Let Down Your Hair

– By Teresa Greenfeld –

Earlier this month, three thieves in Chicago laid in wait, hiding in an empty storefront.  In the middle of the night, they broke through the wall to the shop next door, dropped to the floor, crawling to avoid motion detectors, and made off with $230,000 worth of goods.  Jewels? No. Art? Nope. Electronics? Not even close.  It was hair extensions.
No longer a cultural or celebrity only enhancement, hair extensions have become increasingly more accessible – even, I dare say, mandatory – on luxury salon service menus.  It’s not hard to understand why.  They’re the answer to our hair prayers, with promises of  Rapunzel-esque length, and fullness worthy of a shampoo commercial.   But for many, they are still eyed warily; the many questions and misconceptions holding them back.
Those that know me personally, have heard my many preachings on the virtual miracle of hair extensions, as I’ve had them for the last three years (and have subsequently come to believe that 70% of my personality may, in fact, lie in my hair).  In an attempt to answer the many questions and correct a multitude of misconceptions, I sat down with Olivia’s long-time hair stylist, Andre Davis (Hair Guru and God of Extensions), for an in-depth guide to hair extensions.
Choosing your hair:
The first, and probably most important step of all, is choosing the hair you’ll use.  The hard and fast rule here: you get what you pay for.  This is not the place you want to cut corners.  Get absolutely the best possible hair you can afford.  Save for it, if you need to.  Investing in the best hair will actually end up saving you money; Very high quality hair will only need to be replaced once a year, versus every couple of months with sub-par hair, according to Davis.
To be factual,  there are two general categories of hair: Human and Synthetic.  In reality, there is only one: human hair (don’t even consider synthetic…turn and run away from it.  I’m serious).    When choosing your desired hair, you must consider:

Davis, preparing hair for application, says, "extensions are the greatest accessory since diamonds".

  • The type of hair:  Always choose “virgin” hair, which not only hasn’t been processed in any way, but its cuticles will all lay in one direction, resulting in smooth, shiny hair.  What’s known as ‘European’ hair is arguably the best available, as its texture is very silky and finer than anything on the market.
  • The texture:  Extension hair is available in almost every imaginable texture, so you should have no problem finding one to match your own hair.  A note to the wise: choose a texture that most closely matches your hair in its natural state (ie. when it air dries).  Even if you curly or wavy gals straighten your hair every day, still go with curly or wavy extensions.   The texture – even if you wield a flat-iron like a seasoned pro – will never exactly match the extensions. The best compliment, according to Davis, is when others are shocked to learn you have extensions.  And just in case you need another reason: because nothing is worse than being caught in an unexpected rainstorm, and one half of your hair curls up, and the other remains straight.  It is not a good look. Trust me.
  • The type of extensions:   A common misbelief is that hair extensions completely ruin your hair.  This is only partially true.  Weft or “tracks” extensions (hair that is sewn into a long line or thin “strip” of hair) and Skin Wefts (very thin, flat, seamless polyurethane strips, that mimic the look of the scalp, placed along the top of a line, or sheet of hair) are the only ones that, with proper care,  will cause no damage to your existing hair.  In fact, they’re the only extensions Davis will do. Period.

Hand-Tied Weft Hair Extensions

Weft extensions are installed by taking, tiny, horizontal sections of your own hair, and tightly braiding them against your scalp, across the back of your head  The weft will then be sewn onto the braid, so that your existing hair falls over it.  This hair is available in two methods of wefting: hand tied or machine wefted.  Hand-tied wefts come in pre-cut, ultra thin strips, and therefore are virtually undetectable.  Machine wefted are slightly thicker, and come in one long strip, which can be cut to fit your head (hand-tied should never be cut, as this will cause them to shed).

Skin Weft Hair Extensions

Skin wefts are ideal for those with very, very fine or thinning hair.  To attach these, a thin, horizontal section of your existing hair is sandwiched between two skin wefts, secured by keratin adhesive strips.

