The new gen hair extensions work with every hair type, but are they worth the time commitment and aftercare regime? Stylist put them to the test
My lack of patience means that I never thought hair extensions were for me, mostly because the idea of sitting in a salon all day fills me with dread. Then I discovered tape-in extensions that can, I was told, be done during a lunch break.
I went to see extensions specialist Jordan Mooney at Hershesons, who immediately asked if I was nervous – maybe the petrified look on my face gave it away – then proceeded to reassure me. “These are really popular at the minute: they’re flattering and won’t go as stringy as some extensions can. And the tape is medical grade so it won’t damage hair,” Mooney tells me.
My appointment lasted an hour and 20 minutes – not much longer than my usual cut and blow-dry – and in that time Jordan applied 40 lots of inch-wide extensions at different levels around my head (“They’re a bit like a ham sandwich – the extensions are the bread and your real hair is the ham”), cutting them into shape so the blend was seamless.
I won’t lie, I felt very self- conscious at first. I was convinced everyone was staring at the great (fake) mass of hair on my head. It felt heavy, too, and washing it myself was harder than I thought it would be. But the Instagram shots I got of curls cascading down my back made my extended styling routine a lot more worthwhile.
The need to know:
- Use Hershesons Mixed Bristle Oval Cushion Brush, £20, to comb through hair. Detangling brushes are too harsh on wet hair and can pull the tapes out.
- Use sulphate-free shampoo and conditioner (try Pureology Hydrate Colour Care range, from £18.50). Only condition mid-lengths and ends.
- Hair is most vulnerable when wet so always rough-dry it after washing.
Hershesons Mixed Bristle Oval Cushion Brush
Pureology Hydrate Colour Care range
from £18.50, lookfantastic.com
If you’re getting a weave, take a day off work. The process takes hours: I was sat in the chair of Charlotte Mensah’s Hair Lounge from 10am to 5.30pm. There are worse ways to spend a day, though. My first sew-in experience – where hair is cornrowed (braided closely to the scalp) to create tracks into which wefts of hair are then sewn – was an absolute dream. First, I was talked through the process, from the pre-conditioning wash and scalp scrub to the 360-degree closure, which means hair is sewn in all around the hairline, giving me the freedom to part it however I want.
My hair becomes extremely silky when washed, which is the main reason I haven’t explored weaves before – I didn’t think my hair had enough texture to hold them. But these work even on my mixed-race hair. Soon Charlotte was sewing on 22-inch curls (that felt super soft and springy despite being bleached from black to auburn). It didn’t hurt at all and was actually far more comfortable than having braids.
Apart from a strict after-care regime, I was free to go hogwild with my new look – everything from bone straight to curly whirly. This is the closest I’ve ever felt to actually being Beyoncé (2006 red curls era) and that, in my book, is a win.
The Need to Know:
- Washing a full weave is out of the question. Instead, mix Charlotte Mensah’s Manketti Oil Leave In Conditioner, £24, with water and spritz over to help maintain shine.
- Wrap the hairline in a silk or satin scarf at night to stop the edge of the closure raising up.
- Gel down any edges in the morning using Schwarzkopf Got2B Spiking Glue Ultra Hold Gel, £4.19.
Charlotte Mensah’s Manketti Oil Leave In Conditioner
Schwarzkopf Got2B Spiking Glue Ultra Hold Gel
Best clip in extensions for afro hair
Admin and facilities executive Aletha Davis tried Big Hair No Care clip-in Afro hair extensions (from £42)
Initially, I was surprised at how realistic the extensions felt despite being made of synthetic hair – just like my Afro hair when blow-dried out. During my first attempt at installing the hair, I struggled to get it to blend in, so I took to YouTube to find some tutorials. A lifesaving tip was to plait my hair first, pin the plaits down then clip the extensions onto the plaits – a slightly lengthy process, but it worked.
Once in, I wondered why I’d never used clip-ins before. It took roughly half an hour to get 90% of my head covered. I used the 20-inch lengths in the back and one 18-inch weft in the centre, then left the front of my hair out around my face for minimal blending.
When I walked out of the house with my new hair, I felt super paranoid that everyone was staring but I soon got used to it. After wearing the hair for a day, I found that, like real Afro hair, it tended to get quite tangled as the day went on, so I had to carry a soft bristle brush around to avoid matting.
On top of that, I got hit by a rainstorm which left my own hair frizzy and noticeably a different texture to the extensions. Aside from these minor issues, I’m in love with the extensions and would definitely use them again. They’re a simple way to show off natural hair without any damage, and the affordable price point shows you don’t need to spend loads for good quality hair – synthetic or human.
The Need to Know:
- Detangle natural hair with Big Hair’s Milk Leave-In Moisturiser, £16, to keep it nourished before braiding.
- Synthetic hair won’t absorb products, so just use water and a Kent Narrow Bristle Brush, £9.35, to help manipulate it to match your texture.
- Remove clip-ins before sleeping or swimming to avoid damaging natural hair.
Big Hair’s Milk Leave-In Moisturiser
Kent Narrow Bristle Brush
Best micro hair extensions
Digital writer Megan Murray went to Vixen & Blush, London, where she had micro-bond extensions (from £565)
Although my friends tag me in every unicorn/mermaid/princess meme going, when it comes to my beauty routine I like to keep things simple, mainly for fear of looking a bit too ‘done’. That’s what initially put me off having hair extensions, but Vixen & Blush’s Instagram feed is full of irresistibly luscious waves and I wanted in.
After a wash and dry, I chose the length – I went for 22 inches – then my natural hair was split into layers so the extensions could be applied. Vixen & Blush tend to use tiny metal bonds, called micro-rings, which last around three months. Each strip of hair (about half a centimetre wide) was applied close to the root of my natural hair and the rings are clamped shut using pliers, meaning there’s no glue in sight. My stylist used a variety of blonde shades to make sure the blend was flawless, and then my hair was cut, to make sure it still has natural movement, before being styled.
I’m impressed with how seamlessly they blend with my real hair, but I did find that the bonds were a bit sore at first – especially when I was sleeping. But they loosened slightly after a few days and became more comfortable. And I’ve had endless compliments from friends on my ‘mermaid’ hair.
The need to know:
- Use volumising products, such as Redken High Rise Volume, from £15.50. They won’t weaken the bonds like heavier, oil-based products can.
- Only wash hair twice a week and make sure you rough dry it with a good hairdryer, such as GHD’s Air, £99, so the bonds don’t stay damp.
- Invest in a decent quality dry shampoo (try Phillip Kingsley One More Day, £17) and use Moroccan Oil Treatment, £32.85, on ends to keep hair in good condition.
Redken High Rise Volume
from £15.50, feelunique.com
Phillip Kingsley One More Day
Moroccan Oil Treatment