Permanent Hair Extensions Exist—Here's How They Work

hair extensions

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When you think of hair extensions, you probably get visions of yourself removing rows of clip-ins by the handful at the end of the day. While these are probably the most popular form of hair enhancement, most of us might not want to wake up an hour early every day to install them. Luckily there's a way to fake fuller, longer hair without the tedious day-to-day maintenance. Enter the semi-permanent range of hair extensions. Here, we tapped extension specialist and head of education at Bellami Hair, Kat Lewis, for her tips on picking a mane option that works best for your lifestyle. 

Lewis tells us, "clip-in extensions are great for temporary use or just a bit of weekend hair. This is a fast and easy way to transform your look or even add just a bit of color without commitment."

But if you're looking for something that lasts longer, she says, "semi-permanent extensions are hair enhancements that are made to 'live' in your hair for a longer period of time. They are made to be washed and worn, just like your natural hair. Some are reusable with in-salon maintenance, and others need to be replaced every 4-6 months." 

There are four types of semi-permanent hair extensions on the market, and each one comes with its own set of requirements. Before deciding on a solution, it's important to think of the problem you are trying to solve. Are you looking for length or mostly added thickness? Are you adding color to your current look or going for something natural? Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is your lifestyle. Do you wash your hair once per week or once per day? Do you air dry or heat style? Ahead, Lewis breaks down the pros and cons of the four most popular types of semi-permanent extensions, from tape-ins to I-Tips.

Meet the Expert

Kat Lewis is an extensions specialist with over 17 years of experience in the industry. She's also head of education at Bellami Hair.

Tape-In Extensions: 4-6 Weeks

Tape-in extensions are a method that sandwiches your natural hair between two pieces of tape at the base of the extensions. The advantages Lewis says are, "they lay very flat to the head, they're quick to apply, reusable, and they add a lot of coverage quickly." Just like all semi-permanent extensions, as your natural hair grows, the extensions get pushed down further away from the scalp. Because of this, Lewis tells us, "about every 4-6 weeks, due to natural growth and shed they need to be maintained in the salon and reapplied closer to the scalp. Although the installation is a quick service, the reapplication can take a bit more time since they do need to be re-taped every time."

"Tape-in extensions work for almost any person's lifestyle. However, excessive heat and sweat can have an adverse reaction with the tape adhesive," she explains. So if you're the type to hit an intense spin class every morning, this might not be the option for you. Finally, because tape-ins come in a flat strip, mobility (such as switching up your part and braiding) can be limiting. However, Lewis says, "ponytails and high buns are totally possible."

K-Tips: 6 Months

K-tips or keratin tips are applied by attaching a single strand of extensions to a cluster of a few of your natural hairs at a time. Keratins are attached with a heating tool that bonds both the extensions and natural hair together. Lewis says, "this method does take a bit more time to apply, so some patience is necessary; however, it is totally worth it in the end." She adds, "K-Tips can be customized to match the density of even the finest hair and can live in the hair for up to six months." If you have an oily scalp or an active lifestyle, this might be the option for you. "These will be the most resilient method to oils or water and allow 360-degree mobility for easy daily styling," explains Lewis. "Plus, they are lightweight and very comfortable to wear."

If cost is a deciding factor for you, it's important to note that these extensions are not reusable. If you want to continue to have k-tips installed, a new set of hair will have to be applied every visit. However, keep in mind that with proper care, you'll only need to install them twice per year.

I-Tips: 10+ Months

Similar to k-tips, I-Tips are applied with the strand-by-strand method, but without the heat adhesive. The pre-tipped extension comes with a small color-matched, copper-coated bead at the end. To apply, your natural hair is woven through and the bead is then crimped down to secure. "When it grows away from the scalp in four to six weeks," Lewis explains, "you'll need to go back into the salon and have the beads moved back into place." The good news is the hair is reusable and can be reused upwards of 10 months. "A full-head application can take as little as an hour and a half," explains Lewis, "and full-head maintenance can take as little as 30 minutes."

Finally, if you like to switch up your hairstyles, unlike tape-ins, i-tips and k-tips are applied to tiny clusters of hair. Lewis says, "the extensions get 360-degree mobility." It mimics your natural hair growth at the root, so you're free to switch up your part, braid your hair, anything. 

Sew-Ins: 6-12 Months

This method combines both the I-Tips and a weft of hair extensions. A chain of I-tips are applied along the hairline, then a weft (similar to a clip-in type) is sewn into the hair, with the I-Tips as a base. Lewis says, "this method gives full coverage and works well on all hair types from thick to thin." Depending on how well you take care of the hair, it can be used anywhere from six to 12 months. And just like the I-Tips, you have to pop into a salon to have the sew-in repositioned after it has grown out. "Anyone who chooses this method must commit to at least blow-drying the base of the weft after washing or even working out, to dry the sweat," explains Lewis. Otherwise, she says it can begin to smell musty, like a wet towel. She adds, "this method is an awesome option for a guest that doesn't want a lot of small attachment all over the head. It's just a couple of rows that are easy to style."

"Anyone can get extensions as long as a proper consultation is had to discuss best extensions method option, expectations, limitations and proper at-home and in-salon care commitments," says Lewis. Do you have textured hair? She says, "extensions are great for textured hair! Sometimes, growing wavy or even curly hair can be tough. It can feel like 5 years to visibly see 2 inches of growth. Extensions can help with speeding that up and even add color and fullness." Do you have short hair? Lewis tells us, "If I can grab it you can have it. Extensions can be great to help get you over a rough grow-out stage."

If the application process has you curious, Lewis says, "the application should never be painful. Once they are in, sometimes, you might be aware that you have something foreign in your head, but you should never have to cry yourself to sleep at night." She also mentions they can get a bit itchy, especially if you've let them grow out over four weeks. "The natural shed of your own hair is trapped at the point of attachment that can cause itch. If this case, brush at the scalp with a boar bristle brush to help remove some of that lost hair. Itchiness can also happen if the scalp is not being properly cleansed. Be sure to scrub away buildup and rinse all traces of shampoo from the scalp to feel fresh at all times."

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