As a woman who has struggled with her fine, thin stranded hair, that has a limited growth pattern of about level with my bra strap, I have always yearned for long, thick hair. To me it is the epitome of glamour and femininity. A good hair day puts you on top of the world. A bad one can make you feel like hiding at home for the day. It’s the grass is always greener of hair. What you have, is rarely what you want.
If you have thick hair, the complaints I have heard from clients are: It’s too thick, it’s too heavy, it’s too big, it’s unruly, I can’t do anything with it etc etc. I hear similar complaints from fellow thin haired women, mostly the latter plus: it’s flat, it has no body, it’s sparse, I look like I’ve got alopecia etc etc. I rarely hear a woman who doesn’t have some complaints about their hair, unless they know how to deal with their hair or… they have just gotten hair extensions. As TLC crooned back in 1999 in Unpretty ‘You can buy your if it won’t grow’ and it has been a growing trend for the past 20 years (growing #hairjokes) and now that song in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome ;D
Hair extensions are employed for providing extra length and/or extra volume to your natural hair. The advances in the technology of hair extensions have come leaps and bounds from the days women would keep their hair they had left over from their brush or comb in a ‘rat box’ to use as padding in Victorian times and centuries before that. I started my hair extension journey back in the early 2000’s when wefts (layers of human hair sewn together in a strip) were in copious supply at my local hairdressing warehouse. I could get a weft or a bunch of wefts for $5-20 because the only places that bought these were TAFEs for teaching resources. As I was a hairdresser I had access to professional only warehouses, I’d tint them to match my own hair colour and install them for a special occasion.
That is no longer the case, as hair extensions especially human hair, have become massively popular in the past 20 years or so and with it, the price of human hair resources have sky-rocketed. Even from warehouses today, you can’t get a set of extensions under $130-200 trade price, not retail. Retail can look at over $500 depending on the length, type, and country source. And then there’s the service fee you have to pay to apply them, cos you sure as hell can’t do them yourself, at least not well and not in any lasting capacity. This can cost anywhere from $180 to $500 plus, that doesn’t include the hard sell from the hairdresser with the very special shampoo and conditioners you need, if you ‘don’t want them to fall out’. That part, for the most part, is true. SLSs and ALSs will loosen the glue of certain types of extensions and requires a sulphate free shampoo and conditioner with no oils. See my other article on ‘Why There is Nothing Wrong with (Some) Supermarket Shampoos’ for more info on, well, shampoos.
I got suckered into the idea of semi-permanent hair extensions when I got married a couple of years ago and I did a huge amount of research before I embarked upon this journey. As a hairdresser I already had some experience and knowledge but nothing educates you more than trying it yourself. So as a professional and a user of hair extensions, I present the following diatribe of my knowledge and experience. Much to the fury of many hairdressers, I will be telling you what no blog, magazine article, newspaper or hairdresser warned me about. The brutal truth of hair extensions.
Before I deep dive into what problems surround hair extensions (and they are many and varied), for the uninitiated and for those of you who are contemplating getting hair extensions, let’s take a look at what types of hair and kinds of hair extensions are out there, so we can unpack the pros and cons of each.
As always, you can skip to the TLDR at the end of the article for a summary, but the real meat is in the middle.
Types of Hair used in Hair Extensions
There are a couple of types of synthetic hair on the market and they are *mostly used in clip in extensions and cheap/er wigs. Synthetic fibres are made from a variety of plastics: acrylic, polyester, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Kanekalon. Because they are plastics they do not suffer heat exposure very well, some not at all. You can purchase heat resistant synthetic fibre extensions but they have a heat limit and you need to adhere to that limit if you don’t want to damage and melt them. Usually the limit is 180°C/350°F. Sally Hansen has released some clip-in variations of these available at Priceline, hair product suppliers and department stores. Kanekalon hair extensions and wigs are the most realistic looking and moving synthetic hair and are considered the best synthetic hair available.
