Some of us may remember having been fascinated, as young, starry-eyed fans, by how our favorite celebrities managed to change the length and color of their hair so quickly. A chic bob with red streaks one day and gorgeously long tresses in a subtle brown, with all traces of red gone, the very next!
The answer? The magic of hair extensions.
The day that you discover these wonderful accessories is the day that your hair game levels up! However, if you’re new to the world of hair extensions, the sheer number and types of hair extensions that exist can have your head swirling.
Tape-ins, fusion, weaves, clip-ins, micro-link, sew-in, pre-bonded—which one do you pick?
Well, fear not—we’re breaking down the different types of hair extensions, along with some must-know hair extension info. Dive in!
The Different Types of Hair Extensions
If you’re thinking of getting extensions, here are the different options that are going to be at your disposal. Learning about each of these will help you make the best choice and look your best!
Tape-in extensions are exactly what they sound like—they’re pre-taped extensions that are then glued together to the sides of your own hair. These are attached to your natural hair with heat—a heated tool is used to heat the glue on the extensions. As the glue cools, it sticks to your hair.
It’s best to get these applied by a professional as the extensions need to align with your roots. Taking these off is quite easy—they’re removed the same way as they’re applied, that is, with heat.
For the glue to heat up and stick sufficiently, high heat settings need to be used on the styling tools. This, along with the adhesive itself, can damage your hair, especially since you’re working so close to the roots.
Additionally, since they tend to slip off (more explained below), you will need to have them reapplied whenever this happens.
However, these extensions aren’t as expensive as other options, only take a maximum of an hour to apply, and can be reused if they’re of high quality and maintained well.
How Do You Look After Tape-In Extensions?
If you have tape-in extensions or have had them in the past, you know that you need to be extremely careful while brushing, conditioning, or styling your hair with products, as these could cause the extension to slip off or loosen. Many folks with tape-in extensions face this common problem.
To avoid this, it’s best to use mild hair products that have minimum oil content, whether it’s your shampoo, conditioner, or styling product. However, since they’re made with human hair, these extensions can be styled just as the rest of yours can be, provided you don’t stray too close to the glue.
Despite all this, tape-ins are deemed semi-permanent extensions and can last as long as eight weeks before you have to have them reapplied. Of course, this depends on how well you look after your extensions! Eventually, you may have to switch to longer extensions unless you keep your hair the same length as your extensions.
Pre-Bonded/Fusion Hair Extensions
Also known as bonding hair extensions, pre-bonded or fusion hair extensions, as the name suggests, are fused to your hair. To achieve this, strong adhesives are used. Like tape-in extensions, pre-bonded hair extensions are best applied by a hairdresser, and applying these can take around three or four hours.
Fusion hair extensions can be extremely damaging. As mentioned above, strong glue is used to stick the extension to your hair strands. Alternatively, a heat clamp may be used to melt the glue and stick it to your hair.
Whichever method is used, the heat and the adhesive can be highly damaging, causing scalp irritation, hair breakage, and hair loss. Because of this, many hairstylists recommend using other types of extensions.
How Do You Look After Pre-Bonded/Fusion Hair Extensions?
Fusion hair extensions can be looked after the same way as natural hair, with the same products and tools. However, you’ll need to have your extensions repositioned every few months, depending on how fast your natural hair grows.
Fusion hair extensions are semi-permanent extensions that can last you for up to four months if taken care of well (and depending on how fast your hair grows).
Clip-In Hair Extensions
Also known as clip-in wefts, clip-in hair extensions are the cheapest, quickest, safest, and simplest hair extensions out there, and probably the first type of hair extension that most of us have sported!
These extensions feature a weft of fabric or silicone at the base, onto which clips are sewn. This makes them extremely easy to clip on and take off, without the need for any harsh chemicals, glue, heat, pressure, or solutions.
Clip-in extensions can be applied in as little as 5-15 minutes (depending on your skill!)—you don’t even need to enlist the services of a professional to apply these, further saving money!
Because of their ease of application, safety, and convenience, clip-in hair extensions are the most popular type of hair extensions available.
