First, confession time. I used to be a hair-extension snob; the sort of person who looked at pictures of celebrities with undisguised glee when you could see their clip-ins, who ridiculed poor colour matches and looked on with derision when fake hair hung like straggly curtains down to someone’s navel, all while thinking, “They can’t possibly think those things look real.” But then recently, things changed. I committed the ultimate hypocritical crime and got them myself. And what’s more, I love them.
Turns out, it’s easier than you think to fake your way to long, full-bodied locks – you just need good extensions (because, oh my, are there some bad ones out there). For my makeover I turned to Kiara Bailey, the founder of Hair Lingerie, who gave me a look that was subtle and natural-looking.
To help you in your quest for thicker or lengthier tresses, here are a few key extension lessons I learnt along the way:
1. There are different types
It might sound obvious, but the wealth of options available when it comes to hair extensions – clip-ins, tapes and hot/cold bonds – means there is likely to be a style that particularly suits your preferences. I personally found Hair Lingerie’s tape extensions to be the most inconspicuous and easiest permanent option to look after, but do your own research first. As with all hair decisions, there are positives and negatives to each style. If you’re unsure, perhaps try clip-ins to begin with, as they are a great starting point for anyone looking for a temporary switch-up.
2. They can look natural
When I first got my extensions, the biggest surprise was that people weren’t calling me out for getting them done (as I’d feared), but that they were actually shocked that they couldn’t tell I had them in (aside from the fact my hair had inexplicably grown overnight).
That all comes down to having high-quality hairpieces that have been cleverly positioned to blend in with your own locks. Perhaps the most important factor though, was the advice to focus on achieving body as well as length. That way, instead of getting super-long extensions that were obviously fake, the smaller, specifically placed hairpieces plumped up my hair and made it appear healthier and more voluminous in the process.
3. Good extensions shouldn’t cause damage
In the past, I always assumed that if by some miracle I was able to get hair extensions that looked good I’d inevitably have to accept long-term hair damage as a compromise. Luckily, during my consultation – a must before committing to extensions, might I add – Bailey soothed this fear, explaining that “many conventional extensions will damage your hair and cheap hair extensions will ruin it 100 per cent of the time”. That’s why it’s important to do your research. “Not all brands and methods are created equally,” she added. “Your hair should look as good if not better than when you put them in; that’s when you know your hair is being protected.”
4. You don’t need to spend hours in the salon
While extensions have always been an undeniably quicker fix than waiting for your hair to grow, they have a reputation for taking a long time to put in. In recent years though, application has become far speedier and more effective. Bailey stresses that “with technological advancements, we have found a way to make the application process fast and easy. Depending on the colour process required, most clients are in and out within an hour.” I was still cynical, but she was right: I hardly had to time to finish my magazine before I was whisked out the door with beautiful, swishable hair.
5. But taking care of them does take time
As a serial snoozer of the alarm in the morning, and someone who used to swear by air-drying my hair, it took some effort to factor in enough time to wash, blow-dry and style my extensions – as you shouldn’t leave them wet in case they start to slip or become sticky. It’s time-consuming, granted, but you’ll thank yourself for it, because styling really makes the most of your new look. It’s particularly important as time goes on, because if your extensions get a little more unruly at the ends (use Moroccanoil’s Treatment, £33.90, to help avoid this) your hair will naturally tend to separate, making your extensions more obvious. The simple addition of a curl to the ends, or straightening and smoothing your own natural hair –will blend everything back in nicely.
6. You’ll probably need new products
Unfortunately, your normal haircare product arsenal doesn’t tend to measure up once you have extensions, mainly because the hair that isn’t your own will respond differently to washing and styling. Bailey recommends “using a sulphate-free, non-stripping shampoo and a highly moisturising conditioner or mask to maintain the condition of the hair.” Try Purelogy’s Hydrate Shampoo, £11.55, and Kérastase’s Nutritive Masque Magistral, £25.65, as a good starter kit and “having a great mixed bristle brush like the Mason Pearson, £43.05, is important for keeping your hair tangle-free too.” You might also find that your own hair gets a little drier than normal, because you aren’t conditioning near the extensions’ bonds. If that does happen, Easilocks suggests dividing your hair into pigtails and applying their Leave-in Spray Conditioner, £23.35, to the ends of your natural tresses.
8. They shouldn’t be uncomfortable
It certainly feels strange at first to suddenly have a lot more hair, but you shouldn’t experience any pain or great discomfort after getting extensions. If you do, go straight back to your stylist to get them repositioned. I only tended to notice them in the first week when I went to sleep, but simply tying my hair up before I went to bed (which you should do anyway to stop them getting pulled or knotted) made them a lot more manageable.
If you’re experiencing itchiness, this could simply be the result of not properly rinsing your shampoo – having more hair may mean you need to spend longer washing it. From experience, I’d recommend consciously taking longer to rinse your hair every time you shower, as product takes longer to drop down the hair shaft when you have extensions in and suds can become trapped between the tapes, causing itchiness.
9. They are expensive
Good hair extensions don’t come cheap, it has to be said, but if applied correctly and looked after well they should last up to eight weeks. In fact, with Hair Lingerie, that time can be stretched out if you return to your stylist after about six weeks, because they can remove the hairpieces, clean the adhesive and reposition them – allowing you to wear well looked-after extensions for up to a year.