You can tell especially cheap synthetic hair because it is very shiny (plastic looking) by comparison to even the healthiest hair and it cannot stand up to any exposure of heat. You know the kind, the ones you buy for costume parties that are usually dis-guarded in a bin half way through the night cos they make your head hot and itchy.
The pros of synthetic hair are:
- Cost – They are much cheaper than human hair extensions
- Maintenance – Because they are plastic, oils and dirt are not held to the strands as easily and often require less washing
- Permanent style – Possible with the right knowledge but generally style is inbuilt into the fibre, can be re-styled with steam
- Permanent colour – The colour is built into the fibre, unless left in direct sunlight
The Cons of Synthetic Hair are:
- The style cannot be easily changed (unless heat resistant but with limited change)
- The colour cannot be changed
- They do not last as long as human hair
- Cheap fibres look like plastic
- Most don’t move like real hair
- They are difficult to cut to blend with your own hair due to the point above
- Are not recommended for semi-permanent hair extensions
*Be careful of especially e-Bay sellers promoting their extensions as “100% human hair resource”. This means, yes it is a hair resource, 100%, it’s just not necessarily real human hair. Read the descriptions really well and don’t be caught out.
Human Hair Types (and how it’s obtained)
Human hair extensions have the benefit of looking like hair because it is real hair. But where does it come from you may wonder. Wonder not kids, cos I’m about to tell you, and it ain’t necessarily humanitarian hair farms.
According to one article from The Guardian back in 2012, Caroline Cox, a hair historian says the practice of obtaining human hair from the disadvantaged to adore the heads of the financially advantaged has been going on for hundreds of years.
The country of origin will dictate the price of the extensions. Hair from China, Peru and India are usually much cheaper than hair from Russia or Europe. I won’t go into all the gory details of how the hair is obtained, but women in more impoverished nations will sell their hair for a small fee, to having them forced to give their hair up and sometimes even having their hair stolen. Such is the desperation and demand for human hair for wigs and hair extensions. Some ethical hairdressers in the UK and US will pay their clients to cut their hair off, offering more money depending on how close to the roots they are able to cut. In other areas of the world women are paid quite well to have their lengths removed.
If you are to believe this other article from the BBC in 2016 almost all hair comes from China but they market it as from another country like Russia so they can charge more for it. Asian hair also tends to be more robust and can withstand the numerous treatment the hair needs to go through.
Cox also said in the previous article that she thinks were ‘moving towards a more natural look’, indicating hair extensions were dying out (dyeing, get it… #hairjokes #notfunny). That article is six years old and I can’t see the trend dying (#hairjo…I’ll stop now) any time soon.
The hair once obtained, goes through several pesticide baths for de-lousing, keratolytic baths to reduce the cuticle, shine treatments and is colour treated before it is then processed into whichever type of hair extension is required.
Remy hair extensions are the gold standard of hair extensions referring to the direction the hair is laid. As you know, each hair strand has an exterior cuticle which is best described as overlapping scales in segments that are directed down the hair shaft. You can see the scales in the below image of a hair under a microscope magnified x 2500 times.
When a hair extension is classified as ‘Remy’, all the hair is going in the same direction as your hair naturally grows. This is important as hair going in both directions can make for one big, sometimes, impossible to de-tangle knot. If the hair extensions are not classified as Remy then you had better be super vigilant at looking after your expensive tresses if you want them to last. This is also only determined under a microscope which is reflected in the cost.
‘Double drawn’ is a term you may see bandied about and it means the hairs are all the same length, rather than a bunch of shorter hairs making up the volume of the extension at the attachment or where it is bound together. So if you see Double Drawn, Remy hair extensions, they are considered the Rolls Royce of hair extensions. Seamless 1 markets themselves in this category.
