Celia Shatzman , CONTRIBUTOR I cover fashion, beauty and grooming.Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
The red carpet has a secret: Hair extensions. How do you think celebs go from a lob to mermaid hair overnight? And stars like Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian and Mindy Kaling are all about full disclosure when it comes to their long locks. While extensions used to have a bad reputation (can anyone forget the Britney Spears incident?), they’ve come a long way when it comes to quality and technology. They’re not just for adding length or fullness—wear them to experiment with different styles, like clip-in bangs or strands of blue. But before you take the plunge, Monica Thornton, Co-Founder of RPZL in New York City, the world’s first hair-extension and blowout bar, shares five rules you need to know about hair extensions.
Chrissy Teigen (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
1. Consider your lifestyle. “We have three different types of hair extensions,” says Thornton. “The entry level—the gateway drug—is our clip-ins.” Those are most popular with beginners since they’re so user-friendly. Essentially barrettes with hair attached, they can be clipped in or out whenever you’d like. The second option is tape extensions; those are held in place with strong, invisible bi-adhesive premium tape that’s undetectable to the touch; they last for up to eight weeks. The third choice is keratin. They’re attached with a high-tech process that binds them with sound activation and keratin attachments; they last for three months or more. “If you do a lot of hot yoga, the tape is not a good option—the keratin is a better,” explains Thornton. “If you want to change your color often, opt for the tape because the keratin is in there a long time. We really have our stylists assess clients’ lifestyles; if they wear glasses they know where to put the extensions. There’s lot of little things and that’s what makes it a special experience when they come in.”
2. Get the right color match. Being off even by a shade is a dead giveaway that you’re wearing faux hair. The most accurate way is to color match with the ends of your locks, not the roots, and go with the color that’s the most prominent in your natural hair. “What makes RPZL’s hair different than many of the other brands is that most women don’t have one shade of hair,” Thornton says. “They tend to be mixed, so our colors are blended for the most part. That’s what really allows us to be able to color match someone on the spot.” You can upload a selfie onto RPZL’s site and one of their stylists will color match your hair and mail the extensions.
Kim Kardashian (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
3. Splurge on quality. Synthetic extensions are the most affordable, but they tangle easily and have a super high shine, which makes them look obviously unnatural. And non-virgin hair means it’s been processed—either dyed or treated to change its texture—so it’s also not ideal, since it’s more damaged. Remy extensions are the highest quality. They’re the closest to your real hair, so they’ll hold styles and texture the same way and won’t shed as much as the cheaper options. “Our hair is a proprietary line, so we’ve developed it ourselves,” Thornton says. “It’s 100% Remy hair, which is really important because our goal is for you not to look like you’re wearing fake hair. Someone should not be able to tell that you’re wearing extensions.” Thornton says a key to having natural-looking extensions is making sure the hair cuticles are all facing the same way to prevent tangles and matting. For clip-ins, look for a silicone cushion on the clips to prevent tangles and breakage.
4. Do maintenance work. Just like your natural hair, extensions need regular washing. “Wash clip-ins every six to eight times that you wear them, depending on how much product you’re using,” Thornton says. “Give them a little bath in your sink and dry them on a towel.” Before washing clip-ins, remove them and comb out any tangles. Use a shampoo and conditioner free of sulfates and parabens, and blot them with a towel to remove excess water, then let them air dry. Use a gentle shampoo for tape-on and keratin extensions too, focusing on the roots, and condition only from the mid-length of the hair down. Protect your extensions by waiting until they’re mostly dry to use heat styling tools, and avoid using those directly on the tape and keratin bonds. And don’t go to bed with wet hair—make sure your hair is totally dry before you hit the pillow.
5. Know when to let go. “When people say extensions damage your hair, that’s because they weren’t professionally removed,” Thornton says. “You have to maintain within the time frames. You can’t take extensions that were meant for six weeks and wear them for three months.” Another way to avoid damage is making sure they’re not too heavy. “You have to be careful about that because if it weighs down your hair too much, eventually your hair is going shed. Nothing will stop that, and eventually it will be too much for your hair and it will break.” Extensions should never fall out, and they shouldn’t cause pain either. You shouldn’t be able to feel them at all, but if you do, return to the salon to make sure they’re in properly. If clip-ins are bothering you, unclip that section and move it over a bit to grab more of your own hair. Clip-ins should be taken out every night to avoid breakage and protect the extensions.
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