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The pros and cons of hair extensions

Aly Walansky is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. She lives with her two Shorkie-Tzus, Scarlette and Max, and a display of pink polka-dot-themed home decor -- not to mention a selection of flavored vodka. Check out he...

Extending your look

Celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Simpson, Miley Cyrus, Victoria Beckham and countless others regularly surprise the world with new and different hairstyles -- changing color, style and even the length of their hair -- over the course of just a couple days. How do they do it?

This magic is made possible with the help of hair extensions and a talented stylist.

Getting the look you always wanted

A lot of us have realized that our inner hottie has longer, thicker hair than we were actually graced with. (Consider it the follicle version of penis-envy.) My own muse has wavy hip-length locks... yet the universe taunts with me hair that, while cute, barely brushes my shoulders.

And that's why hair extensions are so popular -- and not just in Hollywood! Girls the world 'round just love to realize that it is possible to take your current look and give it a lift and have any style you desire... well, for a few months, anyhow.

Hair extensions: The basics

"I've always wanted super-long and sexy hair," says Jackie Saril of Squeakywheel Promotions, who realized that extensions were the only way she was going to get the length she desired. Her dream came true with extensions done by Tasso Megaris in Plainview, New York. "Why should celebrities and strippers have all the fun?" she laughs.Woman getting hair extensions at the salon

Facts about hair extensions

  • Extensions don't only to add length. You can choose to add volume instead (or in addition to length), which is perfect for fine, limp or thinning hair.
  • Turn that bob into a mane! If your existing hair is at little as 3 inches long, you can get extensions, although the extent of your transformation may be limited if your hair is very short.
  • Extensions can be braided in, glued in, woven in, or -- if you only need a follicular boost for a special event -- clipped in.
  • You can also add highlights or color -- with shades ranging from mild to wild -- to your hair with the use of extensions.
  • The process isn't painful, so it shouldn't hurt a bit.

What do hair extensions cost?

The bad news: Hair extensions aren't cheap. Depending on how much you get, how you get them attached and the type/grade of hair you use, the cost can range from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars -- and that's not including maintenance every six to eight weeks. You will also need to make an investment of time, usually four to six hours, for the initial setup.

The specialist who will apply your extensions may be called a hair designer, an extensionist, or simply a hairdresser. No matter what title he or she uses, be sure they are experienced -- and have photos to prove it. Also make sure you understand how they will be removed, and how damage to your natural hair will be minimized. (Several stars -- including Kate Beckinsale and Victoria Beckham -- have had problems with bald spots after their extensions were taken out.)


Celebrities with hair extensions
Just a few of the many stars with hair extensions: Miley Cyrus, Carrie Underwood, Lindsay Lohan

What to look for

"A hairstyle can make or break your look," says stylist Cesare Safieh.

Safieh cautions there are some important questions to ask when selecting extensions:

  • What are the extensions made from -- are they synthetic or 100%-natural human hair? (Human hair is more expensive than synthetic counterparts.)
  • How will the extensions be applied and removed?
  • Can you choose from a variety of weights?

Safieh is a fan of a method of extensions known as Thermo Plastique, which involves a relatively gentle process that can be removed without damage to your hair. (He also adds that the micro bonding points are barely visible.) He says older methods, especially glue, are damaging. "Tracks (sewing) can be too heavy, and metal clips wear out and are hard to brush through."

"[The goal with] extensions is to have the most natural look you can achieve," says Tony Promiscuo, owner of Atlanta's Godiva Salon, who notes that while synthetic types are most plentiful, human hair is superior in its viability. (In addition, synthetic hair cannot typically be heated, so styling options are limited -- meaning forget the blow dryer and curling iron.)

What else to look for in hair extensions

"Individual strands allow a customized, more natural, look," says celebrity hairstylist and salon owner Philip Pelusi of New York City's Tela salon. "You can play with the color or length, and fill in spots that need it more than others -- it's a more accurate way to get the desired look."

Up next: What to avoid in hair extensions >>

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