Pros to Human Hair Extensions
- They look, move and feel like hair because it is human hair
- They can be coloured but most companies do not recommend it as they have already gone through so much processing it can destroy them
- They can be trimmed and cut to blend to your hairstyle
- Come in many different colours including Ombre, multi-tone and pastels
- Can be washed and heat styled with your own hair
- Can look amazing and make you feel Hollywood glamorous
Cons of Human Hair Extensions
- The hair cannot get nourishment nor moisture from you scalp as they are not growing from it and therefore need more care
- You need to be very careful brushing an styling as to not damage them or your own hair
- ALL semi-permanent hair extensions cause damage to your real hair no matter what they advertise
- Require sulphate free shampoo and oil free conditioners
- They are generally expensive to have put in and maintain
- They need to be re-applied or adjusted every 6-8 weeks
- You should not go swimming with them or sleep with them unbound (either in a plait or ponytail is recommended)
- Buying online can be difficult to colour match (best to buy and tint your hair to match, rather than the reverse)
Kinds of Hair Extensions
There are roughly five different types of hair extension attachments:
- Beads or Clamps
- Loops or micro-loops
- Thermo-plastic or Fusion (Bonded or Pre-bonded)
- Wefts or weaves
The first three kinds of extensions are all based on the same application method. Small sections of hair, spaced roughly one centimetre apart and are attached about one centimetre away from the roots. They need repositioning every 8-12 weeks and in almost all cases, removal can cause discomfort.
These first three methods are by far the most damaging as they are prone to ‘torsion tension’, where the extension twists around at the base of the attachment, breaking off the hair at the outermost layers of the section that the extension binds on to. Or it produces traction alopecia where the hair in the same areas or the whole section can be torn from the roots. This can result in semi-permanent or permanent hair loss.
Clamps and beads are the most damaging of all, which usually involve metal clamps or beads that can cut into the hair where it is attached. I have seen many models in my time go from short hair to a head full of glamorous extensions, then due to a huge amount of hair breakage and hair loss, the next time I see them they are back to a pixie cut due to the damage they caused.
The fusion bonded or pre-bonded hair extensions are usually attached to the hair with melted plastic, glue or keratin bond, they often present a problem when they grow out but can also be problematic if the hairdresser or stylist has been poorly trained and takes too much or too little hair to cope with the weight of the extension. The main issue is the heat required to bond the extensions with thermo-plastics often damages the hair making it brittle resulting in more hair loss.
Loops are often plastic and a little more gentle but still prone to the same issues listed above. They require a tool to adjust the loop to tighten to the hair. I have even seen these advertised as self applying, as in you put them in without the help of a hairdresser. Like, where you can’t see what your doing to the back of your head. Umm, not recommended. At best, this would take some practice to get it right and are likely to fall out, at worst YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING, shall I list the problems that might entail? Uneven application, hair breakage by tooling hair that is un-looped, tooling your fingers (Ouch!) basicly, you might make a dog’s breakfast out of it.
Wefts or weaves that are extremely popular with islander and afro hair types have their own set of issues. The hair is braided into tight rows or cornrows and the wefts are sewn into those braids. They are often used for very thick or strong hair which perplexes me quite a bit as a hairdresser. Afro hair and any very curly hair is a combination of strong and week areas of the individual strand. What gives very curly hair it’s corkscrew shape is the alternating pattern of thickness and thinness that travels down the length of each strand.
The thin sections are weaker than the thick sections of the strand so it seams odd for this to be the main choice for afro hair, however, afro hair is the most water repellent and therefore possibly stronger for that reason alone. Either way, this method is the most uncomfortable due to the tension in long strips across the scalp and causes a great deal of damage due to traction alopecia which tears hair out at the root, resulting in semi-permanent or permanent hair loss. It takes several hours to braid and sew the wefts in and should not be attempted by anyone without a great deal of experience.
Finally onto tape hair extensions. These are often touted as lunch-time extensions due to how quick they can be applied. They are often marketed as zero-damage hair extensions and any hairdresser who promotes them uses that point as a big marketing tool. They are NOT zero-damage. They cannot even be described as minimal damage. They can be the most minor damage by comparison but that’s kind of like saying you get less damage by being hit by a car at 50kph than 100kph. That’s a bit extreme, but I’ve been burnt by every hairdresser (bar one) that ever installed or removed and installed my extensions. Let me explain.
