Everything You Need to Know About Keratin Hair Extensions

They're surprisingly low-maintenance.

woman with keratin hair extensions

 @samanthalagaipa+BYRDIE

Although I currently have relatively long, thick hair, I've been missing the volume and luster my hair once had, which lead me to a new form of extensions: keratin hair extensions. And as it turns out, they're not new at all—celebrity stylists have been using keratin hair extensions for years. Curious? Same. That's why I tapped the experts and found two celebrity stylists who've been fastening keratin hair extensions on our favorite stressed-out celebrities for decades. Read on to get the low-down on keratin hair extensions—and if I ended up taking the plunge.

What Are Keratin Hair Extensions?

"Keratin hair extensions are individual strands of extensions that are bonded to your hair with an adhesive or micro beads," says Rita Hazan, celebrity hair stylist, colorist, and owner of Rita Hazan Salon in New York. They're typically made up of real, unprocessed human hair. And while keratin hair extensions may have only recently entered the public lexicon, the truth is, they've basically been around for eons.

The individual extensions are strategically placed in rows so they'll always remain covered by your natural hair pieces. (Yes, even if you wear an elaborate updo or ponytail.)

Depending on your color and texture, some salons will have samples on hand the stylist can use for you same-day—but often, salons will ask you to come in prior so they can order the exact type of extension they'll need to match your hair.

Keratin Hair Extensions vs. Traditional Hair Extensions

While there may be tons of different types of hair extensions on the market, keratin hair extensions are the only real permanent ones.

"The other permanent ones used to be silicone hair extensions, which, it turns out, aren't great for your hair," says Ryan Trygstad, celebrity hairstylist and cofounder of Mark & Ryan Salon in New York. Now, keratin hair extensions are the go-to for movie premieres and red carpets—they're so common, in fact, that you probably don't know your favorite celebrity even has them on.

And unlike temporary types of extensions—like tape-in extensions and clip-in extensions—you can air dry, straighten, curl, and style keratin hair extensions with heat just like you would with your own hair. (You should definitely avoid letting them tangle, or "yanking" them, since the extensions are fastened in with bonds. But other than that, you can style them as per usual.)

[Ed note: the above photo features tape-in extensions, but you can get the same result with keratin hair extensions.]

The Benefits of Keratin Hair Extensions

Keratin hair extensions are a celebrity hairstylist go-to for a reason.

"Keratin hair extensions are the lesser of all evil on your hair, and they're low-maintenance," says Hazan. "They're extremely natural-looking when done correctly and perfect for someone who wants longer, thicker hair."

Trygstad—whose celebrity clients include Julianne Moore and Naomi Watts—says keratin hair extensions can "literally bring your hair back from the dead." Whether a client's put their hair through the ringer or just hasn't been able to achieve the type of style they want, keratin hair extensions work like magic.

"You can create something this person never would've been able to have before, or you get their hair back to where it was before they destroyed their hair," he says.

The Drawbacks of Keratin Hair Extensions

In rare cases, keratin hair extensions can leave your hair worse off than it was before.

"Keratin hair extensions can potentially damage your hair," Hazan says. "Particularly if you leave them in for too long of a stretch of time, and if you never let your hair breathe and grow without the heavy weight of long extensions."

They typically last around 3–5 months, depending on how well you take care of them. They may even begin falling out or loosening, in which case you should get them tightened. (They could potentially last longer than that—Trygstad says "the slower your hair grows and the less you do to it, the longer the extensions last.) You have to get them removed in a salon—stylists will use special solutions to soak 'em, and tools—so don't try on your own.

In worst case scenarios, tension alopecia can happen, which is when your hair falls out after the increased tension caused by the extensions.

Who Is a Candidate for Keratin Hair Extensions?

Anyone. Since keratin hair extensions can be ultra-personalized and customized to match your specific, unique texture, they can work for any and all hair types. Of course, some people may want to avoid them—more on that later—but otherwise, it's a go.

"Extensions come in so many textures now to match any wave pattern, which is how they look so natural," say Trygstad. "With dense hair, you may need to add a little more strands to match the texture, whereas with thinner hair texture, a little goes a long way because most people just want length and a little bit of thickness."

That said, Trygstad says you do need at least 4 inches of hair to work with in order to get them. And they may not be for you if you don't normally treat your hair well.

"If you're hard on your hair, steer away," says Trygstad. "If you're hurting your hair, you'll hurt the extensions, and just cause more damage to your hair all around."

Although they're low-maintenance, you still need to keep them from getting tangled and matted—which is why it's always a good idea to get a special extension brush, like this one by Shen Beauty. If it doesn't sound like something you want to commit to, you may want to reconsider.

The Cost

Since keratin hair extensions are pretty much the highest quality extensions you can get, they definitely don't run cheap.

Depending on what your desired result is, they can cost anywhere from $500 (a "half-head" for some added volume and fullness) to $3,000 for a full head of extensions. (Sometimes, even more than that.)

Again, it depends what you want, where you go, and how thick your natural texture is.

The Takeaway

Although I didn't end up getting keratin extensions this time around, I'm definitely not ruling them out in the future—because the older and more damaged my hair gets, the more I'll likely want to "bring my hair back from the dead," in Trygstad's words.

There are some drawbacks, but overall, keratin hair extensions are an incredible way to get length, volume, and fullness that you'd never be able to achieve on your own. (No matter how many thickening and lengthening shampoos you buy—because, trust me, I've tried them all.) They're relatively safe, easy on your hair, and look more natural than any other types of extensions on the market.

So if you've been wanting to give your hair a boost—whether it's because of stress or boredom—keratin hair extensions might be exactly what you're looking for. And your red-carpet faves would definitely approve.

Related Stories