These before and after images are great examples of the possibilities that hair extensions can provide you with.

All images are thanks to:

Racoon Hair Extensions.


Hair Extensions: The Long and Short of It!

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There are lots of ways to artificially lengthening and thickening your hair and if you’re looking for a more permanent alternative to the conventional wig, then hair extensions might be the answer!

The market is full of different systems or types of hair extensions and your stylist will tell you that the system he or she uses is the best. Yet each uses a different type of extension system so how do we know which one is the best and why?

The reality is that they are all good when used on the right hair type to achieve a certain result. But, if you decide on the wrong type of hair or use an unsuitable method of attaching that extension then not only will you not achieve the look you were after but you could also end up with serious damage to your hair.

So, before going any further, the first decision to be made is to select the type of extension hair that will suit your hair type, there are two:

Natural or Human Hair :

This is Natural, as in human hair, and has been sold for the purpose of making wigs or extensions. As you can imagine, it's more expensive than man made (synthetic) hair but comes in many varieties, and looks the most natural. The cost of the types of hair available varies according to quality of the hair of some of which can be cheaper than others. Asian hair is the least expensive but due to its coarse texture may not be the best match with your own. European hair is the most expensive on the market but is certainly the most premium quality available.

The major advantage of natural hair is that it can be treated and maintained pretty much as you would your own hair. But it does have a tendency to matt together if not correctly cared for, so you will have to spend a little extra time separating the strands. You also need to use top quality shampoos conditioners and treatments as it doesn't retain its health for long if not looked after well. When blow drying, always use a product that contains a thermal protector. This will help prevent damaging the hair.

Tip: Natural hair is the best if you are after a head of extensions because you can treat it like your own hair, it is also the most durable, flexible and reusable method.

Fibres or Synthetic Hair :

This man-made hair is much cheaper as there is no limit to the supply. It does have other drawbacks though; the most obvious being that it will never be a perfect match for your own hair if that is your first concern. However, it is a great choice for someone wanting to change their look from time to time without getting into major expense.

On the maintenance side, synthetic hair does have a tendency to matt excessively, especially if you shampoo it. Therefore it's only really suitable for adding strands to the rest of your hair so that these pieces can be clipped out of the way when shampooing. You will also need to take great care when blow drying as you can easily singe this type of hair, causing it to frizz. Again, the cure is to clip it out of the way when blow drying

Extra products needed are simply a shine type spray to help you get your brush through the hair to prevent matting.

Tip : This type of hair is not recommended for full head extensions but great for fun pieces and adding colour only.

Attachment methods:

Now that you've have got a fair idea of the hair types available, you need to consider the best options for attaching the extension hair to your own and the different methods used. Getting this right is essential to the final look and durability:

There are basically three options: Weaves or 'wefts', Human Single hair pieces and Synthetic Single hair pieces:

Weaves or Wefts

Small sections of your own hair are braided close to the scalp in rows (approx. 3 rows around the head for full head of hair extensions). These braids form a point to which a curtain of false hair is sewn. The hair used can be either synthetic or Natural (human) hair. This form of hair extension gives a less natural look than some of the others, but is best used only if you have medium to thick hair, because the braid removes some of your natural hairs density or thickness, making the attachment detectable through the rest of your hair if done on fine to medium hair types.

Advantages :

  • No chemicals are used to place or remove the extensions.

  • The false weaves of hair can be removed, the braids tightened or redone and the weaves sewn back onto the hair and reused again.

Disadvantages :

  • Can be uncomfortable to wear as they can be heavy and put a certain amount of tension on the scalp.

  • Only really suitable for thicker hair types as they create a bulge where attached to scalp which can be quite visual to others.

  • There are lots of poor quality weaves on the market and you need to check out what you are buying. Visit a few wig shops and hair extension specialists before making any choices as it is easy to spot the good from the bad after you have seen a few.

Durability :

  • Your weave should last about 2 to 3 months, and then they need replacing.

Cost :

  • $AU500 to $AU1900 depending on quality or type of extension hair used.

These curtains or 'wefts' of hair can also be attached using:

  • Clips: which are of course temporary but have the advantage of you being able to take the extensions in and out as and when you want them. Great for fun looks.

  • Staples : these are an option but not very natural looking or comfortable.

After wefts or weaves, all of the pieces that can be attached, whether real human hair or fibre/synthetic hair, come in 'single pieces' or a few strands of hair.

  • Human hair is 'bonded' or 'glued' to your own hair.

