In a recent interview with YouTube star Lilly Singh, Selena Gomez revealed that her famous cascading, raven-black mane is full of secrets. I.e. hair extensions.
While for industry professionals this was about as big of a revelation as Drake's talent for dad dancing—Hollywood is the mecca of faux hair, after all—her honesty was refreshing. And, for women who've never dabbled in hairpieces before, Gomez's confession stoked curiosity about all things hair extensions: how they work, where they come from, if they're worth it.
For these answers and more, we looked to Lisa Richards, co-founder of hair extension bar RPZL, to help us decode everything a woman must know before channeling her inner Rapunzel.
1. There are three kinds of permanent extensions
Bonded Extensions, AKA Glue-Ins: Hot, ultrasonic waves are used to bond keratin attachments to your hair.
Shelf Life: 3-5 months
Weaves, AKA Sew-Ins: After tightly-braiding your natural hair at the nape, wefts (small strips of hair) of hair are woven in using thread.
Shelf Life: 6-8 weeks.
Tape-In Extensions: Customizable wefts are attached to the roots of the hair using discrete double-sided tape.
Shelf Life: 6-8 weeks.
2. The hair can be either human or synthetic
Human hair is preferred as it yields the most natural-looking results. "Using natural hair allows all hair extensions to be treated as your own personal hair," explains Richards. "Synthetic hair is a lower quality, can look fake, and is immediately noticeable."
For the most discerning of salon-goers, "virgin" hair (never colored or processed) is considered the crème de la crème for extensions. "It is the best hair on the market and can be colored, curled, ironed and cut in a way that lower quality hair cannot be," she says.
3. Clip-in extensions are a more temporary, economical option
Unlike permanent extensions, you can apply clip-ins at home whether you're looking to add volume or length. Plus, they can last for up to two years if properly cared for.
"Quality clip-in extensions are super easy to put in and take out," says Richards. "Look for sets that have silicon covered clips, which will avoid any damage to your hair, and those that have a variety of sizes to give you the most options. "
Another important aspect for finding solid clip-ins is color matching as an artificial-looking shade will almost certainly give you away. "A good color match will keep your secret!" she adds.
4. Getting hair extensions might not be a good idea
"Hair extensions are not for everyone," warns Richards. "You must consider your hair and lifestyle routines as you must be willing to set a aside a small amount of time each day to maintain the look."
Some food for thought: Do you do hot Bikram yoga? Do you like to change the color of your hair often? Do you love updos? If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, prooobably best to skip.
5. Extensions can be really damaging if they're not installed or maintained correctly
Whether it's an incorrect application/removal, the hair is too dense, or you're applying too much of it, extensions can be stressful to the hair follicles and can even result in hair loss. If you're feeling a strain for a hairpiece or notice hair loss/damage, it's important to address it immediately before it's too late.
To that end, it's imperative that you find an experienced professional who can properly determine the best-looking/healthiest extension option for you, as well as be conscious of your budget because...
6. They can be *expensive*
Between the initial application and upkeep, permanent hair extensions can cost anywhere from $300 to $4,000 depending on the method, salon, and your hair type. While you don't necessarily have to purchase new hair every time, it's going to add up and it's important to be realistic about your budget.
As the more economical option, this where synthetic hair comes into play as you can find hair pieces in the $30 to $100 range. But keep in mind, you will be limited in the way you style it (no heat!) and you'll have to work harder to make it look natural.
7. The market for fake hair is crazy
Because the demand is so high, human hair comes from all around the world. Make sure it's being ethically sourced instead of coming from the black market, which could be of lesser quality than advertised and/or has preyed on a poverty-stricken area for its supply.
Unfortunately, you can't always trust the packaging, and that's why it's important to vet a hair vendor as best you can. And, as a general rule of thumb, remember that you get what you pay for in terms of quality.
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