  • The color: Always choose a color to match the lightest color present in your hair. If you have highlights – or plan to highlight, match the extensions to the highlight color not your base color, as it’s much easier to low-light, or darken extension hair, rather than lighten it, according to colorist extraordinaire, Mike Liang, of the Julien Farel Salon.   Remember, quality is key; the best hair will color – and hold color – the best.
  • Length & amount of hair:  Determining how long you want to go is  based on your existing length.  The longer your existing hair, the easier it is to incorporate a longer extension. And though there aren’t many length restrictions, if you’re sporting a pixie cut,  I wouldn’t recommend going for rib-grazing locks.  The amount of hair you’ll need will depend on your desired length; the longer the extension, the more you’ll need in order to look natural.  Extension hair is measured in weight (by the ounce) so the longer in length, the more of it you’ll need.  For example, one ounce of 12″ hair will have more individual strands, translating to more width and fullness, than one ounce of 22″ hair.  There are no set standards when it comes to how much you’ll need since it varies too widely from person to person.  Your stylist will recommend the best amount for you, as you’ll need a consultation before purchasing any hair.
  • Where to buy:  While there are literally thousands of online retailers offering hair extensions, purchasing off the internet is not recommended.  You need to feel and see the hair in order to get a sense of how it will blend with your own locks.  Again, here is where your stylist will come in – any that offer extension services will have at least one trusted source for their clientele

Tips, Tricks & Rules:
Extensions don’t get the nutrients and moisturizing oils from your scalp that your natural hair gets. They need extra care and attention.Almost all these tips, tricks and rules are ones that apply to ensuring healthy hair – extensions or not.
  • Always get your hair trimmed before getting your extensions, and be sure to trim every time you go in to have them tightened or re-sewn (typically every few months).  Extensions are not an excuse to let your natural hair go!
  • Hair should be cut into loose layers; avoid blunt lines, as you’ll want the extensions to blend naturally with your own hair.
  • You can do anything with hair extensions that you can do with your own hair  –  swimming, curl it, straighten it – the list goes on and on (in fact, I’ve found my hair is easier to style with extensions than without).
  • Sulfate-free shampoo & conditioner s the ONLY thing you should be using.  Opt for one that’s gentle, yet super hydrating and protective like PHYTO’s Phytokératine shampoo and conditioner.

Phytokératine reparative shampoo and conditioner by PHYTO

  • Instead of silicone based hair products, which leave a residue that can weigh hair down, use Argon Oil.  It does the job of all your hair products in one; providing moisture, frizz control and heat protection, when applied to towel-dried hair.  Additionally, it can even be used as a deep, reparative conditioning treatment by working it through your ends 20-30 minutes before washing.
  • Choose paddle or looper brush (a brush that has loops instead of bristles, which won’t snag or pull the hair).

A looper brush has loops instead of bristles, causing less friction and gently detangling

  • Always brush hair in sections from the bottom up.  Never yank or force through tangles. Instead, apply a little leave-in conditioner and gently work through, starting at the bottom.
  • Always brush your hair before washing.  Not only does this ensure a more thorough wash, but wet hair is more easily tangled – especially if it’s tangled to begin with.
  • Keeping that in mind, don’t ‘mush’ or pile your hair on top of your head when washing.  Gently massage shampoo through the crown, or top section, and the nape of your neck (both, most likely, will not have any tracks).  The shampoo that rinses off will be enough to cleanse the rest of your hair.
  • Make a habit of washing and conditioning at the start of your shower, enabling you to leave the conditioner in for as long as possible.  Comb it through with a wide tooth comb, then clip it up and out of the way, until you’re ready to rinse.
  • Styling products should be completely alcohol free – nothing dries hair out more.
  • Never sleep on wet hair. Air-dry for as long as possible; when blow-drying, start at the top of the extensions, drying the tracks first, taking care not to tangle as you go.
  • Gently tie (or twist and clip) hair back before bed with a soft, covered elastic.
  • Switch to a silk pillowcase.  In addition to hair benefits like preventing breakage and cutting down on frizz, they’re also hypoallergenic, and unlike cotton, don’t draw moisture from the skin. Their smooth surface also makes for a crease-free face, come morning.
  • Extension hair styles very well (it holds a curl like you wouldn’t believe).  One of the greatest tools to happen to extensions are clipless curling irons.  The Sedu Revolution Clipless Curling Iron  is life changing; it makes styling ultra fast, works on literally every hair type, and gives those perfect model-esque waves.
The Sedu Revolution Clipless Curling Iron comes in 3 barrel widths for completely custom waves and curls.
Perhaps you’re thinking there seems to be just too much to remember, but I assure you, they’ll all become second nature in your daily routine (they’re so habitual in my own extension routine, I had to remind myself to note them down as I went).  Besides, your hair will look so consistently amazing, that it’s worth any extra effort.  After all, if not for her hair, Rapunzel and the prince would never have ended up together.  Davis may have summed it up best: “Rapunzel had the greatest accessory, that was her hair appeal.  With the right hair stylist, you should not hesitate to be fabulous.”
For services with Andre Davis or Mike Liang, contact the Julien Farel Salon
Feature Image: Twiggy, hair by Ara Gallant, Paris studio, January 1968.  Photo Credit: Richard Avedon

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