Tapes are 4-5cm strips of hair glued together like a sandwich and adhered to your hair roughly one centimetre from the roots. So you have a top layer impregnated with glue, a very thin layer of your hair and then another layer glued to the underside of these strands. Because they bind to more hair per sandwich than beads of clamps, when they are first installed, they can be quite tight and uncomfortable, especially if the person putting them in is poorly trained, as I experienced with my first application. This also resulted in two areas of traction alopecia near either of my temples because she placed them incorrectly and used too much hair.
You MUST get them taken out and re-applied every 6-8 weeks to prevent torsion tension tearing out hairs on either end of the strips. Here we get to one of the most damaging and painful hair loss issues with tape hair extensions. Incorrect removal. Out of three salons, none of them removed them properly as demonstrated in the training videos that you can find for yourself on YouTube. The Seamless 1 training video, which were the extensions I had, demonstrates that you need multiple sprays of the remover, as many as it takes depending on how long the tapes have been in, to successfully and painlessly remove the tape sandwich. Every single salon was lucky to apply one spray per sandwich. Considering I know how much these removal sprays cost at trade prices (and how much they charge for the service), I think 3-4 sprays per sandwich isn’t bankrupting the business.
Now this sounds like one big winge. And some of it is. I suffered all of the above kinds of hair loss and then some. But as a professional myself, having gone through the trauma and hair loss I experienced over the 12 months I had them taken out and put back in, it makes me bloody angry at the incompetence, impatience and stinginess of some salons/hairdressers. Even when I informed them I was a hairdresser (I.e I had the same knowledge as they did) and even when I asked them how experienced they were prior to the service, I interviewed the first salon a week before I sat in their chair, I still received a below par service from all three ‘experienced’ salons.
One salon was a little less painful in their removal and application, however, from the very minute I sat down began bitching about their fellow workers and boss so viciously it made the entire three and a half hours I was in the chair more painful than getting my hair ripped out.
Other Damage besides Hair Loss (they don’t tell you about)
I’ve read a lot of websites, blogs, magazine articles and even received inside acknowledgement from hairdressers about the known or obvious damage hair extensions cause, but there is one issue they don’t tell you about. Hair thinning. This is especially pertinent for fine haired lasses but will also happen to those of you with thicker or coarser stands of hair.
Due to the fact that the hair used in extensions, especially high quality ones, need to be robust, the strands are often thicker or more coarse. After all they have to resist the damage done to them through the manufacturing processes and still be of optimal condition when you receive them. The extension strands rub against your hair strands and erode or break down the thickness or diameter of each hair over weeks or months.
As hair is dead when it leaves the follicle, it cannot be permanently repaired or rebuilt. It can be temporarily strengthened but even that is not enough to combat the mechanical exfoliation of strand against strand over time. Eventually it causes breakage half way up the hair shaft because the most amount of movement happens from there to the tips or ends of the hair. It also contributes to spilt ends causing further breakage and thinning. For this reason, taking a break from them for a month or two isn’t a solution. The only way this can be combated is with new healthy hair growth. Since hair grows on average a centimetre a month (12 centimetres a year), you kind of need to give your hair a significant break to prevent this from happening. Some people grow more than this, unfortunately I am not one of those people.
At the end of the day, the take home message is: anything you attach to your body in a semi-permanent manner causes damage. Acrylic nails, eyelash extensions and hair extensions. However, that being said, I have some advice that is not, never get hair extensions.
How to Mitigate Hair Loss and Damage
Hair extensions take dedication to maintain them in optimal condition and I do not recommend embarking on such a journey unless you are prepared to look after them and afford the costs associated with maintaining them.
Here’s a few tips on how to maintain your new locks if you want to keep them looking their best:
- Make sure you do not leave your appointment to remove and apply them any longer than recommended. The longer your new growth is left, the more likely they will twist and rip out hair around the extensions.
- Tie your hair up loosely when you sleep (a loose braid is best), more tightly when you swim or exercise or ride a motorcycle/bike.
