From Jennifer Lopez’s waist-grazing waves to Ariana Grande’s signature high pony, just about every A-lister has worn hair extensions at some point. For some, it’s a regular ritual, like Kim Kardashian’s weekly transformations. Nevertheless, faux hair isn’t reserved for the Hollywood elite, and today’s options make it more accessible than ever.
“The first documented use of hair extensions was in ancient Egypt, made from either human hair or sheep’s wool,” says hairstylist Danielle Keasling, U.S. artistic director for Great Lengths. “Throughout the history of Egypt, different hair extensions and braids were used to indicate the age, religion, or social status of the wearer.” Today, human hair collected from donors remains the material of choice, though synthetic varieties are also available. “Synthetic hair is made from plastic fibers and not recommended because it doesn’t move or feel like real hair,” says celebrity hairstylist Nikki Lee, co-owner of Nine Zero One salon in West Hollywood, CA. Regardless of the material, extensions can add length, volume and/or color to create a dramatic makeover or a subtle update—the options are practically endless.
According to Alexandra Cristin, founder of Glam Seamless, hair extensions fall into two categories: “Ready-to-wear—DIY varieties you can use at home, such as clip-ins and ponytails—and professional versions, which are the kind your hairstylist will apply, like tape-ins.” The biggest difference, she says, is the length of wear. “Ready-to-wear pieces are designed to be taken out every day or worn for special occasions like weddings, whereas professional extensions last six to eight weeks before salon maintenance is required.
”As far as how to determine which type is right for you, Keasling says it comes down to lifestyle. If you’re an athlete or someone who frequents the gym, temporary clip-ins may be your best bet because they can be removed and reapplied easily. “Lifestyle makes up a large percentage of the ‘why’ behind the method you choose,” she adds, noting that price plays a role too, and each stylist may address cost differently. “Some charge an hourly rate plus the cost of the hair, while others charge for the overall look,” says Lee. “Extensions are very addicting! Once you have them, you will always want them, so it’s best to budget accordingly.”
Clip-Ins + Styled Pieces
These are the easiest, fastest and most inexpensive way to switch up your style in mere minutes with zero damage. “Clip-ins are a temporary method of extensions and don’t require a professional for installation,” says celebrity hairstylist Sarah Conner. “They come in individual strips or wefts—groups of individual hair strands sewn onto a super thin strip of cloth—in dozens of shades, and simply clip into the root of the hair. It’s always a nice idea to start with clip-ins first to see how you like the feel of having extra hair. Then you can switch to a more permanent method.” Styled pieces such as bangs and ponytails are also very popular within the ready-to-wear category.
“Tape-ins are individual pieces of hair that are usually about an inch wide, and are taped onto hair by a professional, who staggers them throughout the entire head,” explains Carolyn Aronson, founder of it’s a 10 and Ex10sions. “Our tape-in Ex10sions use injection-molded technology that brings the extension hair to the very edge of the tape-in, making it nearly invisible to the eye.” Tape-in applications take about an hour and require a maintenance appointment every four to eight weeks. The stylist will remove the extensions, move up the tape and then reinstall them.
These are individual strands of hair that are fused to natural hair using different adhesives, such as glue, keratin, I-tips or microbeads. Great Lengths’ popular Pre-Bonded extensions require a unique strand-by-strand application—it can take several hours—during which the extensions are bonded to the natural hair by patented keratin bonds. “It’s our closest option to completely natural hair with no detection of extensions,” says Keasling, “and depending on the density of the client’s hair, this application can last up to five months.
Also known as hand-tied wefts or weaves, these are strips of hair that are sewn by a stylist onto small braids or cornrows of natural hair. They take longer to apply—usually several hours–but they may be slightly less noticeable as hair grows out. They also last a bit longer, with touch-ups needed every eight to 12 weeks.
Clip-ins will always have a place in the extension world, but for longer wear and a more natural look, the only way to go is pro. “The biggest difference between DIY and professional extensions is how well they blend into natural hair and how precise the application is done,” says Lee. “A professional’s work is always going to be the best route to ensure the least amount of damage possible to the natural hair.” According to Keasling, licensed salon professionals, if invested in a quality brand of extensions, also have to certify and a hold a license of achievement to service clients under that brand name. “This ensures that salon professionals have been educated and can promote a higher standard of quality control,” she says.
Visiting a certified pro reduces the likelihood of damage, too. “Hair extensions have had a reputation of ruining hair, and the truth is, they definitely can, when not done properly,” says Conner, who works with a wig maker to create custom wefts for her clients rather than working with a hair extension brand. “The best advice I can give when seeking out an extension specialist is to have multiple consultations to truly find someone experienced.”
When purchasing extensions, look for 100-percent Remy human hair.
Before committing to a new ‘do, experts stress the importance of researching your options to ensure you’re getting high-quality, ethically sourced hair. “One bad set of extensions can set your hair back a year or so,” says Lee, who has used Great Lengths extensions for years. “I use them on all my celebrity clients because the quality is amazing and the hair is ethically sourced, which has always been super important to me. If you’re going to get them done, spend the money to get them done right and with quality hair.
A type of human hair called Remy hair is considered the gold standard of extensions. “When purchasing extensions, look for 100-percent Remy human hair,” says Cristin. “Remy means that the cuticle—the natural protective layer of hair—is intact and facing the same direction. This will guarantee your extensions retain their natural luster and remain tangle-free wear after wear.” Don’t hesitate to also ask your stylist where the extensions come from, or do your own digging on the brand’s website. “Great Lengths’ Remy hair is ethically sourced and traced to the temple in which it came from,” says Keasling. “Make sure that anything you’re putting your dollars toward is not hurting someone else.” Aronson’s Ex10sions are made from 100-percent responsibly sourced Mongolian hair, another top-line type of human hair, which she says last up to two years with correct care and maintenance.