Clip-in extensions certainly come with a long list of advantages. They're the perfect way to add length, fullness, or both—in minutes. You can easily put them in and take them out yourself, no trip to the salon required, saving you both time and money. And they're temporary, offering a fun way to quickly and easily change up your style, no commitment required.
All that being said, clip-ins (just like any other type of extensions) do come with the potential for damage to your natural hair if not applied correctly and/or otherwise used improperly. Happily, there are plenty of simple, easy things you can do before, during, and after your extension-wearing to ensure your natural tresses stay strong and healthy. Ahead, extensions experts China Dukes and Priscilla Valles share eight strand-saving tips and tricks for wearing clip-in extensions.
Before: Make Sure Clip-Ins Are Actually the Right Choice
Don't forget that clip-ins are meant for temporary use—simply wearing them too often can damage your natural hair, Dukes cautions. "The weight of the set of hair is distributed between one and five clips on a section of wefts that can only fit a small amount of natural hair that attaches to the clip. This is what makes them quick and easy, but it puts a bulk of the weight on a disproportionate amount of your hair," she explains. "If worn daily, this can lead to breakage and even traction alopecia, a condition where the repeated strain on the hair follicles causes hair loss." The point being, if you're reaching for clip-ins day in and day out, you're better off considering semi-permanent extension options that are intended and made for longer-term use, Dukes advises.
Before: Wash Your (Natural) Hair
Resist the urge to pop in clip-ins on two- or three-day-old hair that's been loaded up with dry shampoo and other products. If your natural hair isn't clean, the clip of the extensions may not be able to grab onto the hair and adhere properly, explains Valles. They can end up sliding and slipping, stressing the hair follicle and ultimately damaging the hair, she adds.
Before: Gently Back-Comb Hair Sections
Minimizing the tension the extensions are creating on your natural hair is imperative for avoiding damage, and a little back-combing is one of the easiest ways to do this, says Dukes. "Gently back-comb and spray a little texture spray on the sections of hair that you are attaching the extensions to. This creates a cushion between the roots of your hair and the extensions, alleviating some of the tension," she explains. "Gentle" is the operative word; aggressive back-combing can cause breakage, the last thing you want.
During: Brush Carefully
Once your extensions are in, try to minimize brushing them, as the pulling and tugging can, again, cause that unwanted tension. If you do need to brush them out, place your fingers at the top of the weft to hold the hair at the root as you brush, Dukes suggests, and do so as gently as possible.
During: Remove Them Carefully...
The nice thing about clip-ins is that they're easy to both put in and take out. Removal really should be as easy as simply unsnapping the clips and gently pulling them out, says Valles. "If the extensions feel like they're pulling or removing them is uncomfortable, that's a tell-tale sign that something is amiss and you may very well likely be causing damage to your hair," she says.
During: ... and Definitely Take Them Out at Bedtime
All the tossing and turning can once again, you guessed it, end up causing the extensions to pull, tug, and damage your natural strands. "Take them out as soon as your event or day is over, and definitely don't sleep in them," Valles advises. Detangle them after you take them out as well (per our previous point of not brushing them once they're in), notes Dukes.
You'll also want to comb through your natural hair, particularly the area that was back-combed. When doing so, start at the ends of your hair and work your way up. Moving downward, the way most people do, can end up just pushing a big knot down to the ends, which are already the most fragile part of the hair and thus the most susceptible to breakage.
After: Sleep On a Silk Pillowcase
According to Dukes, swapping out your standard pillowcase for a silk option can go a long way toward minimizing damage. (We like Slip's Silk Pillowcase, $89.) "Materials such as cotton are naturally absorbent, absorbing the hair's natural oils and contributing to dryness," she explains. They also cause more friction against the hair as you toss and turn, which also leads to breakage, she points out. Similarly, if you like to pull your hair back at night, using a silk scrunchie can be beneficial for similar reasons. Just make sure to keep it loose in order to avoid excess tension on the hair, she says.
After: Use a Weekly Reparative Treatment
Dukes is a fan of reaching for reparative, bond-building treatments to help maintain the strength and integrity of your natural hair. She suggests using one weekly, in between clip-in wears, and says they're a great way to help reduce breakage. The K18 Biomimetic Hair Science Leave-In Molecular Repair Mask ($75) is one of her top picks.
"The average person's hair grows about half an inch per month, so if you aren't seeing any length retention, you have a breakage issue to resolve," says Dukes.
Clip-in extensions are a fun and easy way to change up your style. Just make sure you're doing the appropriate things before, during, and after wearing them to keep your natural hair in tip-top shape.