- Invest in recommended shampoos, conditioners and treatments designed for hair extensions. The best ones I came across for tape extensions were the Seamless 1 Superfood Therapy Colour Shampoo, Conditioner and treatment. The worst was X Ten Silky-Lite, the shampoo was stripping of moisture and the conditioner certainly didn’t de-tangle like it claimed.
- Be very gentle with the roots of your hair when styling or washing, your hair has extra weight from the extensions and more pulling plus weight equals more breakage.
- Get the correct brush (short flexible bristles) and use a wide tooth comb when styling and especially shampooing and conditioning, hair is vulnerable to extra damage when it’s wet. Put as little pressure on your own hair as you can. Hold your extensions at the attachment and comb or brush from the ends of your hair working slowly up to the mid-lengths and just below the attachments. Never comb or brush above the attachments or you will rip them out.
- Use a dedicated treatment as often as you see fit, weekly or fortnightly. It really does make a difference to the softness and shine. Remember, hair extensions do not benefit from the natural oils your scalp imparts on your hair because it is not growing out of it. They need more moisture to stay soft and flexible. Flexibility = bending, brittleness = snapping. Snapping = breakage = bad = crying.
- Invest in styling products specifically for your type of hair extensions. Tapes especially need to avoid sulphates and oils of all kinds or the glue they use to bind your hair will dissolve and you will see them pulling out while shampooing or conditioning.
How to Remove Tapes Without Pain or Damage
If you have tape extensions, you can remove them yourself if the salon you frequent makes you cry in pain. It will also save you a small fortune because removing them is a long tedious process. It’s pretty easy and will save you a world of hurt. Here’s how:
- The branded remover (solvent), 99% alcohol or Desolve-It (you can get this from Bunnings)
- Hair clips
- A tail comb or your fingers
- Some cotton rounds
- Shampoo and conditioner
- A blowdryer
- Replacement tapes
- Patience and an hour or two watching Netflix
The day before your service, or a few if you don’t mind showing your ‘true’ hair to the world. Start from the top and clip all your own hair out of the way. Spray or soak the sandwich with whatever dissolver or solution you have chosen, attempt to open up the top middle of your tape sandwich and squirt some more solvent in the space between the tape and your hair. Keep attempting to open and apply more solvent until it comes away without too much resistance. Gently rub more solvent into the bottom tape and you hair. If you peel it from the top of the tape downwards, it will come away a lot more easily.
Bear in mind, your hair goes through phases of active growth (Anagen – lasts about two to eight years), resting (Catagen – lasts about one week) and shedding (Telogen – lasts about three months). The length of time you hair remains in the growing phase is predetermined by your genes. Any hair can be at any point in one of those phases. Hairs that are actively growing may force out hair that are in the resting or shedding stage due to them all being held together by the glue in the tape or the bead, clamp, loop or weft. You will still see some hair loss no matter how gentle you are. But it will be minimal compared to the scrapping and tugging of a painful, incompetent service.
Once you’ve removed all the tapes from your hair you may need to add more solvent and comb out any remaining glue residue. Shampoo out the glue and solvent residue, condition or if you can apply a treatment like Joico K-Pak and give yourself a scalp massage while your at it. Hair extensions have a habit of tightening your scalp which can cause headaches and add to stress. Enjoy the wonderful, long forgotten feeling of running your fingers all the way to the scalp aaaahhhhh. If you’re having them put back in, relish this feeling, it will be back to that familiar tightness for at least the first week or two of re-application.
Now it’s time to sit down in front of Netflix with copious cotton rounds, your solvent of choice and glass of vino. You need to remove ALL the traces of glue from the tapes. This is the point at which you realise why your hairdresser charges so much for the service. It’s time consuming and tedious. Once that’s done, shampoo and condition or use your treatment on them. You can leave them to dry naturally on a flat surface or blow-dry them into the style you like. Two of the three hairdressers I visited didn’t even bother to style my hair after they were applied, forewarned is, well, forewarned. Re-apply the new tapes lined up with the material side of the extensions, not the hair side.
