Posted: Nov 22, 2013 8:00 AM
Long hair is as much a fashion statement as skinny jeans or a cute leather jacket. But growing your hair long takes years, the right set of genes and patience. So how do all the big name stars get those gorgeous long locks? Extensions are the hottest hair craze since the spiral perm, but what do they do to your hair?

What are extensions?

Hair extensions are sections of hair — real human hair or synthetic — that are attached close to a person's scalp to either add length or volume to your natural hair, or even infuse it with highlights. Extensions are also sometimes called hair weaves, or several sections are sewn together and called a weft. Extensions can be so perfectly matched to your regular hair color and texture that it's hard to tell that you have extensions in place. With the proper application of carefully-chosen strands that complement your natural hair, your secret will be safe.

How are they attached?

There are several different ways that extensions can be attached to your scalp, and the method can determine how long they last — and whether or not your natural hair is damaged.

  1. Bonding: Extensions can be attached with bonding glue or adhesive that is brushed onto the piece to be attached and applied near the root of your natural hair. When the time comes to remove them, they are easily removed with a bonding remover. There is the possibility of an allergic reaction to these materials, so read all directions if using a do-it-yourself kit. Bonding generally lasts just a few weeks.

  2. Links, sleeves, locks or shells: Small links, sleeves, locks or shells made of nickel tubing or polymer materials are sometimes used to attach extensions using the strand method and come in colors to match your hair or in clear. Sometimes this method works well with very straight, fine or over-processed hair.

  3. Heat seal: Attaching strands of synthetic hair can be done using a heat seal, caused by using a low level heat on the synthetic strands that causes it to shrink slightly and form a secure attachment.

  4. Cornrow weaving: When using the wefts of hair, a good method of application is to create tracks on your scalp with cornrows, then sew the wefts of hair into these rows. They stay put well and can last for four months or longer using this method.

Other methods of attaching hair extensions include two-sided tape, string or clip-ins — which are all great ways to temporarily try extensions without a long-term commitment.

Are they damaging?

When applied using the strand method, there is no amount of tension applied to your scalp, which makes this method virtually damage-free when properly cared for. Micro links or sleeves are placed slightly away from the scalp, which allows for your scalp to be brushed gently and washed, and causes less tension on your natural hair. Prolonged hair weaving with wefts of hair can lead to a condition known as Traction Alopecia — stress on the actual hair follicles that causes hair loss and can cause long-term damage.

Caring for your extensions

Extensions are not hard to maintain, people just need to keep an eye on them — almost like you would with color or anything else.

Extensions can be just as easy to care for as your natural hair. "Extensions are not hard to maintain," says international hair stylist, renowned product designer and salon owner/consultant Philip Pelusi of Philip Pelusi Salons. "People just need to keep an eye on them — almost like you would with color or anything else." Most of us visit the salon every six weeks or so for color touch-ups, so you would do the same for your extensions. If you have human hair extensions (which tend to be most costly, but more authentic), you can treat them as you would your own hair, just remembering to be gentle. Use a gentle shampoo and a special brush made for use with extensions, to extend the life of your new hair.

Share with us!^ What do you think? Are extensions for you? Leave us a comment below!

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