Our hair is a natural extension of ourselves. How we wear it — short and spunky, long and luscious, kinky, curly, up or down — reflects our personality and our mood ... for a few days, at least. Sometimes, we need a drastic change to embody how we feel in a given moment. Chopping locks off for a dramatic new look is easy, but what’s the solution when we’re already short in style but want to have long, flowing hair overnight?
Thank goodness for hair extensions.
Yes, a fuller head of hair can be bought. But all hair extension options are not created equal. What works wonders for one woman would spell disaster for another. What are the different ways to add hair extensions, and which are the least damaging hair extensions for your particular needs?
So Many Hair Extension Options
Most people aren’t aware of the many different hair extensions available to clients, in much the same way the world of eyelash extensions is way more diverse than one might imagine. Hair extension methods can be divided into two main categories, each of which comprises several attachments: strand-by-strand and wefted panels. Let’s explore the characteristics of each.
This method uses roughly three dozen individual strands of hair that are attached at one end using some sort of bond — typically glue, keratin, or polyurethane. These extensions are then fused by heat or cold to the client’s existing hair. Adding volume usually requires as many as 150 strands; increasing length often demands about twice that number. The best bonds are attached close to the root, which prevents movement and slippage. Cost is determined by the look the client desires, so more hair used and longer application times dictate how pricy this service will be.
Because of the intricate nature of strand-by-strand extensions, these tend to be on the more expensive end of the hair-extension spectrum. It can take up to eight hours to apply and remove this look, although experienced hairdressers can achieve the task in about half that time. Strand-by-strand is also the most durable hair extension option available, with most applications lasting as many as 20 weeks with the right care and maintenance.
The longer you wear these extensions, however, the greater the risk of unsightly breakage and damage. Some wearers also complain about uncomfortable, hard-glue attachment points throughout their hair and the damage that heat application can do to their existing hair. Headaches and an itchy scalp are not uncommon in the weeks after treatment.
There are nearly as many cons as there are pros. Strand-by-strand is not a perfect solution by any means. But it is one of the best types of hair extensions available. Just make sure to resist the urge to use any oil-based products on the extensions and avoid overstyling them.
Cold Fusion, Micro-Links or I-Tip Extensions
These names are all related to a strand-by-strand hair extension method where small sections of one’s real hair are pulled through a small cylinder or copper bead and crimped closed with pliers. This is a popular method of choice because the individual strands of hair move more naturally and no heat or glue are used during the application process. These extensions also use reusable hair (unlike standard strand-by-strand extensions), plus hairstylists can fix any sections that may have slipped out of place in a short time.
These extensions are not suitable for everyone, however. Those with thin, fine hair should avoid them, as the series of bonds could be visible on one’s scalp. Application is tricky: If the copper cylinders aren’t closed properly, the resulting sharp edges can cut and damage one’s hair. It looks great — but only on the right type of client and when done well by a seasoned professional.
Wefted Panel Extensions
Most people have never heard the word "weft," which is a common term in weaving circles. Basically, a weft of hair is multiple hairs attached at one end. Wefts range in length from one inch to five feet, and they are applied in rows/sections rather than strand by strand. They are fastened to the existing hair in several ways, including:
When it comes to hair extension options, this is the newest method on the market. Polyurethane-coated wefts with double-sided tape are applied on either side of the client’s hair, creating what’s known as a sandwiching effect. This is widely considered the safest and most comfortable hair extension choice, as the weight of the wefts is spread over a wide area and causes little to no damage to the wearer’s real hair. It’s also the fastest application process — usually less than one hour — and is often described as the most natural-looking hair extension option. Best of all, you can brush the hair daily from root to tip and style your hair as you normally would.
This method is ideal. Here, multiple rows of “hand-tied” wefts are sewn to beaded attachment points with yarn or string. Lightweight, comfortable, and undetectable, this method is ideal for those with thick, coarse hair. After application, wearers can wash their hair regularly and blow-dry, curl, or straighten as normal.
Wefts are attached to the user’s hair with glue but will stay in place for only a few days. They can then be removed using an oil-based solvent. This is a great, affordable option for those who are looking to have extensions for a short time without having to take the extensions in and out before bedtime.
Sew-In or Braided Extensions
Commonly known as a weave, these extensions are perfect for coarse or thick hair. The user’s hair is braided to establish a base for the extensions before wefts are sewn directly into the braids using a needle and thread. Keep in mind that this can be a very time-consuming application.
These are short-term solutions, where wefts are applied with small clips. If you want to try out hair extensions before making a full commitment, this is a great option for you. They are especially popular for special events and occasions such as proms, weddings, and other commemorations. You can change the color and style every day if you like, as users can apply clip-in extensions without the help of a hairstylist.