Do not leave the old glue on the extensions and just tape over it and do not apply some other glue you’ve seen on YouTube. This is not only wrong but it is also stupid. You can compromise the attachment or cause further damage to your hair.
This is the best image I could find of the correct way to re-apply tapes.Bare in mind I’ve never seen tapes remove as easily as steps 2-4. It’s usually a gelatinous mess.
Also, don’t get anyone who isn’t properly trained and experienced to put them back in. Grill your hairdresser how many extensions they have installed and if their answer is a few with no repeat customers, walk away. If they say they get repeat customers coming back for removal and reinstall on the regular, they are doing something right. I complained to the first salon manager but was not prepared to go back because the senior who put them in was too inexperienced to give her another chance. The last two, I didn’t bother to complain, but I also didn’t go back either and would not recommend them.
Tape extensions are best put into clean unconditioned hair so that the oils or conditioning agents do not interfere with the glues ability to bond to the hair. You won’t be able to wash your hair for 24-48 hours after the re-installation so it might as well be cleaned now. You’ll be best to shampoo, rinse, towel dry and apply a leave in conditioner to the ends. My absolute favourite is VitaFive CPR Frizzy Phase 1 Smoothing Creme. It is simply amazing and works well for all hair types, even extensions, just don’t get it near the tapes.
How to Regain Hair Health After Hair Extensions
If you have decided you are done with hair extensions for a while (or forever) there are a number of things you can do to regain the health of your hair.
- Get a decent style cut
If you’ve had your extensions in for a while and you find that your hair is, for some unknown, unacknowledged reason, at different lengths, especially in the regions where the extensions were placed, funny that, you are best to bite the bullet and get a proper style cut to remove the broken or thinned ends and make it sit in some kind of reasonable shape. If you’re like me and the thought of short hair fills you with dread, at least get a trim and have less length trimmed but more frequently. Split ends and weak strands will continue to catch on each other and break and you will just keep repeating that cycle until those hairs are eliminated.
If your hairdresser knows what it is ask for a ‘Dusting’ service, it’s when the broken ends throughout your lengths are trimmed. Your hair can’t get longer if the mid lengths are getting continually snagged on short broken ends.
- Invest in a good strengthening treatment
My favourite that I am yet to find another product that works quite as well as this is Joico K-Pak Deep Penetrating Reconstructor. Unfortunately, like most hair care brands they do test on animals, I can only hope those animals have soft, strong, fluffy fur 🙁 As I have said many times, you can’t permanently fix dead hair, and it is dead once it leaves the follicle, but you can temporarily strengthen it.
My understanding of the science involved in why this product works so well is that it contains Joico’s ‘Quadramine Complex’ (you have to be a little bit dubious when a company names an ingredient that can’t be found anywhere else #patent). Which is, according to Joico, a low molecular weight protein. Now your hair does not need protein just because it’s made from keratin (protein) but well formulated proteins can form a protective layer that is likely washed off after a shampoo or two. It also contains silicones which help with moisture retention and flexibility and amino acids make good water binding agents to help moisture retention also.
There is also the Olaplex system which goes into a whole other articles worth of information. I’ve personally tried a copycat and it appeared to work quite well, however, again it need to be topped up and maintained to work.
- Avoid permanent chemical services
Permanent hair colours are designed to open the cuticle and deposit colour molecules, their method of action usually requires a high ammonia content (or something else that does the same thing #ammonia-free) to achieve this goal. All chemical treatments cause damage. Stick to semi-permanent hair colours that stain or coat the cuticle to make the hair strands appear a bit thicker. If you are blonde, try and just get your roots touched up and use a conditioning toner to adjust the rest. Do not permanently straighten or perm your hair either as this is also incredibly damaging to your hair, especially in a weakened state.