How Do You Look After Clip-In Extensions?
Clip-in extensions need to be washed only once every 15 uses or when there’s excessive product build-up, making them unmanageable. These extensions are extremely low maintenance as they don’t produce natural oils, and if you don’t wear them frequently, aren’t subjected to the same conditions that the rest of your hair is, unlike semi-permanent extensions.
Because you can take them off so easily, these temporary extensions can be washed separately with shampoo, conditioned, brushed, and left to air dry.
If your extensions are synthetic, bear in mind everything we discussed above about the fragility of synthetic extensions vs real hair. Synthetic extensions can be easily damaged by harsh hair products and external factors, and they can’t be styled. We highly recommend getting the Remy hair versions if you’re opting for these.
Not only will Remy extensions last you longer but they can also be styled and maintained the same as natural hair. For better durability, use a heat protectant spray before you style your extensions and style them on low-heat settings (this will also protect your real hair from styling damage—win-win!).
Looked after well, these extensions can last between three months to a year, and even longer.
Whether you opt for a Remy extension or a synthetic one, clip-ins are a supremely convenient option, requiring the least amount of commitment and causing the least amount of damage.
Weaves/Sew-In Hair Extensions
Weave extensions are the most time and effort-consuming extensions, taking several hours to apply. The process involves braiding your natural hair into cornrows, followed by sewing on the extension, using needle and thread, to the braided hair. Needless to say, these extensions warrant professional expertise!
Weave extensions work best for those with thick hair, because of the requirement of cornrows. The heavy extensions can also tug at the scalp and feel quite uncomfortable for those with fine or thin hair, which is another reason why it’s best recommended for thick-haired folks.
Weaves are also available in wig form, where all the hair is sewn together into one piece instead of several separate wefts.
Weaves are considered the most permanent type of hair extensions as they’re sewn into your hair and don’t easily come off, which makes them quite popular.
How Do You Look After Weaves?
With weaves, moisturizing the nape, the hairline, and the scalp a minimum of once a week is necessary, as is deep conditioning.
While washing your hair, it’s best to use special protein products that don’t damage or weaken the hair, at least to the extent that normal hair products would.
Typically, weaves are made of real hair, because of their permanent nature. If you opt for a synthetic weave, keep in mind our discussion on human hair vs synthetic fibers.
If you’re trying to grow your hair, it’s recommended that you remove the weave every six or eight weeks. Even otherwise, don’t leave weaves in for longer than four months, as this could stunt or damage the growth of your real hair.
Hair Pieces and Wigs
Most of us are familiar with wigs and hair pieces—these were the most commonly used before hair extensions arrived on the scene!
Wigs are applied topically and typically cover the entire head, acting as a replacement for all of your natural hair, as opposed to supplementing the thickness of your natural hair as other extensions do. Whether you want to sport a new look or hide hair loss and balding, wigs are an effective solution.
Hair pieces are slightly different than wigs and come in the form of hair ties, buns, or ponytails. You can just attach these to your hair for a new hairdo or to make your natural hair look thicker and hide balding spots.
How Do You Look After Wigs and Hair Pieces?
Hair pieces and wigs are slightly more difficult to look after, requiring a lot of care, especially during washing. Again, depending on whether the piece is made of synthetic or real hair, the care routine will vary. You’ll also have to factor in the base material that the hair is woven onto and modify your washing method accordingly.
Depending on the material and how well you care for it, hair pieces can last between a month and a year.
Halo Hair Extensions
Halo hair extensions are extremely easy to use, easy to style, and unbelievably low maintenance! Invisible once applied, these extensions come as a single weft, with the hair sewn on using barely visible thread. The weft then sits snugly on the natural curve of the head.
These extensions take about two or three hours to apply if they’re being applied all around the head.
How Do You Look After Halo Extensions?
Halo extensions can last anywhere between nine months and five years, depending on how well you look after them. You’ll have your work cut out for you depending on whether they’re made of synthetic fibers or human hair.
Usually, regardless of the material, it’s sufficient to wash these extensions once in three months, or even less frequently, if it seems like the extensions don’t need it.
