Can you wear hair extensions without ruining your natural hair?

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Hair extensions are no beauty secret. In recent years, they have certainly gone mainstream. And they are no longer for celebrities only – we now live in a whole new world where proud extension wearers are showing off their false tresses all over social media. But, is it possible to routinely indulge in this beauty trend and not experience headaches, an itchy scalp, or premature bald spots?

For most women, hair is an extremely important part of their self-image. Many of them are now devoting countless hours and dollars to trying to hide their thinning hair, and hair extensions have become an increasingly popular way to do so.

According to a report by the Professional Beauty Association, the past two years have seen a 28.5% increase in the number of U.S. salons that offer hair extensions.

Extensions have also become a beauty staple for many well-known Latinas during the last decade.  J.Lo, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez are three who routinely enlist a little extra help for their locks.

The look of a luscious mane may scream ultra-Hollywood glamour and irresistible sex appeal, but, again, it can also come at a high cost for your wellness and your wallet. We turned to an expert stylist for guidance.

What a hair extension expert says

With over 10 years of beauty and grooming experience as a premier stylist, Marc Mena is one of New York’s foremost experts in the hair business. Of Mexican, Spanish, and Native American descent, Marc was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.

Made of human hair, synthetics, or mixed blends, Mena explains that hair extensions can be broken down into four different attachment methods. They can be added individually (strand by strand), in groups (weft), micro-link skin weft, or by a clip-on method.

Different hair extension methods

When deciding which hair extension method is right for you, there are a number of factors to consider including hair type, lifestyle, and, of course, budget.  All can make a big difference in your extension-wearing experience.

For more information on different methods, and answers to other common questions, such as application time, how to choose the right type of hair, cost, pros, cons, and recommended maintenance, Hair Extension Magazine, offers a complete guide to help the consumer.

Types of hair extensions - chart
Click on the image to enlarge

Avoiding hair damage from extensions

Chances are you’ve probably heard or seen pictures of hair extension horror stories. If not, a quick Google search will have you quickly understanding what we’re talking about.

Hair extensions can, in fact, cause what is called traction alopecia, which is hair loss and balding due to the pulling and excess weight of extensions.  

“Think of a curtain hanging. If you keep pulling and pulling the curtain in the same spot, and it’s just glued to the ceiling, it’s going to eventually fall down. That’s why it’s important not to be continuously applying clip-in extensions in the same spot. It could lead to hair loss,” warns Mena.

He says it’s important to realize that it’s not only extensions that can affect the health of your hair. “Everything damages hair.  Minerals in water damage hair, but it doesn’t stop us from taking showers. With extensions you just need to be more thoughtful. It’s very important to find an experienced stylist you can trust that can help guide you into a healthy hair maintenance routine,” explains Mena.

“You can have extensions and maintain a healthy head of hair. It just really comes down to self-maintenance, application, and the quality of extensions,” he assures us.

Consumer Reports urges caution

However, there is science to back up the fact that adding on more hair is causing headaches (literally), and making people lose hair.  And some celebrities, who can afford the best extensions and stylists that money can buy, are even condemning the practice.

A-list actress, Jennifer Aniston, has come out and said in the past that her extensions ruined her natural mane.  “My real hair was getting thinned out again from all the extensions. It was starting to look fake,” Aniston told Instyle.

And according to a 2013, Consumer Reports article on the dangers of hair extensions, thousands of young women are experiencing the dangerous side effects that come with the beauty trend.

The report found that extensions can cause hair tangling, matting, loss of shine, itchiness, and head pain.

But even more unsettling, was the report found that hair extensions can cause traction alopecia, contact dermatitis and, in rare cases, life-threatening allergic reactions to glues, rubbers, or other chemicals used for extension application and removal.

Consumer Reports’ advice? This is one beauty trend best avoided.

Hair extension tips from a pro

Mena believes many problems related to hair extensions are due to poor maintenance and improper applications by stylists.  “I have clients who’ve I’ve being doing extensions on for years, and their hair is healthier than ever. They are the ones good at listening to my advice on hair care,” Mena notes.

So if hair extensions are a trend you can’t pass up, take a look at Mena’s personal tips to keep your natural tresses healthy, and avoid damage from the extra weight of hair extensions:

  • Do your research on different types of extensions, and be aware of the possible allergies and health risks.
  • Find an experienced stylist, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Brush your hair with an extension-friendly brush at least twice every day. Try to brush it before and after showering.
  • If you have strand by strand extensions, occasionally run fingers near fusion points of extensions to make sure they are not tangling. This becomes more important the more grown out they are.
  • You may want to invest in a dietary supplement that could help natural hair handle the weight of extensions. Ask your primary care physician for suggestions.
  • Be gentle when washing and removing hair ties.
  • Wet the ends of your hair with conditioner before getting in the shower. Avoid applying conditioner on the roots, or near the extension fusion points.
  • Try to minimize hair washing to only two times a week.
  • Keep hair braided, or in a ponytail, when sleeping at night.
  • If self-applying, avoid placing clip-in extensions in the same spot over and over on a daily basis. Instead, save it for special occasions.
  • Always take out clip-in extensions at night to avoid breakage. Always!
  • For removal of permanent extensions, head to a hairstylist for professional removal. Never try to remove on your own.
  • If using strand by strand extensions, the recommend removal and reapplication which requires new hair bundles every 3-5 months, depending upon the type of application performed.

How to find a certified hair extensions stylist near you

If you are going to pursue hair extensions, Marc recommends finding a certified hair extension stylist.  The skill level of the stylists is crucial for a damage free application.

The website HairUWear.com is a great resource for information on high-quality hair you wear, such as extensions and wigs. It also allows users to search for certified stylists and salons that use some of the most popular brands on the market today.

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Elara Mosquera
Elara Mosquera

ELARA MOSQUERA IS A JOURNALIST BASED IN CONNECTICUT. SHE SPECIALIZES IN IMMERSIVE JOURNALISM, AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT, AND HAS AN EXTENSIVE BACKGROUND IN TRENDING DIGITAL NEWS. ELARA IS AN EDWARD R. MURROW AWARD WINNING PRODUCER, AS WELL AS AN EMMY NOMINATED PRODUCER. ELARA IS AN IKO LEVEL 3 CERTIFIED KITEBOARDER AND AN AVID MBSR (MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION) PRACTITIONER.