Everything You Need to Know About Hair Extensions and Semi-Permanent Treatments

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We’ve all seen some of our favorite celebrities (*ahem* Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez) donning a super cute lob one day, only to see them with long locks at an awards show the next. When you were a little girl, you may not have realized that extensions were even a thing. You probably thought that when celebrities got famous, they automatically received magical powers to grow their hair in days (in our dreams!). But, it turns out that the “magic” was just semi-permanent hair extensions, and no, not the straggly plastic ones that we all tried in middle school. With the help of professional stylist Sonia Hagan, we found out all the details about the glued-in locks, so you can try them out for a fresh new look this spring.

What do I need to know before I get extensions?

First of all, since semi-permanent extensions are glued in for a period of time, they require more knowledge and care than the plastic kind. It’s important to go to a salon that you know is trustworthy when it comes to more serious procedures like extensions. “You need to have an idea of the style you’re looking for, because you need to know if you hair will withstand that style,” says Hagan. “If the extensions are too heavy for your natural hair, it can cause serious breakage.” Hagan also recommends that you’re aware of all of the extension application techniques, even if you’re dead set on one, because your stylist may advise a different technique if it’s better for your hair.

How many trips to Chipotle will I have to sacrifice to pay for them?

Extensions can be a serious investment, so don’t be surprised if you have to shell out $300 for just the hair. “The cost varies; it can depend on the length and the feel of the hair,” says Hagan. “You can have bohemian, Afrocentric, Brazilian wave and many more types, and they all vary in price.” The color and application type of your extensions matter as well. Tape-in extensions can cost between $200 and $500, the most economical choice of all the techniques, while sew-in and keratin bonding extensions can cost more than $600. “It’s tough to give an accurate estimate,” says Hagan. “But many salons will have an extension consultation with you before anything is set in stone and will go over the exact price that you’ll be paying.” Well, that’s comforting...sort of. Just keep in mind that the price isn’t for nothing; semi-permanent locks look and feel much more authentic than their plastic counterpart.

Are semi-permanent extensions made out of real hair?

You can choose whether you want to use extensions made out of real or synthetic hair. Hagan says that choosing synthetic hair is less expensive, but with less cost comes less quality. “You will be able to tell the difference between real and synthetic hair,” says Hagan. “It’s worth the investment to go with the real stuff.” In addition, you can’t use hot tools on synthetic hair (it will melt), so it may not match your hair’s natural texture.

Purchasing extensions made out of real hair, on the other hand, is the better option if you want more natural hair that can be styled any way. “I would recommend doing the real hair extensions,” says Sophia Walker, a senior at Bowdoin College. “You don't have to worry about getting the curly extensions if you have curly hair. Since the extensions are made out of real hair, they'll mold to your curl pattern and look a lot more natural than the fake curled ones.” However, it is important to carefully choose a hair sample that’s almost identical to your natural hair color, unless you intentionally want a different color.

How are the extensions applied?

There are three major types of application techniques: tape-in, sew-in, and fusion. All of these methods can withstand showers and workouts, so don't worry too much about getting your hair wet after the initial application. We know that it can be tough to choose what method is best for your hair, so we broke it down for you.

The tape-in technique uses polyurethane tape to bind the hair to your scalp. "Tape-in extensions are one of the newer kinds, and they've become very popular," says Hagan. "Your stylist simply attaches the skin-safe tape to your scalp and holds it for a few seconds to make sure it'll stay. You just repeat the same process across the crown of your head, making sure to cover up any hints of tape." Tape-in extensions don't take as long to apply and are the cheapest option. Plus, they're pretty easy to DIY if you buy the hair wefts yourself. 

The sew-in technique weaves in hair extensions with thread. "First you start with a weft of hair, which is the extension that you'll be sewing in," says Hagan. "Then your stylist will start creating a cornrow across your head with your natural hair and will lay the weft upon the cornrow they created. Then they'll take the sewing thread and sew along the weft hair and weave it into the cornrow." Then, after your stylist adds a closure to your extensions, you won't be able to see any tracks. Warning: this method can take a few hours (we suggest bringing snacks) and might be a little painful if you have a sensitive head. 

Fusion extensions are similar, to tape-in extensions, except instead of tape, your stylist will use glue. "The glue is skin-safe and made of a protein/keratin blend to bind the weft of hair to your scalp," says Hagan. This process can also take several hours, as you have to glue tiny sections of hair at a time, and then wait for the glue to dry. Many people aren't fond of this method, as it can lead to the most damage and is tough to remove.

Related: 27 Things Only Girls With Thick Hair Understand

How long do they last?

Even before you sit in the salon chair, you should have an idea of how long you want your extensions to last. “Depending on how long you want your extensions for, that can determine the technique that your stylist uses to apply them,” says Hagan. “You don’t have to go with the service your stylist recommends, but you should heavily consider it.” Glued-in extensions, also known as fusion extensions, can safely last up to two months, according to Hagan. The sew-in technique can last for up to 10 weeks. Tape-in hair extensions are similar to fusion extensions and can last up to three months. Tape-in hair is reusable. All you need to do is replace the tape once it’s worn out. You can reuse other hair sometimes, if the quality is still pristine and well taken care of.

Are extensions bad for my hair?

Like we mentioned before, when improperly applied or not cared for, extensions can be seriously damaging. If the new hair is too heavy, it can cause breakage and hair loss with the extensions as well as your actual hair. “The biggest thing is potential damage to your hair from the weight of the extensions,” says Hagan. “It’s just so important to understand your extensions, keep your scalp clean, and follow all instructions about the care and keeping of your new hair.”

How do I take care of them at home?

When you get extensions, you have to rethink your haircare routine right away. “You have to learn what products to use with your extensions and what kind of tools to use, because the new extensions might be made of more sensitive, coarse or silky hair then you’re used to,” says Hagan. Semi-permanent extensions can’t be taken out before you shower, so you have to be careful with how much you wash and condition your hair. Treat your new extensions the way you should be treating your actual hair, and avoid being rough when combing/brushing. “It’s easy for my extensions to get dry, so to keep them looking as healthy and shiny as my actual hair, I apply argan oil to the tips,” says Amy Miller, a junior at Temple University. “I’ve definitely noticed that it keeps the ends from getting dull and split as quickly.” Using hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners is okay, but try to limit the use as it can shorten the life of your extensions.

Now that you got the low-down on everything you could ever need to know about extensions, consider changing up your usual hairstyle for gorgeous long locks that can be styled dozens of ways.

About The Author

Temple University Class of 2019. Aspiring magazine journalist and personal trainer. Proponent of lists and the Oxford comma. Lover of fashion, wellness, journalism, music, travel, and Jesus. Follow my journey: Twitter- @sarah_madaus | Instagram- @sarah_madaus