Micro Link Hair Extensions
Rounding off the list are micro link hair extensions, also known as micro loop hair extensions and micro bead hair extensions. These extensions are attached to sections of natural hair via small silicone-lined beads on the wefts. These beads are secured and held in place using a special tool.
Though glue and heat aren’t used, micro link hair extensions can damage the hair if they’re not applied correctly, and therefore, the application is best left to a professional. Overtightening the bead can cause the extensions to pull at the roots, and while removing them, the hair can be pulled out if not removed gently and correctly.
Micro link extensions can take about two to four hours to apply.
How Do You Look After Micro Link Hair Extensions?
Micro link extensions can be washed and styled the same way as normal hair. As your hair grows and the beads move further away from the scalp, you’ll need to reposition these extensions—usually two or three months after they’re applied.
These semi-permanent extensions can last for up to four months if looked after well.
Synthetic vs Human Hair Extensions
Hair extensions can be made from either human hair or synthetic materials.
As the name suggests, human hair extensions are made entirely from real human hair (don’t worry—these are collected from donors!). Obviously, these look and feel closer to the real deal, which is why they can be quite expensive.
When exploring human hair extensions, you’ll come across Remy hair extensions. These are extensions where all the cuticles, or the hair’s outer layer, are undisturbed and intact, all running in the same direction when they’re collected from the donor. What does this mean? Almost zero tangles and silky-smoothness throughout the extension’s life.
Synthetic hair, again as the name suggests, is made of blended, synthetic fibers instead of human hair. Though the plastic fibers used are extremely fine and designed to look as close to human hair as possible, they don’t look or feel very close to real hair.
Real Hair vs Human Hair Extensions: The Look and Feel
As mentioned above, the look and feel of human hair and synthetic extensions are quite different. Though they both come in a range of different colors, forms, and styles, synthetic extensions are quite stiff, wiry, and coarse. Additionally, they don’t move like human hair.
This means that synthetic extensions may stick out from your natural hair, especially cheap, low-quality ones.
Human hair extensions blend in better since they’re actual human hair!
Real Hair vs Human Hair Extensions: Coloring and Styling
Synthetic extensions can’t be colored as the bleach or ammonia in most hair dyes will damage the fibers. They’re quite delicate, so you may also find it challenging to style these the same way as the rest of your hair—the heat from blow dryers, curling irons, straighteners, and other heated hair-styling tools can melt the extensions, or at the very least, severely damage them.
Additionally, other external factors, such as friction, hair products, and sunlight can wear synthetic extensions down over time.
Human hair extensions respond just like the hair on your head to coloring and styling, so you can ahead and style these without any fear and also apply the hair products that you would normally use.
Real Hair vs Human Hair Extensions: Quality and Durability
Though you’re going to spend way less on synthetic extensions than human hair extensions, know that this comes at the price of durability and quality. Even high-quality synthetic extensions can’t escape the wrath of the factors mentioned above—at the end of the day, they’re still synthetic and therefore, susceptible to such damage.
If you’re only looking for extensions that last you a few months, at most, and are working within a budget, synthetic hair extensions fit the bill. If you’re looking for something that can last much longer, human hair extensions are the way to go!
The Bottom Line
Hair extensions are a super-simple, convenient way to get the hair length and thickness that you desire. However, in your pursuit of these things, don’t forget to think about your hair and scalp health.
While extensions can make your hair look fuller and longer, some of them can do more damage than good to your natural hair. Before zeroing in on your extension choice, consider the kind of hair you have—its texture, current length, strength, thickness, rate of falling, and how resistant it is to damage.
If your hair is already weak, extensions that require chemicals can cause a lot of damage in the form of hair loss, breakage, and scalp issues. In such cases, clip-ins, halos, and other less damaging types of extensions are the wiser choice.
Ultimately, while looking like a million bucks is sure to make you feel good about yourself, ensure that you don’t sacrifice your comfort and health in the pursuit of beauty, especially if you’re valuing yourself based on how much you resemble your favorite celebrity or how “in” with the latest trend you are—it’s just not worth it.