Hair Extensions 101

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Hair Extensions 101
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How many times have you seen celebs go from a cute bob to long, luscious locks practically overnight and wished you could do it, too? Well, with hair extensions — pieces added to your natural hair to enhance length, volume, density or even color — you can transform your look with the snap of a finger, says Brandon Wagner, stylist at Tribeca Salon in Tampa, Florida. Don't know where to begin? Follow this handy guide on all things hair extensions to learn everything you need to know about choosing the right extensions and maintaining them to create a celeb-worthy look.

Wading Through Your Options
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Wading Through Your Options

For many ladies — whose natural hair simply isn’t capable of being as thick or long as they wish — extensions are the only way they can realistically achieve the locks they’ve always dreamed of, like the ones seen here on singer Jessica Simpson. But as Wagner says, extensions can be used for more than just getting down-to-there hair, and they come in multiple styles and materials. “They can be temporary — just worn for an evening, such as clip-ins — or more permanent, using either adhesives, sewing, braiding or other attachment systems,” he explains. He adds that, for the highest-quality extensions, it’s best to go with extensions made from human hair, “but other materials, such as synthetic hair, horse mane or yak hair may be substituted.”

Applying Hair Extensions
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Applying Hair Extensions

Just as not every type of extension material is the same, there are also different ways to apply them. For clip-ins, the process is easy: Simply clip them under your hair, so that hair higher on your crown camouflages the clips. For permanent extensions — like the ones reality-TV star Kim Kardashian rocks here — the most common application methods include bonding (using bonding glue to attach a hair piece to the root of the hair), weaving (sewing the extensions in close to the scalp) and strand-by-strand fusion (using heated adhesive sticks to glue hair directly to your own hair).

Choosing the Right Type
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Choosing the Right Type

Just because you want long locks like reality-TV star Lauren Conrad's doesn’t mean hair extensions are right for you. Wagner says women should first consider why they need them, which can help them make the decision between clip-in or permanent extensions. “If you simply want to look more glamorous or achieve a hairstyle that your current length can’t provide, just get a ‘fall’ or clip-in extension,” Wagner suggests, adding that clip-ins are simpler to apply and remove. “If you simply have poor-quality hair and want length you cannot achieve on your own, then a more permanent system, such as adhesive or micro-rings are the best choice."

Looking at the Pros and Cons
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Looking at the Pros and Cons

It’s essential to consider the pros and cons of hair extensions. “Permanent extensions are very high-maintenance, from the type of shampoo and conditioner you use to your daily care and handling, and styling can be difficult, too,” Wagner warns. Plus, they can be a huge expense for the everyday woman. “Can you afford up to $1,000 every three months to maintain this look?” he points out. To make sure extensions are right for you, Wagner says first-timers should always go for clip-ins first. Unless you wear your hair down and styled every day, like singer Carrie Underwood does, Wagner says there's no need for permanent extensions. “If you wear your hair in a ponytail every day at work, why would you put that stress on your hair?”

Caring for Permanent Extensions
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Caring for Permanent Extensions

Not only can poorly maintained extensions waste a lot of money, they can also damage your natural hair. Wagner says permanent extensions, especially adhesive-based systems, require special shampoos, conditioners and brushes, adding that women should always ask their stylists for the maintenance advice necessary to keeping extensions healthy and beautiful, like singer Katy Perry's. “If you do not follow the instructions given to you by your stylist, the hair can dread, or worse, rip out your own hair,” he warns.

Maintaining Clip-Ins
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Maintaining Clip-Ins

Though clip-in extensions often cost less and are lower-maintenance than permanent extensions, they still need the proper care to look great, like actress AnnaLynne McCord's. To avoid tangles, keep clip-ins in a separate container, bag or box instead of throwing them in your beauty drawer. If tangles occur anyway, opt for a wide-tooth comb to lightly brush through knots, starting at the bottom and working your way up. For human-hair extensions, wash once a week with gentle shampoo and conditioner and lightly squeeze out moisture with a towel, and then air dry.

Extending the Life of Your Extensions
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Extending the Life of Your Extensions

Since extensions, like those seen here on singer Rihanna, can be a major investment of both time and money, many women want to get the most wear out of them as possible. When properly cared for, Wagner says permanent extensions should last for three months at a time without salon maintenance. However, some extensions — like microrings, which thread hair through small, metal cylinders that clamp to your natural hair — can even last for up to six months with only one touch-up in the salon.

Keeping Extensions Healthy
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Keeping Extensions Healthy

Maintaining beautiful and healthy extensions — like the ones singer Jennifer Hudson is showing off here — also requires proper brushing and styling. Wagner suggests using a loop brush, which is designed to remove tangles without pulling out hair, and says to hold hair at the base to avoid loosening the attachment. Make sure to brush hair before bed and tie it in a ponytail on top of your head, he says. “Sleep on a satin pillowcase so the hair slides and prevents knots,” Wagner adds. He also warns that silicone-based shine products should be avoided, as they can ruin adhesive and shorten the life of extensions.

Limiting High Heat
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Limiting High Heat

Because hair extensions — especially those that are permanent — are sensitive to high-heat tools, it's important to limit the amount and intensity of heat you expose them to. To dry, “Blowdry hair roots-to-ends with your hands, drying it to around 90 percent dry,” Wagner advises. “Then, use a paddle brush or large round brush to finish the ends.” Also, use a heat-protectant spray prior to drying, curling or straightening hair to avoid breakage and achieve healthy-looking hair, like singer and actress Christina Milian's.

Styling Your Extensions
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Styling Your Extensions

You’ve probably seen celebrity after celebrity glide down the red carpet with hair extensions, but extensions don’t have to be reserved just for special occasions. Instead, you can easily incorporate them into everyday looks. Permanent extensions can be styled along with the rest of your hair, but it's easiest to curl clip-ins before applying them. For a low-key but chic pony — like the one reality-TV star Paris Hilton rocks here — try clustering and tying clip-ins together. “Then place that cluster inside your own ponytail and tie a second band around the whole pony,” Wagner says. For a more elegant look, brush your natural hair into a low, asymmetrical bun. Then, braid extensions together and wrap it around your bun to create a knotted chignon, securing with bobby pins, Wagner suggests.

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