Over the last 10 years, my hair has barely grown an inch. I’ve tried all sorts of hair masks and vitamins and even switched stylists tons of times with absolutely no results. During college, I was completely fed up with my hairstyle, so I bit the bullet and got extensions. I’ve had them for the last 3 years and just recently took them out (my hair finally started growing!), so I’m really familiar with a few types. For those of you considering instant length, here are my hair extensions pros and cons based on the type, plus thoughts on what hair to use, how to find a great stylist, what you should actually be charged, and some pics of how my hair used to look.
Definitely my favorite type, tape-in extensions have become way more popular in the last year or so because they’re pretty easy to install and don’t damage your hair at all. Basically you buy a few packs (I use two) or order them through your stylist, then have them taped into your hair during an appointment that usually lasts about an hour. They’re all taped under a top layer of hair so the tape isn’t visible. I also recommend taping the majority of the pieces towards the back of your head. It sounds like it would look off but this way, the extensions don’t show on the side when you use a ponytail and look totally fine down as well. The tape usually lasts about 4-6 weeks, depending on how much you wash your hair, and will either start falling out or your hair will have grown enough that the extensions are visible. It’s a really easy process to tighten them – it usually took my stylist about an hour. They’re a bit of upkeep (although not a lot more than dyeing/trimming your hair) but are a way more permanent option. See the photo above for my last set of tape-ins.
Pros: There’s usually no damage to your hair, the extensions lay pretty seamlessly on your head, you can purchase the hair yourself, and the initial investment is often a lot less.
Cons: You have to re-purchase the hair every 4-6 months (it gets dried out, short, and stringy) and the tapes need to be retightened about every month, so you’ll probably end up paying a lot over time.
Keratin Bonded/Fusion Extensions:
My very first extensions were Keratin Bonded and I was completely obsessed with them. I realized later that even though the bonds lasted for almost 6 months, they did quite a bit of damage on my hair. The breakage was visible for the next 6 months, which was not great because I already hated my short hair. The process takes about 3-4 hours and is pretty pricey. The stylist will wash and dry your hair, then use a heated tool (similar to a flat iron) to bond each little strand of extension hair to a small piece of your hair. If you need your extensions to stay put for a long period of time, Keratin Bonds are the way to go.
Pros: Fusion extensions last for about 6 months (during which time you literally don’t have to do anything) and the bonds can’t really been seen when your hair is up.
Cons: The bonds are so strong that they can do a lot of damage to your hair, you can end up stuck with bad/frizzy extension hair for 6 months if your stylist isn’t really good, and the upfront cost is sometimes huge.
Finding a Stylist
Be REALLY careful of stylists who tell you that the tape-in method will take over 3 hours – they take at most an hour and a half to install and shouldn’t cost a ton since you’ll be tightening them almost every month. It’s important to find a stylist you like for tape-ins since you’ll be seeing each other so frequently. I recommend using Style Seat (there’s a website and an app version) to find stylists who work on their own. Most salons will way overcharge for worse results. To get Keratin extensions, I went to a salon on Newbury Street in Boston that ended up being really great. I don’t know that many stylists who freelance bonded extensions, although it’s certainly worth a look on Style Seat in your area. Otherwise, researching Yelp reviews for high end salons is probably your best bet. It’ll be a little costlier, but I think it’s worth it because the salon will most likely insist on purchasing the hair for you, so you want to make sure you have a quality product (it’ll last for 6 months so this definitely isn’t the time to skimp).
Buying the Hair
If you’re looking to buy your own hair, I recommend Babe, although keep in mind that any extension hair is going to tangle a lot and be generally hard to deal with because it doesn’t get the benefits of natural oils from your scalp like your own hair. ALWAYS purchase human hair – synthetic hair will melt almost immediately using a curling iron or straightener and is absolutely impossible to untangle after you shower. Extensions can be really hard to dye, so try to match the color to your hair if possible, and ask your stylist to do a small trim so they blend in with your own locks. If you’re going with a stylist who sells you the hair, ask him/her what brand is used and do a lot of research before you purchase.
Once you get used to them, extensions aren’t the worst things to take care of. Tape-ins can be brushed relatively normally and heated tools don’t really affect them, but you do have to be careful to not get any type of conditioner or oil near the tapes or they’ll slip out. The top of your hair will get pretty dry. I would put a leave-in conditioner just on the outside top layer to avoid the tapes but keep some moisturization. Alternately, Keratin extensions can have basically any product slapped on them, but the bonds can’t be brushed roughly or be touched by any heat tools, so you have to work around them in those areas. Extensions are wayyyy more temperamental to season and temperature changes than even normal frizzy hair, so depending on where you live you might be in for a lot of daily maintenance. Check out this post for my tips on how to deal with hair (especially extensions) during the winter.
The hair and installation for tape-ins shouldn’t cost more than $400-$500. Expect to pay anywhere between $40-$100 for each tightening, but not more than that. Keratin extensions are more pricey off the bat ($500-$1000 total) but that’s a one-time cost.
I love love love extensions and highly recommend both methods to anyone who isn’t happy with their current hair length. If you’re able to find a good stylist/salon, the price can even be somewhat comparable to what you would otherwise spend dying/cutting your hair! I’m happy to answer any additional questions!