How To Choose Which Hair Extension Method Is Right For You

I've tried them all! Here's what you need to know about their application, upkeep, and durability.

My love affair with extensions began three years ago, and I’ve adored them since. Going longer can be a pretty big step and quite a commitment: the results are dependent on the type of extensions and the system used to apply them. But with a silly amount of choice out there, how do you figure out what’s right for you?

Rather than try them all, here's some advice from someone who has.

Clip-In/Flip-In

Fun and noncommittal but typically “fake” looking, you can wash and style them just like your own hair. They get ratty and worn-looking from frequent use and the quality varies widely. Choose real over synthetic as they’re more durable with washing and styling.

Durability: Highly dependent on frequency of use.

Glue-In/Keratin Bond/Pre-bonded

These are attached to the hair via little keratin bonds at the tip of the extension which are fused with a little hot tool. These are extremely popular and look great, but require significant upkeep and regular salon appointments for maintenance. As well as that, you need to avoid putting conditioners, oils or heated appliances near the connection, as these things will weaken the bond and possibly lead to your extensions coming out much earlier than they should.

For maximum longevity with this system, remember to condition only the lengths. If you’re blow-drying, dry the lengths first, then tip your head forward to dry your real hair--don’t blast the bonds with heat!

Durability: 3 months, but if you look after them well by yourself you could get 4 or 5 months out of them! I've gone this long in the past.

Sewn-In/Weave

Sewn-in extensions are ideal for coarse, curly or thick hair that’s able to handle them. They’re applied by being sewn into a tightly-braided section of the client’s own, natural hair. This is one system I don’t have personal experience of because my own hair is a bit thin.

These extensions require serious upkeep and salon visits are advised every six weeks or so to ensure the section where it’s sewn is in good nick, and, as these extensions are woven into the client’s own hair, the stylist will also want to assess if they need to be “tightened up”.

Durability: Depends on the quality of the hair and whether or not your own hair can handle the weight of the extensions. However, salon visits every six to eight weeks are highly advisable.

Tape

Tape extensions have been the industry’s whipping boy of late, largely down to the fact that people bandy words like DAMAGING and MATTING around when they’re mentioned.

I’d like to clear up this misconception: tape extensions, if properly applied and cared for and made with good quality hair, are absolutely phenomenal. I had a full head applied in Russia, where they really know their extensions.

They are connected by wide bonds that look like two bits of Sellotape. Your own hair is placed between them and they are clamped around the strands. The wide, rather than skinny bonds, ensure they don’t look stringy and strand-y after a few washes. They’re dreamy, luscious and if you’re kind to them they’ll last for ages.

Durability: Things can get tangled as your own hair starts to grow, but they’ll be good for up to five or even six months without a big maintenance job. The bummer about them is the fact that they cost more than my rent. I ate mostly dry crackers throughout the harsh Moscow winter when I got these babies.

Micro-Bead/Micro-Ring

A hugely popular system, and the one I’ve most recently had applied. Melissa Hayward, crazy-talented Irish extension expert and tattooed rockabilly pin-up chick, turned me on to these over a year ago. They’re pretty much damage-free as there’s no glue, no heat, no tape and no sewing.

Melissa applies single-strand micro-bead extensions by clamping the little bead on the tip of the extension to your own hair. The connections are durable but not uncomfortable and best of all, I can cover my hair root to tip in conditioner without a care!

These are probably the best option if you want to be able to dye your extensions, and use lots of products or heat-styling appliances. Melissa was kind enough to supply me with pictures of the magic she creates on a daily basis.

Durability: 3 to 4 months.

Before you dive into getting mermaid hair, be sure to have a consultation (heck, have a couple of ‘em!) with a technician and get informed about what’s on offer. Ask to see a sample of the hair, both dry and wet so you can see how it washes, and check that it’s been ethically sourced and hasn’t been over-processed.

In caring for your extensions, just use common-sense: these things are attached to your head via a type of bond, and the hair weighs on this bond. Don’t pull on them or snag them when washing or brushing, and avoiding weighing them down with too much conditioner or products. Always blow-dry them to avoid tangles, and take care when hitting the dye or bleach bottle; test an inconspicuous strand to see how it reacts.

Problems can arise: if you find your extensions feel extremely tight or uncomfortable and it’s been over a week since you got them, go and see your technician to figure out what adjustments they can make. Too-tight extensions can cause traction alopecia or sores on the scalp and neck, so if things don’t feel right it’s best to get them checked out quickly.

Extensions aren’t just for length: they can add volume and or a subtle enhancement to your own hair. Also, the systems can be tweaked for people with thinning hair or bald patches, and recently I watched a documentary on the very traumatic and problematic condition trichotillomania (disorder where sufferers pull their own hair out) and wonderful things were being done with sewn-in pieces to hide damage and allow for growth and repair.

Have you considered extensions? What systems have you tried?