As someone who has had short hair for the majority of her life, I – like many others – have experimented with the modern miracle of hair extensions. Our four-year flirtation brought me through periods of exhaustion, jubilation, jadedness, and for a short time, being in love with my own reflection.
Then, after two straight years of relying on my extensions, our on-again-off-again relationship has recently turned off (My natural hair is finally growing!), but I'm left in a sentimental state of mourning for my 18 inches of added length.
While I know that a lot of girls, myself included, swear by extensions, I also know that a lot of girls are reluctant, for a variety of reasons, to try them out. To the skeptics, I hope to assuage your fears and discuss the pros and cons of the various methods to add a little extra length.
#1. Clip Ins
Clip in extensions are a relatively cheap, easy way to get some extra length or volume without a lot of commitment. Those that I know who use clip ins have told me that they love being able to take them out whenever they want, sleep comfortably with their natural hair, and being able to change the length or style of their extensions without much fuss.
Because I have thicker, ethnic hair, clip-ins have never really seemed like an option for me, but it is my understanding that for those with thinner hair, or with specific events that require a little extra length, clip ins are definitely the way to go.
- Little to no damage to natural hair
- Versatile and easily changeable
- Relatively inexpensive
- Must be taken out every night
- Do not last long with everyday wear
- Do not always match well for color
- Often painful to sleep in
- Difficult to style
#2. Tape-ins and Glue Ins
I think that most girls have been told that glue type extensions are bad for us. Hair stylists and moms nation-wide constantly remind those of us considering this option that they will rip our hair out.
I can't speak to this from experience, but from the testimonies of many close friends, I have concluded that it is in fact the truth. Glue-in extensions look great, are relatively easy to put in, and can last for weeks on end. They are definitely a great option for a girl on a budget or for one who has multiple events over a few weeks in a row.
But there are many obvious downsides to gluing anything into your hair. If you are someone that needs to straighten their roots or whose hair gets frizzy easily, you face the challenge of trying to get the natural texture of your hair to match the silky smoothness of your extensions without melting the glue that holds in your added locks. Additionally, if you need to remove these extensions before the glue has naturally loosened, you will likely be forced to pull out portions of your own hair.
- 3-4 week wear time
- Almost seamless appearance
- Can wear to sleep
- Often washable
- Can damage hair
- Prevents straightening of roots
- Up-dos might get a little trickier
#3. Sew Ins
Sew-ins have been my extension of choice these past four years.
Being by far one of the most time consuming options, sew-ins certainly require a level of commitment and patience that the previous types of extensions do not demand.
The idea behind sew-in extensions is that your natural hair will be braided, either straight down the back of your head or in a circular pattern, such that little to none of your hair will be visible under the extensions. You can get a closing piece, which means that your bangs will also be extensions, or more commonly, your bangs and the edges of your hair will be left unbraided, as to give your extensions a more natural appearance. I have used this type of extension most frequently and strongly recommend it for most hair types.
In my experience, these extensions take about four to five hours to put in (depending on how much hair you would like added), and last for about two months with regular maintenance. Because little to none of your natural hair is left out, you can avoid straightening and damaging hair treatments, which allows for maximum hair growth, and many more styles (excluding updos) are available to you.
The downsides to sew-in extensions are that many types of extensions cannot be washed regularly, which requires you to go without washing your hair for long periods of time. Additionally, your natural hair will often get itchy and it is difficult to access. Finally, I've heard that for some types of hair (super straight or really thin), the extensions will not hold or will grow out too fast. Sew-ins definitely aren't for everyone, but I've had great success with them.
- Low maintenance
- Two month wear time
- Good integration with natural hair
- Promotes hair health and growth
- Look relatively natural and blend well with natural hair
- Long installation process
- Inability to wash natural hair
- Difficult to adapt to
- Not suitable for all types of hair
Fusions are by far the most versatile and expensive option for extensions. The fusion system entails having groups of hair (15-20 strands) which are stuck together with a special glue formula, bonded with a little tool to the roots of your hair. They are washable, virtually undetectable, and extremely comfortable to wear.
It is my understanding that a lot of celebrities get fusion extensions, which explains the fact that you might never know that they have naturally short hair.
While they are by far the most high end, they unfortunately come with a few major drawbacks. They have a higher price range (between $250-$1000), require you to straighten your hair often to maintain integration, and are extremely tiresome to put in. My fusion experience took eight hours.
The most startling revelation about my fusions was an unfortunate one. Because I naturally have thick, ethnic hair that requires a lot of manipulation after washing, I frequently have to straighten my roots. The first time that I straightened them, half of the bonds melted and my extensions started falling out (horrifying, i know!). But I don't say this to scare you away from them. Girls with more manageable natural hair rave about them and they are definitely the most stress free and natural in appearance.
- Virtually undetectable
- Allow for versatile styling
- Long Installation Process
- Not suitable for all types of hair
Some general hair extensions tips
No matter what type of extensions that you choose to go with, there is absolutely no shame to be felt for wanting a little extra length. Some of your favorite celebrities have extensions and even wigs for every occasion. Whether you're looking for long locks for a special night out or a permanent solution to short hair, there is absolutely an extension for you if you're willing to do the work. The most important things to remember are to:
Keep in mind your hair type, color and texture
The best types of extensions are undetectable. Getting the right type of hair (yaki, european straight, etc.) in the right color is crucial to your experience and will determine how natural they appear to be.
Keep your purposes in mind
If you're going to a big party or event, clip-ins are likely the right extension for you, but a lot of girls are concerned about seeing someone new and having to explain that they have extensions or similar continuity problems. If you need a more permanent solution, keep that in mind when selecting extensions.
Don't cut corners
Many of us seek to save money on extensions, especially if they are a continual expense. There are a lot of inexpensive brands of hair that are great, but there are also some (any type of hair other than human) that cannot withstand heat or much styling. Cutting corners by going to someone inexpensive or by buying low-quality hair will only lead to a bad experience and a bad hairdo.
For me at least, extensions were a relief from the regular maintenance that my natural hair requires to look presentable. Although they take a long time to put in, my sew-ins allowed me to roll of out bed with my hair ready to wear and were versatile enough to style up or wear low key.
No matter what type you get it's important to keep them in good shape, avoid getting them wet if possible, and treat them with the care that you'd use on your natural hair. Everyone has seen someone who has let their extensions go and it's not a pretty picture. Moisturize, condition, and style away!
I hope that I've persuaded you to give extensions a try. If you'd like to change your style for a night or for a year, extensions are a great way to try out different lengths, cuts, and textures, and as in my case, even give damaged hair a chance to grow. Be wary, be careful, but also be daring, and let your luscious locks (real or not) flow!