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Hair Extensions

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Long, thick, lustrous hair has long been seen as a sign of good health, vitality and femininity. Unfortunately, it can take a lot of time and patience, along with a few tonnes of good-quality conditioner, to achieve hair strong enough to grow long without splitting or breaking at the ends.  

Hair extensions are sections of real or synthetic hair designed to add instant, convincing length and volume to natural hair that:

a) has been cut too short

b) takes too long to grow

c) is lacking in volume or vitality.

Hair extensions give girls the opportunity to flaunt their individuality and take control of their hair in new and exciting ways.

What are hair extensions?

Hair extensions are hair pieces that can be woven, glued or clipped onto natural hair to give the appearance of thicker, longer locks.

Although hair extensions have only really become widely popular over the last decade (thanks to celebrity culture), hair historians think some form of hair extension was used in classical times, when rich Romans wore hair pieces taken from their captive slaves.

The modern hair extensions used in salons today probably evolved from the 'weave': a hair treatment invented in the 1950s by an African American woman called Christina Jenkins. She wanted to find a way to create smooth, long locks without having to wear a full-on wig.

Application methods have been improved since Christina Jenkins' time with the emergence of new technologies and innovation. Now there is a far wider variety of hair extensions catering to a number of different looks and budgets in a range of colours, textures and types.

What are hair extensions made of?

There are two main materials hair extensions can be made from:

  1. Synthetic - man-made hair extensions.
  2. Human - made from virgin hair and treated hair.

About synthetic extensions

Synthetic extensions consist of man-made fibres processed to look and feel like human hair. Developers are constantly finding ways to make synthetic hair extensions a) more resistant to heat, and b) more realistic looking.

Synthetic extensions are far cheaper than human hair extensions but come with a number of drawbacks including:

  • produces a different sheen to natural hair
  • moves slightly differently
  • won't blend as well as human hair extensions
  • vulnerable to heat and styling damage.

About human hair extensions

Human hair extensions are most commonly collected from women across Russia and Asia. This hair is typically longer, stronger and healthier than UK hair.

Human hair extension are split into a further two categories: virgin hair and treated hair. Virgin hair is the rarest and most expensive form of extension because it is pure, healthy and beautiful without the need for chemical treatment. Treated hair is human hair that has been treated with chemicals to improve its appearance.

The most common types of human hair extensions include:

  • Russian virgin - this is considered to be the 'gold standard' hair extension, due to the fact that Russian virgin hair is pure, silky, untreated and hard to come by.
  • European virgin - this type of extension does not necessarily have to come from Europe, it is only named so because its' basic structure is similar to European hair. This type of hair extension is considered to be of a good standard and is priced accordingly.
  • Chinese hair - Chinese hair is the most common type of hair extension because it is so readily available in large quantities. Natural Chinese hair tends to be very coarse and thick. To improve the quality, manufacturers put Chinese hair through an extensive treatment process. First of all, the cuticle layer is stripped with harsh chemicals, leaving the hairs opaque and fragile. The hair is then dyed and protected with a silicon layer, designed to simulate a healthy sheen. The problem with Chinese hair extensions is that although they look glossy and sleek to begin with, they quickly become faded and dull as the silicon fades away after a few washes.
  • Remy virgin hair - thought to be the purest form of hair extension, Remy virgin hair tends to come from Eastern Russia and is similar in appearance to Chinese hair. The difference is that Remy virgin hair is naturally glossy, fine and strong without requiring chemical treatment.

How are hair extensions attached?

Modern hair extensions can be attached to natural hair in a number of different ways. Each different method of attachment has its own name. The most common methods include:

Microbead

The microbead hair extension avoids the use of damaging glues or other products by using a clever beading technique to attach extensions to small sections of hair. First, the natural hair is threaded through a small metal bead that has a protective inner lining made of silicon. Then, the bonded end of the hair extension is added to the bead and a pair of pliers are used to clamp the two sections of hair together.

Microbead hair extensions can last up to six months and are thought the be one of the more durable and long-lasting methods of application.

