TV personality and writer Judi James needed to promote her latest book Supermodel, so she sought to make herself look as glamorous as possible. Not wanting to shell out tons of cash, she decided that investing in hair extensions to add volume to her short, dyed blonde crop would be the smartest idea.
"My hair is poker-straight and there was nothing to tie it onto, so having extensions was like tying it onto something shiny and straight," James recalls. "Four days later I was in the checkout at the supermarket, and when I ran my hand through my hair most of it came out in my fingers. The girl behind the counter nearly fainted. What made it worse for her is that I just shoved it into my shopping bag."
Not one to give up easily, James opted for an unusual solution: she went back to the hair salon and had the extensions put back on with Superglue.
"After that they stayed in, and grew along with my own hair," James says. "I can only compare it with having false nails with real nails growing underneath then, although I looked like I had low-slung lice. In the end they used some sort of glue dissolver to finally take them out, which didn't do my real hair any favors."
It wasn't that long ago that women yearning for longer hair would have to either wait patiently for their hair to grow, or invest in a wig or a weave. Not anymore. These days, you can have longer, more luxuriant hair at the click of your fingers - literally - all thanks to hair extensions.
But if you're worried that extensions will make your either penniless, completely bald or with an incredibly damaged scalp, take heart. If you do a bit of research and look into the type of extensions that are right for you, chances are you'll end up with natural-looking head of hair you really love, instead of having a shiny, Barbie-type wig stuck to your head - or having your hair fall out in clumps.
Types of Hair Extensions
Hundreds of different hair extension methods are on the market today, but in general they all fall into one of these three main categories:
Strand-by-strand. The most labor-intensive method of all, involving small clumps of hair extensions to be meticulously fastened to your own hair. This is done either by weaving, gluing, fusing, applying using specific waxes or polymers or clamping with metal tubes. The method you choose will depend not only on your hair type, but the effect you want to achieve and your budget. All except clamping involve having chemicals put on your hair.
Weft. This method involves making small wefts, or tracks of hair which look a bit like a curtain, which are either handmade or done by a machine. Handmade ones are generally considered to be better as they are tailored to suit your own head, and they last longer than machine-made ones. They are attached to your head using a tiny track, or braid, made out of your own hair.
Clip-ins. These are the easiest of all - and sometimes they even look realistic! All you need to do is section or part your hair and snap the clips into place. Repeat the process until you reach desired length. Most clip-in extensions are made from human hair, and you can curl them, straighten them or style them however you wish. And as they clip into real sections of hair, they remain hidden and look as natural as possible. Many clip-in can last up to a year, depending on how often you wear them. You cannot sleep in them, however, and will have to spray on a maintenance spray to keep them, umm, well-maintained. It's possible to add volume quicker with clip-in extension pieces, which can add a whole layer of volume in just a few clicks. Many of these can be washed as you would normal hair. Clip-in bangs and ponytails are also available - beware the bogus look.
Care of Hair Extensions
No matter what type of method you choose, the care of extensions is generally the same - although your hair stylist will provide specific advice concerning the extensions you choose. In general, however, the following tips are recommended to keep your extensions looking as natural as possible, for as long as possible:
Always use real human hair. Synthetic hair is fake. It looks fake. Don't fake it.
Follow the advice of your stylist to the letter, to avoid wasting both time and money.
If you want to have your extensions highlighted, visit a specialist. Don't try this at home! It's recommended to have your hair dyed or highlighted before the extensions are put in anyway, to guarantee a better color match.
Never got to bed with wet hair extensions, and always tied them back before you turn in at night. Tangling hair extensions is not a good idea.
Always use a high quality shampoo and conditioner, and keep your hair as clean as possible. Very dry hair tangles more when it gets wet, so keep it supple and looking good and well-moisturized for best effect. Pay close attention to conditioning the ends.
When you exercise, keep your hair out of the way in a ponytail, if possible. If you swim, wear a swimming cap, preferably one made of latex, as chlorine or salt water are not good for extensions.
Avoid any type of silicone-based styling products, and always brush your hair very gently, without pulling. Similarly, don't wear ponytails or other styles too tightly, as they can damage the extensions.
If you are concerned about hair quality ask your stylist to explain the differences between European hair, Asian hair, Indian hair, Russian hair and even Virgin hair (!). Some people claim it's all a lot of hype. Others say choosing the right type of strands to best match your own hair are vital.
Finally, when having your extensions removed it's always a good idea to have it carried out by a professional stylist. You may choose just to have the extensions cut out, but prepared for a much shorter hairstyle.
Hair extensions can give you longer hair and add volume to your existing style, but you have to do it right. And you also don't want to be left with widespread damage to your hair when the extensions are just a memory. "After my extensions were eventually taken out I found that quite a bit of my hair had broken off. And I had to be careful about how I brushed it as more could fall out," says James.