Whether you want long hair for the night or for the season, hair extensions can get you the look without the wait. To get the skinny on how it all works, we chatted with salon owners Angelo David of Angelo David Salon and Andrew DiSimone, owner of HairPlaceNYC.
"Twenty years ago, extensions were so taboo you wouldn't even say the word," David says, but the look "has gone from runway to reality." He says hair extensions evolved because women want long, runway hair. (Think: the long, slightly deconstructed stands of Pronzea Schouler's 2014 runway or Zac Posen's glossy waves.) And they want it yesterday.
When most people think of extensions, they think long, flowing locks. But David says this season is all about adding volume. Volumizing extensions can be added to as little as 3 inches of natural hair, while lengthening extensions require at least 6 inches. Women with special hair needs, such as alopecia, chemotherapy, aging hair, or naturally skinny strands, are a big part of his hair extension business.
1. Weave. While often thought of as an African-American style, a weave is a method of braiding the hair, then threading extensions into the braid. This method works best on kinky, thick hair. It is not ethnic specific.
2. Tape-in hair extensions. Double-sided tape holds wefts of hair to the hairline. While these extensions are less invasive, they take more maintenance. If you want tape-in hair, get ready to be a regular in your stylist's chair. This method needs upkeep every six weeks. These are ideal for women with thin hair.
3. Brazilian knot or fusion process. Clampable copper cylinders are used in this method. These strand-by-strand cylinder extensions simply clamp into existing hair and unclamp with pliers when you need to slide them up because of hair growth or when you want to shed your extra layers. While initially less damaging than other methods, the "knots" must be moved up the hair shaft every 2 to 3 months to keep from showing or breaking hair. This method is ideal for medium to thick hair, where natural layers disguise the cylinders.
4. Clip-in hair extensions are an at-home solution. But David cautions, when shopping for these, especially for synthetic hair, it's a gamble. The clip-in often doesn't match the texture or tone of real hair. While this is a cheaper, removable option, clip-ins are less versatile than custom, salon-created extensions.
Real or Fake
When it comes to synthetic vs. human hair, the pros think there's a clear winner: human. Still, David says, synthetic hair extensions have evolved enough that they can give the appearance of human hair. You can also use some heat on the strands. But, David says, you're limited. Synthetics can't be colored, and they will never respond like human hair.
Synthetic hair is ideal for an event or for having fun with new, trendy colors such as pastels. If the tones of your synthetic extensions don't match your own hair, there's nothing you can do, but, at $20 to $100, they are a budget-friendly option. "People don't want to pay a premium for synthetic hair," David says.
Both David and DeSimone agree. If you have the cash, go for custom extensions. These strands are customized to fit not only your hair texture and tone, but if your stylist is good, they also fit your lifestyle.
The number of times your budget or schedule allows you to sit in your stylist's chair determines placement, extension method, and more. Keep in mind that custom extensions take two to three weeks to combine into locks that mimic your exact texture. Perfection comes with a price. David says to expect to pay between $1,800 and $4,500.
Tell your stylist to match the roots of your extensions to your roots. This makes the extensions look natural and allows you to go longer between appointments. (David recommends never waiting longer than 4 months).
DiSimone says one benefit to extensions is that you can add color to your overall look without causing damage. Ombre-enthusiasts can cascade their ends from brunette to blonde without harsh bleaches. Customizable extensions allow you to choose the color with minimal damage to your real hair.
Some damage is unavoidable. "Anything you add to your hair—even using a brush or blow dryer—is going to add stress," David says. Minimize the damage by choosing the application method for your hair type.