Skin weft

Skin weft hair extensions are thought to be one of the easiest and quickest types of hair extension to apply, meaning they can easily be applied in the home by a mobile hairdresser. These extensions come in long, wide sections that are fixed to the uppermost parts of the hair with invisible tape. Skin weft hair extensions are a great option for anyone who wants their hair and scalp to feel smooth without the bulk of beads or adhesive. The effect is lightweight and natural-looking.

Skin wefts are more difficult to maintain than other hair extension types and require gentle washing, brushing and styling. You will need to go to the salon for a maintenance appointment every six to 10 weeks. This is a very simple procedure - the hairdresser first removes the skin wefts with a citrus-oil-based solution, before cleaning them, re-taping them and finally reapplying them to the hair like new.

Heat fusion

Heat fusion hair extensions are sometimes called keratin hair extensions or tip hair extensions. They are applied using one of the following three types of adhesive:

  • glue
  • wax
  • keratin.

Heat fusion hair extensions are the most common and popular type due to their durability and longevity. They are applied in small bundles and bonded to hair with a strong, specially adapted adhesive. Heat fusion hair extensions last between two and four months and only take around two hours to apply.

The main criticism concerning heat fusion is that extensions applied in this way do not wear well under heat. Sometimes, heat from straighteners and hair dryers can melt the adhesive and cause the bonds to weaken.

Cold fusion

Cold fusion hair extensions have been developed as a less damaging alternative to heat fusion hair extensions. As the name suggests, no heat is applied to the hair during application, preventing any potential damage to your natural hair. 

Instead, the hair extensions are bonded to natural hair using a revolutionary ultra-sound technique that crystalises the keratin. This forms a strong, invisible bond that lasts up to six months.

Sewn-in weft

Most popular with Afro-Caribbean people, the sewn-in weft involves plaiting a small cornrow through the midsection of the hair so it runs horizontally from ear to ear. The extensions are then sewn into the cornrow so they blend in naturally to the main body of the hair.

The sewn-in weft is a low maintenance hair extension, but it works only on thicker hair types.

Are hair extensions damaging?

It is always important to explore the risks and dangers of any hair treatment before you go ahead with your decision.

It is generally not the hair extension itself that causes damage to the scalp and hair, but the professional who applies them. If your hairdresser knows what he or she is doing, there is little chance of anything going wrong.

Hair extensions have been known to cause hair loss in some women. However, this is only thought to happen when the hair extensions are applied too tightly against the scalp. Tight application can cause something called traction alopecia: a hair loss condition that occurs when tension is placed repetitively at the roots of the hair.

As long as your hairdresser applies your extensions properly, and you go back to have them maintained at least once a month, you should not experience any problems.

Hair extension maintenance

A good home maintenance regime is important if you want to make your hair extensions last and keep your hair looking as healthy as possible. As well as booking a maintenance appointment with your hairdresser once a month, you can keep your extensions looking and feeling healthy by taking the following advice:

  • Invest in a brush with nylon bristles to prevent snagging.
  • Tie your hair up with a soft scrunchy at night to prevent tangling in your sleep.
  • Apply high-quality shampoo to dry hair before washing it out gently from the roots in straight strokes, without lathering and without tilting your hair over the bath or shower sink.
  • Use a medium heat to blow-dry your hair.
  • Don't be too rough if you choose to towel dry - simply dab hair with a blotting motion.
  • Don't wash your hair every day as this will loosen the extensions.
  • Avoid greasy hair products as the chemicals could make your extensions look dry and dull.
  • Try not to straighten your hair every day as the heat will damage the extensions.

How much do hair extensions cost?

It is difficult to give a round figure for the cost of hair extensions, as they vary so greatly in price according to location, salon and the type of extension you choose.

For those on a tight budget, synthetic extensions are recommended. If you want good quality but you're not willing to spend too much, you could opt for Chinese hair extensions. For the crème de la crème of all hair extensions, you are advised to opt for pure Russian virgin hair.

For the highest quality hair extensions you can expect to pay in the region of £1,000. Of course, many salons and mobile hairdressers across the UK offer far lower prices and you are advised to contact hair professionals directly for specific quotes.

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