What Are Hair Extensions?

Have you always dreamed of having long, luxurious locks, but have never been able to grow your hair beyond your shoulders? Maybe you have thin hair, but want a spectacular up-do for your wedding or other special event. Perhaps you want to be able to change up your look by adding bangs or highlights. Hair extensions can help you achieve all of these looks.

What are hair extensions?

Hair extensions are natural or synthetic bundles of hair that can be attached to your natural hair to give you longer and fuller locks. The movie stars you see with thick, flowing hairstyles are most likely wearing hair extensions. Hair extensions can be used for a variety of effects. In addition to adding length and fullness to your hair, they can be used to give you bangs (without cutting in your own), to add highlights to your hair and to achieve that elaborate, special-occasion coiffure. While hair extensions have gotten a bad reputation for being high maintenance and expensive, they are actually quite easy to care for. As for being a budget-buster, most types of extensions can be used over and over again, making them more of an investment than an expense. As long as you don't change your hair color, you can wear the same extensions for years.

Different types of hair extensions

There are several different ways to attach hair extensions.  The most popular include...

  • Tape in extensions -- These are attached to your natural hair using heavy, double-sided tape. Tape in extensions are usually the most affordable variety, but they don't work well with every type of hair. Tape in extensions can be applied in around an hour, but require more frequent maintenance than other types of extensions. Tape-in extensions can be reapplied; you don't have to purchase new extensions each time.
  • Clip in extensions -- As the name implies, these extensions have built-in clips that your stylist attaches to strands of your own hair, up near the roots. Like tape ins, clip in extensions can be removed and reused.
  • Weave (or sew-in) extensions -- These are woven into your natural hair by braiding your hair from ear to ear and gradually adding the extensions to the braid. This type of extensions is the best type for extremely curly and/or thick hair. Conversely, weaves aren't well-suited to women with thin hair. Weave extensions are also able to be reapplied.
  • Fusion hair extensions -- There are hair extensions that are applied both by cold and heat fusion. Heat fusion extensions have keratin-coated tips that are bonded to your natural hair using heat. This type of hair extensions is generally the most expensive. You can expect to pay $500 to $4,000. They take the most time to apply, but they also last the longest, from three to four months. This is fortunate, because fusion hair extensions are a one-shot deal. They can't be reused.

What to look for when shopping for hair extensions

Price is a good indicator of the quality of the hair extensions. This is very much a case of "you get what you pay for" advises "Allure" magazine. In addition to price, consider the following when looking for extensions.

  • Natural vs Synthetic. Natural hair is generally perceived to be superior to synthetic hair. It's also somewhat more expensive. European virgin natural hair, hair that has never been processed, and Remy natural strands are the most desirable. Natural hair styles better and generally has a better texture than synthetic hair. It also tangles less easily and will take heat curls better than synthetic hair. Synthetic hair, however, is about half of the price of natural hair. We think synthetic hair is great for small additions, like bangs.
  • Color and texture. Most people consider color when looking for extensions. You want to get as close a match to your natural (or dyed) color as you can. However, many fewer people consider texture. This is at least as important as color. If you're natural hair is thick as coarse, you'll want extensions with that same feel. On the other hand, if your natural hair is thin and sleek, you'll want different extensions from your thick-haired girlfriend. 

Having your extensions applied

While tape in extensions may seem like they could be a DIY project, you're much better leaving the application to the professionals. Placement is key to getting a good, natural, overall look. Plus, it's just awkward to work on the back of your own head. We think one of the most critical parts of extensions is matching the color to your natural tone. For that reason, we find that stylists with color matching experience and credentials tend to achieve the best results. You'll need to have them removed and reapplied every six to eight weeks, since as your hair grows out, the proportions will change and become not quite balanced.

Caring for your extensions

Properly applied hair extensions require very little at-home care. They can be washed, dried and styled as you would your natural locks. You should be careful when your hair is wet and avoid excessive combing or brushing. It's also advisable to avoid tugging at your hair while brushing it. Better to hold the strand at the root while you work the brush through it. Hair products are okay with extensions, but it's a good idea to keep them away from the roots to prevent the extensions from slipping. While hair extensions add weight to your hair and extra pull on your natural roots, when they are applied correctly, you should have very little, if any, damage to your natural hair.

Hair extensions can give you the full, flowing head of curls that you've always dreamed of. To get the most from your investment, make sure to do your homework, find a good stylish and choose the type of extensions that are best suited to your type and texture of hair.