- Be gentle with wet hair
Your hair is especially vulnerable when it is wet. There are three types of cross-bonds in each strand of hair: disulphide bonds that are the strongest and can only be broken by chemicals or excessive amounts of heat, ionic or salt bonds which are weaker than disulphide bonds but more numerous, they are broken every time you wet your hair but reform once your hair is dry and hydrogen bonds which are weaker than ionic/salt bonds, are the most numerous and act the same way as ionic/salt bonds, broken by water and and reforming when dry. Since these last two combined make up about two thirds of the cross strength of your hair, you can see why your hair is vulnerable when wet.
As mentioned earlier in How to Mitigate Hair Loss and Damage, I advised to use a wide tooth comb when distributing conditioner or de-tangling wet hair and not to use your fingers, not only will it damage natural nails but any nail snags will catch and snap off hair while in this state. The less strain you put on the hair while wet the less breakage will occur. This also applies for putting your hair up while wet, pulling it up too tightly can snap your hair. How do you think you get all those annoying short hairs around your hairline, hmmm?
- Dry hair gently
When you dry your hair, gently squeeze the water out with your towel, don’t rub it roughly. I have read somewhere that leaving your hair to air dry from being totally wet can swell the hair shaft and cause further damage, so the only answer here seems to be to invest in a good ionic blow-dryer that prevents static, and keep the dryer 10cm to 20cm away from your hair. The dryer does not have to be ionic, but introducing static can cause more knots and make your hair generally unruly. Also, apply a leave in conditioner like the VitaFive one above, a mate of mine who was a hairdressing rep told me you can’t put enough moisture in your hair, especially when it’s damaged.
- Limit or eliminate hot styling tools
This can be one of the most difficult things to convince people of. Some people are simply addicted to their straighteners or hot tools and use them daily. Intense heat damages your hair and as stated above can break the disulphide bonds permanently. If you are dedicated to reducing further damage, try to find alternatives to style it, like buns or braiding your hair when it is damp, not wet.
Thermal protectants may work but you need to really saturate your hair with them to have any real effect. However, you should NEVER put a hot tool directly on wet hair. Why you may ask? If you get down to the pure, undeniable science, what is the boiling point of water? 100°C/212°F right? If you have hair filled with water, or even damp, and you apply more than 100°C/212°F to that unprotected hair what do you think happens to the water inside the hair?
Boiling, steam, breakage.
Remember this chickadee above? If your styling agent or thermal protectant contains water or aqua (which is the same thing) as it’s main ingredient, blow dry the water out first, then if you must, use your hot tool. And even then keep the tool moving, don’t let the heat concentrate on one spot.
I am still very sceptical that any thermal protection product can totally prevent damage when you are applying something that heats up anywhere from 100°C/212°F to 250°C/482°F on it. The science seems to indicate it can only minimise damage. One study has reported that most thermal products can only reduce damage by 10-20%. However, one test has revealed that the inclusion of 1% Silicone Quaternium-22 in conditioner can provide about 40% heat protection. Since silicones are poor conductors of heat it is likely they help by slowing down the conduction and even out the distribution of heat. Even more reason to have silicones in your shampoo and conditioner!
- Minimise brushing, combing and playing with your hair
The more you brush, comb, twist, chew, or run your fingers through your hair, you are increasing the friction of one hair being rubbed against the surface of another which fractures the cuticle. Try and brush it only once or twice a day and use a soft bristled brush. Boar bristle is the go to as it is anti-static and has flexible bristles.
- Vitamin supplements may help (but only if your diet is very poor)
It has been a long held belief that vitamin supplements do virtually nothing for anyone in first world and developed countries. The main reason is that unless you are on a very restrictive diet, you are most likely getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need. The most (hopeful) potentially useful mineral supplement you can adopt is Silica, however, according to this review of the previous studies, the jury is still out on whether or not silica or silicones taken orally have any effect on skin, hair or nails. I used to believe they worked as I felt I got a boost in growth, however, that may have been a placebo effect now that I know how growth works. What I do know, is just like many treatments, if they do work, they only work as long as you are using them. Once you stop, the skin, hair or nails go back to how they were prior to the treatment.
