Celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Simpson, Miley Cyrus, Victoria Beckham and countless others regularly surprise the world with new and different hairstyles -- changing color, style and even the length of their hair -- over the course of just a couple days. How do they do it?
This magic is made possible with the help of hair extensions and a talented stylist.
Getting the look you always wanted
A lot of us have realized that our inner hottie has longer, thicker hair than we were actually graced with. (Consider it the follicle version of penis-envy.) My own muse has wavy hip-length locks... yet the universe taunts with me hair that, while cute, barely brushes my shoulders.
And that's why hair extensions are so popular -- and not just in Hollywood! Girls the world 'round just love to realize that it is possible to take your current look and give it a lift and have any style you desire... well, for a few months, anyhow.
"I've always wanted super-long and sexy hair," says Jackie Saril of Squeakywheel Promotions, who realized that extensions were the only way she was going to get the length she desired. Her dream came true with extensions done by Tasso Megaris in Plainview, New York. "Why should celebrities and strippers have all the fun?" she laughs.
Extensions don't only to add length. You can choose to add volume instead (or in addition to length), which is perfect for fine, limp or thinning hair.
Turn that bob into a mane! If your existing hair is at little as 3 inches long, you can get extensions, although the extent of your transformation may be limited if your hair is very short.
Extensions can be braided in, glued in, woven in, or -- if you only need a follicular boost for a special event -- clipped in.
You can also add highlights or color -- with shades ranging from mild to wild -- to your hair with the use of extensions.
The process isn't painful, so it shouldn't hurt a bit.
The bad news: Hair extensions aren't cheap. Depending on how much you get, how you get them attached and the type/grade of hair you use, the cost can range from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars -- and that's not including maintenance every six to eight weeks. You will also need to make an investment of time, usually four to six hours, for the initial setup.
The specialist who will apply your extensions may be called a hair designer, an extensionist, or simply a hairdresser. No matter what title he or she uses, be sure they are experienced -- and have photos to prove it. Also make sure you understand how they will be removed, and how damage to your natural hair will be minimized. (Several stars -- including Kate Beckinsale and Victoria Beckham -- have had problems with bald spots after their extensions were taken out.)
What to look for
"A hairstyle can make or break your look," says stylist Cesare Safieh, who cautions there are some important questions to ask when selecting extensions:
What are the extensions made from -- are they synthetic or 100%-natural human hair? (Human hair is more expensive than synthetic counterparts.)
How will the extensions be applied and removed?
Can you choose from a variety of weights?
Safieh is a fan of a method of extensions known as Thermo Plastique, which involves a relatively gentle process that can be removed without damage to your hair. (He also adds that the micro bonding points are barely visible.) He says older methods, especially glue, are damaging. "Tracks (sewing) can be too heavy, and metal clips wear out and are hard to brush through."
"[The goal with] extensions is to have the most natural look you can achieve," says Tony Promiscuo, owner of Atlanta’s Godiva Salon, who notes that while synthetic types are most plentiful, human hair is superior in its viability. (In addition, synthetic hair cannot typically be heated, so styling options are limited -- meaning forget the blow dryer and curling iron.)
What else to look for? "Individual strands allow a customized, more natural, look," says celebrity hairstylist and salon owner Philip Pelusi of New York City’s Tela salon. "You can play with the color or length, and fill in spots that need it more than others -- it's a more
accurate way to get the desired look."
What to avoid in hair extensions
"The most important thing is to avoid extensions and pieces that are heavier than your own hair. If extensions are too heavy, they will damage and break off hair -- so hair needs to be long and healthy enough to withstand the pressure," Pelusi points out.
Inquire as to the possibility of getting a variety of weights, because a single one may not work for everyone. In particular, extensions that do not match your hair are most likely to give you problems. Safieh recommends a type of extensions called Hairdreams, which offer a variety of weights or thicknesses to match your true hair -- as well as the ability to pre-order highlights and lowlights. Hairdreams lasts up to seven months and the hair can be reapplied, which also helps to decrease cumulative costs of new hair and removal.
Certain specialty methods have emerged from certain salons, such as the "Goddess Loc," which have a silicon grip and plastic coating in order to not damage your hair.
Is caring for your extensions going to give you a headache?
Do extensions require a great deal of upkeep and time commitment? "Extensions are not hard to maintain," says Pelusi. "People just need to keep an eye on them -- almost like you would with color or anything else." She says that to allow for an hour at the salon every six weeks.
Jackie Saril agrees. "[Extensions are] so easy! I got the kind with a slight wave so I can let my entire head dry naturally and have some sexy waves, or I can straighten it with a brush and iron," she says.
Here are some specific tips to help you care for your extensions:
Human hair extensions can be treated as real hair, but more gently.
Use a special brush (often a loop brush) made just for extensions, so youd don't damage the new hair or the bond.
A gentle shampoo is recommended, and use cool water to help minimize tangles.
A light conditioner will help reduce tangling and keep your new hair supple.
Sleep with your hair in a ponytail or braid to avoid bed-head and knots.
Would Jackie get extensions again? "Assuming my hair is healthy once these come out, I would do it again in a heartbeat."