Caring For The European Hair Extensions Of Your (OK, My) Dreams

When you get super-expensive hair extensions (made with real hair!), your styling routine is inevitably going to change. Here's what I've figured out with mine.
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Kara
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When you get super-expensive hair extensions (made with real hair!), your styling routine is inevitably going to change. Here's what I've figured out with mine.

My hair is my "thing." At its most glorious, it waves like Robert Plant’s giant mane of golden curls. It’s the best accessory when I go out dancing, flinging it around like a girl in a hair metal video.

But after I went from a misguided chocolate brown (blame a guy) to the whitest platinum, it just wasn’t the same. The texture changed from rigorous bleaching. It refused to grow any further than my shoulders. It was pissed off at me and it made me sad.

When a salon-owner friend (Charlie Brackney of Haus salon in Minneapolis) put out the call for hair extension models, I was balls-to-the-wall ready. I’d often find myself at Sally Beauty Supply considering clip-ins, but if I could get real human hair clamped into my head--the kind celebrities use--then duhhh.

Thanks to Euro Locs, six packs of European hair now take up residence in my scalp. They’re microbead extensions, which means that hair is threaded through a tiny, soft copper tube and attached to a strand of my own hair before being secured with a small metal tool. Then, it’s clamped once again and folded in half so the hair doesn’t slip out.

It doesn’t damage my actual hair because it surrounds it; many other extension brands are melted in or use adhesive, which can pull hair out upon removal.

Of course, like everything wonderful in the world besides Wet ‘n Wild lipsticks, these extensions aren’t cheap. Had I not been a test subject, hair and labor would have cost me about $1400. However, the price is not unfounded; with care and attention they last up to four months, which is longer than many other types.

Application took about four hours, and I left walking on air (well, snow, because it’s Minnesota) with the twirling, Britney-circa-2001 curls of my dreams.

Walking on sand, too!

Walking on sand, too!

Do you know how glorious it feels to have hair that covers your boobs? I spent the first night with my new hair drinking wine topless on my couch.

I was so giddy about my sexy hair that I completely forgot I’m kind of clueless about hairstyling, especially with extensions that are bone straight compared to my natural waves.

Upon first wash, the extensions hung like drippy, wet noodles while my curls puffed out on top.

Uh-oh, I thought. I am in way over my head.

I have thick hair and zero patience, so blow-drying it myself is impossible. Every comprehensive online guide I could find was for synthetic hair. I was lost.

But now that the hair has lived with me for about a month, I’ve gotten it (mostly) figured out.

GET A COUPLE GOOD BRUSHES

Invest in a good brush or two and brush that shizz every day. Normally, I brush my hair only when it’s wet, yanking through with a paddle brush. However, you need to brush extensions daily because they have a tendency to tangle up and dread.

I like the Wet Brush (an opinion shared by Alison over at xoJane) because the bristles are pliable and widely spaced, so I don’t worry about snagging the beads. I also keep a cheap boar-bristle brush in my bag to smooth them out during the day. Other friends with extensions like the Tangle Teezer, which I’m dying to try because it’s effing adorable.

CHANGE YOUR WASHING HABITS

Baby your hair. I’m still only washing my hair every 10 days or so, but now I have to focus on how I wash.

I section off my hair before it gets insanely heavy when wet, gently working shampoo into my roots and sliding my fingers between the beads. “Gentle” is the key word here.

When it comes time to condition, I slather the ends but have to be careful not to coat the beads for too long; they get slippery and can slide out. (I’ve only lost two, and I keep them in a baggie for my stylist to reattach.)

Because extension hair has often been processed before it reaches your head, it needs extra love. I’m a big fan of the It’s a 10 haircare line, and I use the Miracle Hair Mask every time I wash.

TIE IT BACK WHEN YOU SLEEP

Because I am a genius, it only took me two weeks to figure out that braiding my hair into pigtails when wet would create perfect mermaid waves and help the extensions blend with my natural texture.

Otherwise, a low ponytail tied with a scrunchie is a must. Who cares if they’re ugly? You’re sleeping.

Keeping your extensions tied up at night is of utmost importance; if you toss and turn like I do, say hello to a family of dreads when you awaken. Some people even like to use a satin pillowcase.

GET A FEW QUALITY STYLING TOOLS

My extensions are such high-quality silky hair that they didn’t hold a curl at first, unlike my coarse hair, which clings to curls for days. Fine-haired ladies, the struggle is real. I know that now.

You don’t need to drop $400 on curling irons and flat irons; Hot Tools makes the best curling irons in the world, and they’re $40. They get mad hot and pretty much every awesome stylist I know uses them. Mine’s the classic 1 ½”.

The easiest styling tool ever, though, is a set of hot rollers. I’ve had my set of Conair Ion Shine since 2004. Let them get really hot, section off your hair and roll them up. Do your nails or watch “Maury” or something to let them completely cool, and blast the hell out of them with some hairspray once you’re done. Insta-Victoria’s Secret hair.

(I recommend hot rollers for everyone, not just chicks with extensions who are too lazy to blow out their top layers.)

FIND YOUR BEST STYLES

My biggest piece of advice styling-wise is to find three looks you can do easily. Mine are hot-roller curls, a Bardot-esque half-updo and a classic swingy pony. Extensions look mad sexy and bouncy in a ponytail.

Making them talk to each other like puppets.

Making them talk to each other like puppets.

And you really only need three products to make them all work.

  1. A killer hairspray. I use Number 4 Mighty Hair Spray because it smells like perfume, not toxins or fruit.
  2. A hair serum/oil. Extensions love getting lubed up. And with all the styling you may be doing, your natural hair needs attention. Carol’s Daughter Monoi Oil Sacred Strengthening Serum smells like an island of coconutty gardenias. (The entire Carol’s Daughter Monoi line is worship-worthy, because it actually strengthens your hair with continued use. Plus it smells so damn good you want to have sex with your own wet hair.)
  3. Dry shampoo. Extensions can help you go for longer stretches without washing. My personal record is two weeks. Don’t spend $20 on dry shampoo when you can get Psssssst for $5.99. That magical can kills cigarette stink, mops up oil and adds texture all in one spray. I think there are unicorn bits in it.

Do you have extensions? How did you routine change?