- If you are desperate for extra length or thickness, use clip-in extensions
The ONLY extensions that should not damage your hair are clip-in extensions. If used carefully, they can look great and can provide that glam look for a special occasion or a boost until your hair is in better condition. You can buy human hair clip-ins and also synthetic heat resistant clip-ins so that you can style them to match your own hair. Multi-pack wefts are available from suppliers like Showpony and range from $54.95 for synthetic heat resistance packs of 5, 18 inch extensions (pictured bottom left) to $329 for human hair pack of 7 pieces 20 inch extensions (pictured bottom right).
Since this has been my perspective, knowledge and experience of semi-permanent hair extensions, I’ll give you an overview of my journey: I had my Seamless 1 double drawn, Remy tape extensions in for a little over 12 months with regular removal and reapplication within a day or week of taking them out, unless I was visiting a salon in which the removal and reapplication was done the same day. I bought a new set of extensions every 6 months as advised. As a hairdresser I knew all the tricks to looking after my own hair, as well as the extensions, and still learned a lot along the way. Quite personally, I loved having them in. I felt glamorous everyday and didn’t need to do much to make them look great, but a lot of that was because I took really good care of them. Seamless 1 make beautiful hair extensions and I can’t recommend their products more highly, just in case you were wondering. I do not believe any fault rests on the shoulder of this company.
However, I have to add in full disclosure, my hair recovery journey has taken a whole year before I have felt confidant exposing my true tresses to the world again. As a fine haired lady, I was not prepared for the hair loss and damage that came with the experience. What I disliked about them: I disliked not being able to brush all the way to my scalp, the first time I blow-dried them took 2 hours because I was unfamiliar with having THAT much hair, they were heavy (again, lack of familiarity with that much hair), due to the tightness and extra weight in the first week or two or reapplication I did get the odd headache and I am not prone to headaches, I also lightened my hair prior to having them put in which weakened my hair, the cost of getting them and maintaining them was much more than expected (I even had one salon charge me an extra $50 than quoted without any explanation or apology), you have to be extra careful with your hair in all aspects of washing and styling, some salons have no real idea what they are doing so vet them well and ask a lot of questions before rushing in.
Would I do it again having the knowledge I have now? I would not. I would have perhaps had them for the wedding and the honeymoon, maybe a bit after or I would have had temporary extensions for the day. Would I recommend them to anyone else? That depends. If you have relatively normal to strong/coarse hair that isn’t too chemically treated (not straightened and dyed or bleached) and you want to add some length and volume, go ahead, but try and give your hair a rest every six months for at least a few months. If your hair is very, very fine or bleached, I’d stick to clip-ins or be prepared to cut your hair short once you’ve had your fun.
If you are contemplating semi-permanent additions to your hair you should know all the facts and not just the ones people who profit off them tell you.
- Hair extensions are employed to give extra length and/or volume to your natural hair
- Hair extensions come in synthetic, synthetic heat resistant and human hair types
- Human hair comes mostly from impoverished nations but can be obtained ethically for a higher fee
- Most hair for extensions comes from China as it is more robust and cheaper to obtain
- There are five types of semi-permanent hair extension and all will cause some form of damage and hair loss no matter what they advertise
- You can mitigate the hair loss and damage but you have to be dedicated and follow the advice you are given to a ‘T’
- Invest in products and tools specifically designed for your type of extensions
- You can remove your own tape extensions (detailed above) but you can’t put them back in without a trained professional
- You can temporarily gain hair health back but the only real remedy is to grow it out if you’ve experienced a lot of damage and hair loss
- The only true no-damage hair extensions are clip-ins
What did you think of all this? Have I scared you off getting extensions? I hope not. What has been your experience? Am I being a big sooky wah wah? Let me know in the comments below!
- Salinger, D and Willians, J. 1986. Simplified Hairdressing Science. Saliam Books. Narrabeen, Australia
- The Beauty Brains. 2008. The Beauty Brains – Real Scientists Answer Your Beauty Questions. Beauty Publishing. United States.