The surprising reasons why more women than ever are getting hair extensions

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Jacqueline Kilikita
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Rapunzel-esque hair is back to invade your Instagram feed. Here’s why.

The phrase ‘princess hair’ is likely to conjure up images of unnaturally shiny Rapunzel-esque waves, big, bouncy bouffants and towering updos. But what if we were to tell you it’s making a comeback? 

In recent years, hair trends veered towards the undone. Messy textures, easy-to-use products like dry shampoo and salt-spray, lobs and bobs… The message was: I might not have woken up exactly like this but it’s not far off.

But thanks to celebrity hairstylists like Jen Atkin and Chris Appleton and the stars they work with, not to mention fantastic developments in hair extensions of late, and of course social media, we are welcoming in a new wave of princess hair. 

Instead of towering quiffs and tight curls, (or Disney updos and Kate Middleton blowouts – OK, it’s a teeny bit Kate) hair is simply thicker, longer, more polished and a hell of a lot more Instagram-worthy, and, of course, extensions are at the very forefront of the look.

In fact, emerging data suggests more women than ever are now opting to supplement their strands with them. Research conducted by Great Lengths found that 13% of women surveyed currently wear hair extensions while a huge 93% of respondents would consider wearing hair extensions in the future.

So why are they gaining popularity once again? Stylist investigates.


Mintel, in their In-Salon Hair Services UK 2017 report, puts the sudden surge in hair extensions down to advances in quality as they have come a long way since the painful, time-consuming, glue-in types that would make your hair fall out in clumps when removed. Take popular micro ring extensions: during the process, a tiny loop extension is attached to a piece of the client’s hair sans any heat or sticky substances, which means taking them out or having them changed is quick, easy and painless.

And while a bumpy, uneven crown has always been a tell-tale sign that someone is wearing hair extensions, developments in how they look means it’s now extremely difficult to tell that your hair isn’t actually yours. 

Vixen & Blush have developed a range of tape-in extensions, which boast an invisible seam so that hair sprouts directly from the root and the otherwise revealing join is undetectable. Great Lengths also pride themselves on their collection of GL Tapes and saw an 8% increase in sales in 2017 alone. “The goal with extensions is to have the most natural look you can achieve, so no-one will ever question whether or not your hair is the real deal,” says Louise Jenkins, Great Lengths education and creative manager.

And while human hair extensions are nothing new, brand ethics matters immensely to consumers. “With the increase in interest across the industry, we are committed to supplying ethically sourced 100% human hair extensions, which offer total versatility for everyone,” says Chris King, business development director at Great Lengths UK and Ireland. Even better? Consumers are given the opportunity to give back. Great Lengths wearers can donate their used extensions to the Little Princess Trust for use in their real-hair wigs for children that have suffered hair loss.


Sometimes associated with hair loss and the anxiety surrounding it, some women would deny or hide the fact that they were wearing hair extensions or wigs in the past. But, Mintel reports that the appearance of extensions on social media is beginning to break down those feelings of embarrassment – and it seems Instagram and Snapchat are driving the trend.

Celebrity hairstylists like Jen Atkin and Chris Appleton use Instagram as a platform to show off their styles on clients like the Kardashian-Jenners, the Hadid sisters and Jennifer Lopez, proving that great hair is now a fashion statement. CEO of Easilocks, Shane O’Sullivan says, “We’re seeing an enormous spike in people wanting to change their looks more after celebrity inspiration.”

The choice in itself is empowering. Hair extensions are no longer associated with big bouncy bouffant styles but edgy cuts, flashes of striking colour, and now,  balayage – one of the most searched for hair trends on Google. Just like lipstick or eyeshadow, the different lengths and colours means women no longer have to commit to one cut or risk over-processing their hair with bleach. Hair extensions allow us to portray a particular image one day, and another a few weeks later.

Extensions are also a lucrative business. Those active on Snapchat will no doubt have seen reality star and self-confessed hair chameleon Kylie Jenner unveil a different hairstyle every week, from that infamous blue wig to flowing blonde extensions. In an interview with E News, her hairstylist and wig-maker Tokyo Stylez revealed that his hair services start at “around $900,” the equivalent of almost £650. So, is great hair the new designer accessory?

“Only when it comes to quality,” says Leigh Snider, extensions expert and lead educator for Hair Rehab London. “Unfortunately not everyone appreciates the importance of going premium. They tend to be more expensive, but it really is a case of you-get-what-you-pay-for. If you invest in your extensions from the beginning and are committed to maintenance, you’ll reap the rewards.”


In a study of 2,000 women, leading hair expert Philip Kingsley found that 21% said they are suffering from hair loss and thinning. Many even admitted that hair loss caused them to withdraw from general day-to-day activities: 58% felt self-conscious and 51% avoided having photos taken.

While Kingsley found that a third of women simply live with the issue, O’Sullivan says that countless customers regard extensions as a resolution to the issues that arise from sparse hair, such as a lack of self-confidence – and many of those clients suffer with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). According to the NHS, approximately one in five women in the UK are living with the hormonal condition that causes hair thinning, and experts say it’s on the rise.

As well as widespread PCOS, thyroid disorders, pregnancy, cancer and alopecia can also cause hair loss, which prompted Easilocks to design multiple integrated hair systems to disguise thinning and hair loss specifically. Extensions are no longer simply one-size-fits-all wefts – they are now available in small attachments to combat these conditions. 

At Hare and Bone, owner and creative director, Sam Burnett cleverly places individual hair pieces around the back of the ears, temples and either side of the parting to add volume, as do hair extensions specialists, Vixen & Blush. “For someone suffering with these conditions, adding a small amount of hair can make a huge amount of difference and give them confidence they have lost,” says director Danielle Pink.


Throughout history, women’s hair has often been regarded as a symbol of femininity, sexuality and power. The image of Lady Godiva riding through the streets of Coventry naked, and veiled only by her luscious hair as she disputed the tax her husband imposed on his tenants, is one that conveys command and influence even today. So, in the wake of the sexual harassment and inequality scandals gripping the globe at the moment, could it be that we are reclaiming our femininity and sending the same message of authority through amazing hair?

“Women feel more confident and powerful when their hair is right,” says O’Sullivan, who mentions hair can also be something of an emotional comfort blanket for women. “We absolutely love seeing the instant esteem boost our clients experience with extensions and we often get feedback from clients who say that it doesn’t matter what they wear because they always have a good hair day. That said, hair extensions don’t necessarily mean long or thick hair; they come in many shapes and sizes.”


Stylist contributor Jo Hoare says, “I’ve had a variety of extensions over the last ten years with varying degrees of success. I have them because I’m a bleached blonde which has thinned my naturally quite thick hair and given me some breakage around the crown. The worst was a sewn in weave which was hot, heavy and so painful I couldn’t sleep. The best was ‘hair fillers’ at Daniel Hersheson. This was a small amount (around 20) of small extension added specifically in places where my own hair was lacking volume, they were totally undetectable and very much just ‘my hair but better.’”

Stylist contributor Jacqueline Kilikita says: “I was diagnosed with PCOS a few years ago, and as well as having to deal with acne and excess body hair, the hair around my temples really started to thin out. Micro ring extensions provided a solution to the sparse patches so I could wear my hair up without feeling self-conscious. They are super-quick to fit, ultra-comfortable to sleep in and easy to take out.”