  • Synthetic hair is 'sealed' to your hair. This means that the synthetic fibres are basically fused with your own hair.

Human Single Hair Pieces

These are single strips of extensions, which look natural because they swing and move in small sections similar to how your own hair moves. These extensions are usually Indian, Asian or European hair quality and are ‘bonded’ to small sections of your own hair throughout your head as described above. They have to be removed professionally and your stylist will charge you for that service. The hair can be reused or not reused, depending on the system you have chosen, so make sure you look at the different types available to you. Being able to reuse the hair will make a big difference to your long term costs, with most clients tending to go with this method. Natural extensions can be used on any hair type with the operator being able to colour match and texture match the existing hair.

Advantages :

  • Looks the most natural and they won't fall out easily.

  • Can style and treat as if it's your own hair.

  • You can have as many or as few as you like applied.

  • Is durable and flexible and allows you to have normal hair services in the salon

  • Can be colour matched to suit your coloured hair or your desired colour choice

  • Choose a system that can reuse the hair then this can be very cost effective.

  • No damage to your natural hair

Disadvantages :

  • If chemical bonds are used to attach the extensions, ask your stylist if your hair is strong enough for this type of extension system.

  • The wax 'bonds' can be melted if you are using a flat iron or tongs to style your hair afterwards. The hair will not be affected but the bonds should not have direct heat applied

  • You can pay by the strand or by grams, depending on the system used, so if you have a lot of hair and you want to have long extensions, it can get expensive.

  • Can feel heavy at first and pull on your own hair and scalp.

Cost :

  • From as little as $AU300 for volumizing to $AU2, 200 for that extra long look.

Durability & Care :

  • Remove after 3-4 months or your stylist will not be happy and may struggle to get them out of your hair.

  • You will need to separate the strands regularly to prevent them from bunching up.

  • Because extensions don't get any natural oils, you will need to invest in top quality shampoos, conditioners and leave in moisturisers.

  • Detangling sprays and thermo protectors are also a must to keep the hair looking good.

Synthetic Single Hair Pieces

The single pieces of synthetic hair are used in much the same way as the single pieces of human hair. It will swing with your own hair and is available in straight, wavy and curly to match your hair type. They are attached with a tiny braid at the base of each extension then sealed with heat by literally melting them to your hair. Because synthetic hair is man made, it comes in numerous variations: from the natural look, to bright and luminous colours and each is interchangeable depending on the creativity of your stylist.

Advantages :

  • Synthetic hair is half the weight of human hair, so puts little or no strain on your hair and scalp.

  • No chemicals are used for application or removal, so reducing the chances of damaging your own hair if fine or colour treated.

  • If you are after a wild and crazy look, you can achieve it with this type of extension.

Disadvantages :

  • Full heads of synthetic extensions are not recommended by all extension specialists as they can be hard to style and care for. You would need to follow your stylists’ advice carefully and use the recommended products.

  • Can be prone to matting especially when shampooing if specialist products are not used. Best to clip extensions out of the way and shampoo the scalp only.

  • Not suitable for frequent intense heat with a blow dryer as you can easily singe synthetic hair, resulting in a frizz. Best to dry naturally then smooth off with a blow dryer on low heat or clip the pieces out of the way when blow drying

  • You will need to use special care products for synthetic hair rather than just your normal shampoo and conditioner, therefore the cost of these should be added onto the final bill.

  • They tend not to look or feel natural in comparison to natural hair and are very hard to maintain

Cost :

  • For achieving volume or creating a highlighted effect, as little as $AU150. For a full head of lengthening extensions count on around $AU750.

Durability & Care :

  • Remove after 2-3 months.

  • Shampoo and blow-dry with extensions clipped out of the way.

  • Will need a shine spray to help detangle.

Tips :

  • Only extend your hair to a maximum limit of double the original length. This ensures blend and natural looking extensions.

  • Try a head of volume adding extensions to thicken up your style to see if you feel comfortable wearing them, and then have a full head.

  • Go to a stylist who knows what they are talking about, preferably an extension specialist who knows the difference between systems available.

  • Ask for a pre appointment (consultation) to discuss your desired look.

At the end of the day, it’s like anything else. Find out everything there is to know, and shop around for the best advice and professional care, service and options!

Thanks to Peter Elchaar (PUREHAIRPUREBODY@ Castle Hill and The Cutting Crew, Macquarie University in Sydney )for his help in putting together this information. Peter is also a qualified Trichologist (the study of hair skin and scalp) specialising in the use of hair extensions to help those suffering from medical & hair loss problems).



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