Quick Hair Problem Solver: Hair Extensions

Hair extensions used to be a mainstay of celebrities on the red carpet who wanted a more glamorous and sexy look. But now long locks are available to everyone, as more and more salons are offering extensions. Ayumi Mitsuishi of Patricia Field says there are a number of ways this trend could work for you.

  • Instantly "grow out" bangs: If you're growing out your bangs and they're at that awkward point where they're just kind of flopping in front of your eyes and not quite long enough to tuck behind your ears, strands of hair extensions can be weaved into the area about three inches above your ears, then styled to ease the unwieldy growing-out phase.
  • Add natural-looking highlights: If you want to add temporary highlights or lowlights without damaging your hair by dying it, your extension expert can match the tones that would most flatter you, like a sunlit yellow-blonde to your own natural blonde, or a tawny golden to your natural red. And there are wonderful shades of amber for highlighting brown hair.
  • Add fanciful, whimsical highlights: If you'd like a purple streak, a pink fringe or even a sky blue band across the crown of your head, you can do it all without damaging a stitch of hair on your head — or committing to anything you might later regret.
  • Extend beyond your wildest dreams: You can add length of up to 28 inches and suddenly be sporting long flowing locks where hours before all you had was a demure little bob.
  • Remedy an unhappy haircut: A talented hair extension artist can work miracles in helping you to grow out the worst dud of a haircut by craftily weaving in hairs that will blend seemingly invisibly with your own hair.
  • Make thinner hair thicker: Mitsuishi gets wonderful results from weaving in slightly wavy hair beneath thinning hair to fill out a style and give it volume.
  • Add volume after hair loss and chemotherapy: Hair only needs to be four inches long in order to weave in extensions, which will offer a wonderful new look while the natural hair grows out. So if you're running out of creative ways to tie scarves over your head or you're tired of wearing wigs, extensions could be an excellent option.


Two Types of Hair Extensions

Individual extensions: These work best for straight hair, slightly wavy hair and hair that's silky in texture, thin or fine. It's also the method Mitsuishi prefers, because using individual extensions lets her place them so they can interact more directly with the movement of natural hair. Placement entails intertwining about 20 extensions (more or less) at a time by braiding so they become intertwined — essentially merged — with the natural hair. After that, they're secured at their base by tightly binding them with a very strong, superfine thread. Some stylists use bonding glue, but glue can damage natural hair, so Mitsuishi prefers string alone.

Wefts: These are groups of extensions attached to a band (like mini Hawaiian hula skirts). They're bulkier and heavier than individual extensions, and they work great for extending or adding height to medium- and thick-textured hair. Wefts are attached by sewing them directly to horizontal braids, called "tracts," which are fashioned using your own hair. Wefts lay horizontally against the scalp, under the natural hair.


Quality and Cost

Good extensions are always customized. Just like a good haircut, extensions should be selected and then customized to suit your facial structure, personality, needs and lifestyle, as well as be flattering in length, texture, color and shape. Style options are nearly endless, but you'll want to make sure the look you choose suits you — that it's something you can live with.

Quality is paramount. The best results come from using 100 percent% human hair; however, when applying extensions to very straight or silky hair, which has a slippery texture, some stylists may like to blend in a bit of synthetic hair, because its coarser texture allows it to adhere better to the straight hair.

Prices vary. Remember, the application of hair extensions takes technical skill and deft fingers along with an excellent sense of aesthetics — and that's aside from the hair itself — so it won't come cheap. Generally the price will depend on what you're going for, how intricate it is and how much time is spent applying and customizing your look. As a pricing benchmark, Mitsuishi has clients for whom she may only braid in four to six individual extensions, and the cost is low at $40 to $50; however, a full head of individual extensions will range upward of $500 (and take several hours). Another option is single wefts, for which Mitsuishi's fee is $150 each.


Ayumi Mitsuishi's Tips for Wearing Hair Extensions

  • After the extensions are customized and attached, they virtually become your own hair — only your own very delicate and special hair, because while they're hardy enough, you can't pull them too hard. Teasing isn't recommended, and you should steer clear of harsh products because of the risk of roughing up the extensions or pulling them right out! If you treat them preciously, they'll last upward of three months.
  • When shampooing — carefully — use gentle wriggling motions with your fingers and travel downward with the grain of the hair, never against it.
  • When towel drying, don't be too vigorous — just squeeze the towel against your hair.
  • Don't use conditioners, oils or serums at the place where the extensions are attached, because these products could cause extensions to loosen and possibly slide out. Feel free to condition the ends or middle — just stay away from the base. (If the extensions are shorter, you can use your fingers coated with a bit of leave-in conditioner.)
  • Run your fingers through the braid extensions before brushing, and when you do brush, make sure it's only with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Always tie your hair back while sleeping or exercising to keep it from getting too roughed up.
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