On a daily basis, I don’t consider my hair all that much. If you pressed me to describe it, I would probably say it’s normal, kind of on the thin side, but not falling out or anything. And that is okay! I work from home, and if I need to go to Starbucks I throw it into a ponytail — until recently, at least.
I recently got invited to bartend on a show called Watch What Happens Live to promote my new book. I started watching the show and the main thing I noticed was that every single woman on it had amazing hair. Like, crazy Rapunzel hair, so I couldn’t shake the feeling that my limp locks were going to look pretty pathetic next to their flowing, shampoo-ad hair.
After all, like most people, my hair when I wake up in the morning doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model’s:
When I asked a friend who always has beautiful mermaid hair how she does it, she looked at me bewildered and replied, “You know I have extensions, right?” No, I did not know! I didn’t realize this was a thing that people other than Britney Spears were getting done.
Once I decided to try it, I was initially nervous — what if they looked fake or overdone? Thankfully, hair extensions have come a long way since the days of unrealistic clip-ons. And fortunately, Carter Todd, one of the extension specialists at John Barrett Salon in New York City, was able to give me a set that looked glamorous and completely natural.
First, we met for a consultation where we talked about what we’d like to do with my hair. At the consultation, we decided to make my hair just a tad longer, about two or three inches longer, and considerably fuller. He matched the extensions to my natural hair color and texture and decided to tape them in rather than bonding them, as it leaves the hair more malleable. You can have them woven or glued in, which takes longer and costs more, though it also lasts three or four months.
When I went back after a week to have them applied, I was a little surprised by how easy the process was. About an inch’s width worth of hair was attached to a transparent piece of tape and then Todd applied the tape high up on my own scalp, so I could still rock a ponytail. Suddenly, I had that oh-so-long Disney Princess hair I have always dreamed of. So when Todd mentioned that he had to cut it to make it blend naturally with my own hair I almost felt like grabbing it, protectively. However, it did, as he claimed, look much better and more natural once it was cut. When he was finished, it looked amazing.
Once everything was done, my hair was only slightly longer, but so much thicker. To help me maintain it, Todd explained that I shouldn’t wash it for 48 hours, and that I should brush it gently, from the ends up, rather from roots to tips. He also recommended using a sulfate-free shampoo and braiding it before going to sleep to keep it from getting tangled. I was so busy touching my hair like it was a new and fantastic pet that I was barely listening (though, of course, I did heed his advice). Seriously, look at my fairy princess hair:
It was definitely a little weird to sleep on the extensions for the first few days because there’s tape in your hair, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. And the maintenance was surprisingly easy! The only downside: the price. Highly realistic extensions can cost around $1,500, so maybe save it for a super special occasion, like your wedding.
If this sounds like an option you’d like to try, here are a few of the questions people commonly ask, so you can read up and decide if you’re really ready to take the hair plunge.
What are extensions made out of?
Extensions can be made out of natural or synthetic hair, and they’re available in a nearly infinite variety of colors. Their texture can be straight or wavy, and you’ll want to choose the kind closest to your natural hair texture to cut down on your styling time.
How are they applied?
“There are tape-in, bonded, and clip-in extensions,” explains Todd. The tape-ins are made of adhesive gel strips, bonded extensions should be keratin-based, and clip-ins are made of hair combs that snap into the hair. The tape-in extensions are a little bit gentler on the hair — though if you’re interested in a truly low maintenance option, you’ll want to go for a specially made clip-in that matches your hair perfectly.
How much do they cost?
Depending on where you live and which salon you go to, the price can vary greatly. However, here are the prices at John Barrett, to give you an idea. Tape-in extensions for half a head (which adds fullness, but not as much length) start at $800. They take 1 to 3 hours to apply, and lasts 8 to 10 weeks. A full head, which will give you crazy long lengths starts at $1,500. Great Lengths bonded extensions half head starting $1,250 and take 3 to 6 hours to apply. They last up to 4 months, and a full head costs $2,500. If you just want something for a special occasion, you can get a clip-in for $800 which will last for years and can be reused.
Will they make my hair fall out?
This shouldn’t happen if they’re applied properly. Your stylist should educate you and ensure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, particularly when it comes to aftercare and maintenance, but also when it comes to the potential for damaging your locks.
Extensions are an additive to your hair, Todd explains. “Anytime you add something to your hair — color, relaxers, extensions, and so on— you run the risk of damage.” If they’re not removed properly, they can cause bald patches in your hair — another reason to invest in the highest quality of extensions and service you can.
How should you prep for an appointment?
First, and most importantly, make sure you’re booking an appointment with a certified specialist. If you color your hair, make sure to do so beforehand so they can match the color.
What does the at-home maintenance entail?
If you’re normally the kind of person who just rolls out of bed and tosses your hair in a ponytail, your life is about to change. Hair extensions look best when they’re styled, which means you’ll want to invest time to either blow drying them or curling them.
You’ll also need to be tender as you brush them. Todd recommends grabbing your hair in something like a pigtail so you can brush the lower part forcefully without putting too much stress on the bonds. Hair extensions can also tangle and end up in knots easily, so you’ll want to take some extra time brushing them. Always brush from the tips up towards your scalp to prevent tangling, and also lift up your hair every few days to make sure tangles aren’t forming around the bonds.
As for your shower regimen, a sulfate shampoo can also help keep the hair healthy. It’s also a good idea to condition, but only on the lower half of the hair, again, not too close to the bonds.
Can you use heat tools after they’re applied?
Yes. The extensions actually need to be blow dried so that the bond doesn’t weaken, so you should use a blow dryer. They respond well to all other heat tools, as well.
Is it worth it to invest in human hair?
Absolutely. Todd remarks, “Human hair is always the way to go. Always stick to a reputable company to ensure good quality. You may need to spend more to create the most natural look. Synthetic hair is usually shinier, has a unnatural feel, and doesn’t hold shape like the real thing.” Definitely don’t try to cut costs on this if you want good results! Make sure your extension specialist is certified, and invest in high-quality, natural hair.