Whether you want to add length, volume, or simply switch up your style for a new season, hair extensions are a great option. They offer flexibility, but without proper care, you can end up with matted hair, dull strands, or even worse, irreversible damage to your real hair. We want you to snatch your edges… not lose them.
Even though it doesn't grow from your scalp, you must take care of extension hair as if it does — after all, you paid for it, sis! "The best way to maintain your extensions is to take care of them as you would your own hair. Use products that you would use on your hair and [avoid] too many harsh chemicals," advises hairstylist Sabrina Porsche, who worked on Black Is King and gave Beyoncé those golden beaded braids for the "OTR II" tour book.
Not all extensions are created equal. The look you are trying to achieve as well as your hair texture will determine the best extensions for you. Sew-ins are extensions that are literally sewn onto cornrows made with your own hair (plus added braiding hair for durability). While this technique is often illustrated on Black women, anyone can try this particular method. Porsche explains, "The benefit of sew-ins are that you can get a super long wear, a protective style, and it promotes hair growth."
Another extremely popular option for your hair are tape-ins, which work as the name suggests: The extensions are placed on thin tape wefts and sandwiched between your real hair. They aren't bulky if installed correctly; in fact, Porsche says one of the main benefits is that they "look super natural and undetectable." She also raves about clip-ins for the woman who may not have a lot of time on her hands or has minimal experience with extensions. She elaborates, "They are great for quick and temporary length and to add volume."
Other options include microlinks, a type of hair extension that is attached to your hair by taking small strands and securing the extensions with little silicone beads, which Porsche says are also great for length and volume. These are also slightly higher maintenance with necessary hair appointments at least once a month for upkeep. The next level up from microlinks are keratin extensions. Like microlinks, they fuse small strands of your hair with the extensions; however, unlike microlinks, they use heated keratin protein to bond and fuse your hair and the extensions. They're pricey, but pretty much undetectable — making them a popular option amongst celebrities.
No matter what type of extension you decide to get, they all require some upkeep. We spoke with some of the best hairstylists in the game to share their tips on the best way to maintain your hair extensions to keep that install looking impeccable.
Replace extensions regularly.
Even with the best maintenance, you can't wear the same extensions forever. Porsche says a sew-in can stay in for up to two to three months with proper care and regular trips to your hairstylist. "You will know it's absolutely time for your hair to come out when your install is completely showing because your hair has grown out so much. Also if it's been a few months and the style you starts to look like a completely different style from which you started with — and not in a good way — it's time to come out," says renowned hairstylist Kim Kimble, who also worked on Black Is King, and whose hands have graced the crowns of Zendaya, Tyra Banks, Brandy, and more. She recommends replacing extensions "every six to eight weeks, depending on how fast your hair grows, across the board for all extensions at all lengths and textures to avoid matting and tangling."
There are extensions that can last for a while — hairstylist David Lopez, known for adding sleek inches to the hair of models like Ashley Graham and Hailey Baldwin Bieber, notes that strand by strand extensions can be worn up to six months. However, they will not last that long without the proper upkeep and maintenance by your hairstylist — you should book a monthly appointment. Porsche warns, "If you leave microlinks in too long, the beads tend to bend out of whack and when you're trying to take them out. They become distorted and can rip out your hair." If you aren't sure you can commit to so much upkeep, try clip-ins. "Clip-ins are great because you can take them out at the end of each day," Lopez says.
If you have curls and you want to play with your length, try UQueen Hair, which has kinky curl and kinky coil options covering the 3B to 4C hair range. If you are looking for non-curly clip-in options and not sure where to go, try Indique Hair. They sell bundles, wigs, and clip-ins in multiple textures. Hidden Crown Hair is a red-carpet favorite and known not only for its array of colors but also thickness — each set contains a volumizer and two side pieces to help you add to your hair and blend seamlessly. Luxy Hair also offers classic, seamless, and halo extensions as well. Remember to take care of your clip-ins by washing and conditioning them. To add longevity, spray them with a leave-in conditioner on them and store them in a silk or satin bag.
Install your extensions correctly.
Lopez stresses that maintaining your hair extensions starts with how you install them. He warns, "Always make sure that your extensions are applied by a professional who has been trained in that extension method." Poor installation can lead to damaging your natural hair and having to remove that style sooner than you wanted to.
If you aren't well-versed in extensions or don't have a go-to stylist yet, try Mayvenn Hair. The Black-owned company offers a professional, free install with the purchase of your hair.
Keep washing your hair.
"I feel like most people don't realize they can wash their hair while [the extensions are] in," says Porsche. Yes — you can and you should. Even though you are wearing extensions, you need to ensure you are taking good care of the hair and scalp that's underneath. "I wouldn't wash the hair as frequently as you would your own hair because excessive washing can cause the install to loosen and you wouldn't get a long wear out of it because of that," Porsche warns. She recommends washing and conditioning the extensions at least every other week and at a minimum once a month.
Hairstylist Marcus Francis warns us not to "over shampoo or over condition the roots of your hair" as it "will lead to a short-lived attachment to your head." This is especially important when you are wearing microlinks or keratin bonds because you do not want the beads or the bonds to loosen. With these styles, be extremely gentle with your roots when you do cleanse the hair; if you are too rough it won't last as long. Try to wear your look for as long as possible between washes, then be gentle with your roots when you do finally cleanse.
