs, but hair extensions? We’re all too quick to place them in that unattainable, impractical box.
It doesn’t help that we’ve all heard our fair share of hair extension horror stories (many of which include exposed tracks, wefts of plastic strands desperately clinging on to the roots for survival and finding a chunk of fake hair next to your pillow after a night out). It’s time to get rid of all of that baggage as technology has caught up and hair extensions have shed their growing pains. They’re not as complex as you might think. In fact, hair extensions are ideal for a quick style switch or finally going for a longer length after spending years adding to your waist-length hair Pinterest board.
If you’re ready to rethink hair extensions, it can seem like a minefield of information to get through. (Especially when you throw salon jargon and style options into the mix.) That’s why we’ve spoken with Elena Hachaturianc, founder of Beauty & Melody—a salon specialising in Russian tape hair extensions—to give you an easy, tell-all guide.
How to Decide Between Human or Synthetic Hair
This is the foundation of all hair extension choices, so it’s worth spending some time sussing out what type will work for you. Keep in mind the look you want to achieve. The main difference between human hair extensions and synthetic ones? “Human hair looks natural and real, whereas synthetic hair has an unnatural feel, so it’s always important to use high quality, lightweight hair” says Hachaturianc. “You can decide between human and synthetic hair on the basis of some factors like price, longevity, styling, maintenance and feel.”
If you’re looking for a short-term, budget-friendly option that you don’t think you’ll be heat styling, synthetic hair (which melts under intense heat like straightening irons or curling tongs) could be for you. But if you’re looking for long-lasting hair that works in the same way as your own, human is the way to go.
Which Type of Fastening Works Best?
One of the most important factors to consider is how exactly how you secure all of this new hair to your head. “If you don’t often wear extensions or aren’t ready for semi-permanent extensions because you’re unsure if you’ll like the result, clip-in hair extensions are a great place to start, but I wouldn’t advise wearing them on a daily basis as they are quite heavy and can pull hair.” says Hachaturianc. Clip-ins will also give you the flexibility for switching up your style. For a longer-lasting alternative, "our favourite and safest method of applying extensions because it is virtually undetectable on the hair (with no glue or heat involved) is tape extensions.
They are very light but can achieve a lot of volume, and if you use the highest quality hair they can be re-used many times,” Hachaturianc adds.
For Afro, curly or coarse hair textures, sew-in weaves where the hair is cornrowed before wefts of hair are sewn into the braids are a reliable way to keep hair secure. You’ve also probably heard of keratin bond extensions or micro rings: “Micro rings should be maintained every 2-4 months and it’s important to know how much hair to add to each strand. Keratin bonds require the right aftercare as hair can become matted, it’s also important not to use too much hair on one strand, which can be dangerous.” Hachaturianc explains.
When weighing up your options, it’s good to think about how you intend to use the extensions and what method will cause the least amount of damage to your hair type.
How to Match Hair Colour and Texture
To seamlessly blend the extensions with your own hair, matching the colour is crucial for a natural finish. Having two shades within your extensions is a surefire way to make them look unnatural. Hachaturianc advises to “consult with an experienced stylist first who will be able to accurately match your hair type and colour with the extensions. If you’re purchasing clip-in extensions at home, I would recommend that you find an exact match to your current hair colour.”
Finding extensions with the same texture as your own hair is just as important as finding the right colour. “Choose your hair extensions according to the texture of your hair and avoid wearing curly extensions if you have straight or wavy hair, as it will not blend with the curly and may even be difficult for you to manage,” Hachaturianc adds.
And What About Budget?
So now let’s talk money. Don’t worry—you can always find hair extensions in your budget. However, you should be careful about the type of hair and fastenings you buy. In this instance, it’s best to invest in a quality set: “If you pay for cheap hair extensions by a poorly qualified technician, you could be left with damaged hair and a bad result,” Hachaturianc says. “Ensure you research the salon you plan to go to first by checking out their before and after images as well as reviews. This should help you decide what the best hair extension salon is for you, over the price.”
How Do You Care for Hair Extensions?
Once you’ve made the investment, looking after your extensions is key. Show your extensions some love, and they’ll stay in top shape for longer. So it’s best to go into the salon for regular maintenance. When looking after your extensions, Hachaturianc advises to "use sulphate free shampoo and I wouldn’t recommend using oily masks or conditioners on the scalp as they can loosen the band. Try to brush your hair twice a day using a special brush for hair extensions and for tape extensions I would wear them in a loose ponytail or braid when you go to sleep to ensure they are not getting tangled."
If you follow those aftercare tips, you'll notice your extensions will last longer. “At the salon, we use very strong medical grade tapes, which will hold extensions for up to 12 weeks. However to keep your hair safe and prevent tangling we advice our customers to do maintenance every 6-8 weeks depending on your own hair growth. With tape extensions, you’ll only require a special hair oil to remove them, without damage to your own hair.”
If you’re tempted to delve into the world of hair extensions, consider this guide your shopping companion. For those looking for at-home options, here are a few products to get you started now.
Big Hair No Care, founded by Freddie Harrel, offers easy-to-use clip-ins for Afro-textured hair.
These are great for special occasions, as the voluminous and frizz-free synthetic hair can also be styled with heat up to 160°C.
For totally undetectable extensions made with high-quality virgin hair, these are hard to beat. Especially when you add in the range of shades you can choose from.
You won’t have any more bad hair days with this quick-fix, clip-in ponytail.
See? Hair extensions aren’t so scary after all. All it takes is a bit of research. You’ll be showing off your new long locks in no time.