Extensions are the easiest and quickest way to add major length to your hair, but that’s not all they do. They can also bulk up fine, flat hair and add colorful dimension, all while looking incredibly discreet. Seriously: The latest hair extensions are more natural looking than ever before.
But like many things in the world of beauty, extensions can be as intimidating as they are enticing. From clip-ins and keratin bonds to microlinks and tape-ins, one of the hardest parts about trying out hair extensions is figuring out which kind is right for you.
Ahead, we ask three celebrity hairstylists who work with the likes of Rihanna, the Kardashians, and Quinta Brunson for their expert breakdown on everything you need to know about the different types of hair extensions out there.
What Are Clip-Ins?
- Easy to apply
- Easy to remove
- Short-term style
- Can slip out if applied incorrectly
- Daily maintenance and adjustments required
Installation time: 5–10 minutes
Average cost: $100–$300
Clip-in extensions are wefts of hair attached to small one-inch combs that can be clipped into your natural hair in sections. The wefts vary in width so they’re easy to place and blend all along your head.
Beloved largely for their ease, practicality, and affordability, clip-ins are the go-to hair extensions for those looking for a quick switch-up at home. But celebs and their stylists love them too.
Celebrity hairstylist Kendall Dorsey used clip-ins by the Wig Dealer to create Rihanna’s latest Aaliyah-inspired lewk. Dorsey praises the endless options afforded by clip-ins, noting how well they work for Bad Girl RiRi’s hectic schedule.
“If she wants a center part for breakfast, [then] has a business meeting, and then she’s going out for the nighttime, and we want to move to a side part, then we can just go ahead and remove the clips, and boom,” Dorsey says.
For best results, he recommends selecting extension textures that mimic your hair in its natural state and “build the style around that.”
What Are Sew-In Extensions?
- Great protective style
- Requires hair to be left out
- Limited access to your natural hair once installed
- Inflexible styling options
Installation time: 2–4 hours, depending on hair length and density
For sew-in extensions, your natural hair is braided down to the scalp in cornrows. But a portion of hair is left out to cover the tracks at the top, commonly referred to as leave out. Tracks of hair are then hand-sewn onto the braids, leaving most of the natural hair completely concealed. Sometimes a small amount of hair is also left out around the perimeter for a more seamless install.
Since the majority of your hair is protected in the braids, sew-ins have become a go-to protective style for those looking to give their curls a break. But celebrity hairstylist Alexander Armand, who has worked with Hollywood darlings such as Quinta Brunson and Keke Palmer, warns that excessive tension from the braids or tracks can ultimately do more harm than good, damaging hair in the process or leading to a kind of hair loss called traction alopecia.
It’s key to make sure you go to an expert for installation. “Clients want to make sure that they get the longest wear out of their sew-in understandably, but you also want to make sure that you’re not uncomfortable,” he says. “If it’s too tight or anything gives discomfort, that’s a dead sign that there’s something not right.”
What Are Microlinks, or Beaded Extensions?
- Ponytail and bun friendly
- Can cause tension on the natural hair
Installation time: 4–6 hours, depending on hair density
Average cost: Up to $1,000 with installation
Microlinks are a cluster of individual strands connected to tiny sections of the natural hair by a bead. The bead is then clamped shut to secure the extension. Each bundle contains 200 to 300 individual strands, and most installs require two or three bundles depending on the density of the hair and desired look.
While anyone can get the service, Armand advises those with tighter coils to exercise particular caution when considering microlinks due to the intensive maintenance required to achieve a seamless blend. “Those with a lot of texture, when they shampoo and condition the hair, obviously it reverts back to the natural state. When it grows out a little bit, it’s also hard to really get that root area when styling,” he says.
What Are Tape-In Extensions?
- Easy installation (compared to other semi-permanent extension styles)
- Long-lasting (4–6 months)
- Lightweight and comfortable
- High-maintenance blending
Installation time: 45 minutes–2 hours, depending on hair density
Average cost: Up to $2,000 with installation
As the name suggests, tape-ins are small sections of pre-taped hair extensions, about an inch wide, that are secured throughout the hair. Unlike clip-ins, tape-ins can be left in for four to six weeks, depending on your hair texture. Since no braids are required, tape-ins can offer a flatter and sleeker finished look. “You can put a tape-in like a centimeter from the part and touch the scalp with the extension,” Armand says.
The end result can look really natural when done right, though putting your hair up can require some thoughtful blending depending on the quality of installation.
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Keratin bond extensions are also a great option for those looking to experiment with color without the high-commitment risk that comes with dying and bleaching. “It’s a great option, because you can add a highlighted effect or low light to your hair color without having to actually do a chemical service,” Marjan says.
They are also great for those seeking a your-hair-but-better look, as they can add volume while remaining undetectable. “It’s a great option if you just feel like your hair is flat or lifeless, or you want to have that extra body and movement,” Marjan says, adding that keratin extensions can be customized to fit the individual needs of the hair. This means the extensions can work with a wide variety of hair textures.
“With Great Lengths, they can customize the hair texture to match yours. So they can actually like perm, or do a chemical service to match the hair texture of whoever’s wearing them,” Marjan says.
From Harper’s Bazaar US