"Hair extensions require special treatment as there is no oil traveling down the hair shaft, meaning the hair becomes dry," Kimble notes. "Always use products that are hydrating and gentle on the hair." Pay attention to what is in the shampoo and conditioner you are using. "Choose products that are sulfate-free, have mild detergents, and provide lots of moisture and hydration."
With hair extensions, you want to ensure you are taking care of your scalp. We often forget that scalp is skin, the largest organ on your body. The types of products you use are equally as important as the application. Girl + Hair has a system that includes a water-to-foam sulfate-free shampoo, a hydrating leave-in conditioner with tea tree and neem oil, and a hair balm that contains castor and Abyssinian oil. The products all come with an easy-to-use applicator tip, allowing you to provide your scalp nutrients with ease.
If you use dry shampoos on your natural hair, you may want to hold off a bit while having extensions. Kimble warns, "Dry shampoo can dry out extensions. Limit the use of these on extensions to keep them looking great longer."
After you wash and condition your hair, let it air-dry. This will put less stress on your natural roots. If you must use a blow-dryer, use it on the lowest setting, and if blow-drying curly extensions, use a diffuser.
Sleep on silk or satin.
"The best way to sleep with your hair extensions is by wrapping them in silk or sleeping on a silk pillowcase to prevent dryness," Kimble says. You can easily learn how to prepare your extensions before a good night's rest. "Using a small soft bristle brush, gently brush the area where the extensions are connected to your own hair (near the roots). Using a silk scarf, tie around the circumference of your head, then tie from around the back and knot it near your forehead area — it'll keep the hair going in the same direction."
If you want a wavy look the following day, Kimble suggests putting your hair in "two loose pigtail braids which will give you some texture for styling." She also gives warns against using some of the most common bedtime styles: "Do not tie up [your hair] in a topknot, low bun, or [leave it flowing freely]." You'll end up with a matted, knotted mess.
Brush your hair daily and every time you take out your extensions.
Speaking of mats and knots, Francis instructs that you must "brush all tangles out after each use." Wearing your straight extensions curly? Make sure you brush out the curls before starting a new style. If you're working with straight extensions, use a paddle brush. If you are working with curly hair, use a wide-tooth comb or a detangling brush when hair is wet and conditioned. Issa Rae's hairstylist, Felicia Leatherwood, created a (Best of Beauty-winning) detangler brush with flexi-bristles that glide easily through your hair, gently removing knots.
Don't use too many products.
Sometimes more does not equate better and if you are a product hoarder — this one's for you. "Product is good… if you know how to use them," Porsche shares with a slight warning. If your extensions are straight or silky and non-synthetic, she says it's best "not using much product throughout the style because it's already straight and straight hair usually stays pretty good." She adds, "I would recommend using only a heat protectant, dry shampoo, or shine spray." And remember — dry shampoos should be used sparingly. Use a defrizzer like the John Frieda Frizz-Ease Extra Strength Six Effects + Serum paired with the paddle brush of your choice to keep your hair sleek.
If you have wavy extensions, Porsche suggests using "a wave spray, or, depending on the texture, a curling mousse." Try Mielle Organics Brazilian Curly Cocktail Mousse. It has babassu oil to impart moisture and condition your hair. With a light application and minimal manipulation, you'll be on the way to carefree, mermaid-esque waves.
Going for a big curly vibe with extensions? "If you are wearing anywhere from curly to kinky-curly [hair], depending on your preference of getting curl definition, I would use a curl mousse or even a curl-defining gel," Porsche says, adding that the product you use is more about the curl definition you desire. "A mousse will give your curls less of a crunch compared to gels and when you comb through the extensions once they're dry, the curls have more luster. Gel gives your hair more definition with a good hold for a longer period of time." If the extensions have a looser curl, use mousse so as not to weigh the hair down. We like the Best of Beauty-winning Authentic Beauty Concept Amplify Mousse or the Rucker Roots Texture Styling Mousse. Gel will give tighter curls more definition and make it easier to manipulate the hair. Curls' So So Def Vitamin C Curl Defining Jelly works beautifully as a definer, isn't crunchy, and smells amazing to boot.
You may want to skip a creamy-textured definer for your extensions — save that for your natural hair and twist-outs. Porsche shares that her experience with curl creams "wasn't the best when it came to Virgin extensions because [the cream can't penetrate the hair shaft like it can your natural hair.] It just makes the hair feel off and the curls seem confused, whereas mousses and gels coat the hair shaft and sync the strands for an easily-defined curl pattern."
If you feel the need for both, the Afro Sheen Curl Defining Cream Gel might be a good choice for you. It's heavier than a gel but lighter than a cream and holds a strong curl pattern without flaking. She assures, "these products can be used on most types of installs or extension types." However, she warns, "if you are wearing tape-in or any type of adhesive, such as bonding glue or wig glue, I would avoid using products that may contain alcohol as alcohol can cause the adhesive to loosen or not stick." Kimble echoes this: "Try to avoid products with alcohol, as this will dry out the extensions."
Now that you know how to take care of your extensions, go forth and add those inches, honey.
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