Extending Your Options

Expert Advice for Those Considering Hair Extensions

According to Karla Pelaez-Barrick of Salon Kavi in San Mateo, California, there are many things you should take into consideration before diving in headfirst and having hair extensions done. This seasoned hair extensions specialist suggests that you do your homework first, ask a lot of questions, take the time to search for the right specialist and keep an open mind when it comes to cost, quality and upkeep.

“Hair extensions are an investment,” says Pelaez-Barrick, “both in terms of time and expense. Your hair is your best accessory and you definitely don’t want to skimp when it comes to adding to your length, volume or dimension. With extensions, you typically get what you pay for and the reputation of the person doing the extensions is absolutely key.”

The Various Types

There are many different types of hair extension methods on the market and the decision to use one type over another really does depend on your desired end result as well as your hair type. For example, finer hair and especially with lighter colored hair, some methods like micro rings or hair locks (individual or track) may not be a good idea as the point of installation might show. Those methods are the least damaging because nothing is bonded into your actual hair and they give if there is a lot of tension, so there is less chance for damage.  It should not be used if your hair is less than medium thickness and density.

Braided and sewn in tracks can be tight around the hairline and cause discomfort for those with a sensitive scalp.  Used for adding length and volume, this installation method is also not for thin hair but is a good option for those with medium to thicker strands.

The tape method or skin wefts work well for those with fine or thinning hair since they camouflage well. This system involves a polyurethane strip attached to hair extensions with tape on the strip. Your actual hair is sandwiched between this tape strip and another to permit a pliable grip. This method allows the extension hair to grow out with your natural hair, and they lay very flat making them the most undetectable method.

Fusion methods are bonded into your hair, but Pelaez-Barrick finds them to be damaging. She explains that if there is tension in the hair, this type of installation doesn’t give. They also have to be removed with acetone or alcohol based solutions, which can also be very damaging. The up side is that they do offer the best staying power but are not an option if you have delicate hair or an oily scalp.


If you are going to invest in hair extensions, Pelaez-Barrick warns that you need to budget for maintenance. We naturally shed hairs every day, and these unattached strands get trapped within the extensions. The longer these hairs stay in the mix, the more risk of matting and compromising the integrity of your hair so regular upkeep is a must. This maintenance needs to happen otherwise you end up with a dreadlock quality at your roots, which is very difficult to salvage later. Most hair extension types need to be adjusted every 4-8 weeks depending on your hair type even if they still seem to be well attached. Finer hair or hair that easily tangles would need to be done at 4 weeks, while stronger or thicker strands can go up to 8 weeks.

Care and Feeding

There is also the daily care for your precious tresses. When cleansing, use a gentle shampoo and stay away from clarifying shampoos. Extension hair also must be properly moisturized, even more so than your natural hair. Moisturize from the mid shafts through the ends and use a detangler and or leave-in conditioner so the wide-toothed comb slides through your damp hair more easily. Also take some of the tension off of the root area when you comb or brush through your hair by holding hair in a ponytail while brushing and never tug or pull or damage could happen. Depending on installation method, while styling your hair keep silicone or oils away form the scalp or extension attachment, as well as hot tools.

At night, it’s best to braid or tie back your hair so it’s not rubbing against your pillow and causing repeated friction. Also, never go to bed with wet or damp hair. In the morning carefully brush through with a soft boar bristle paddle brush to detangle and distribute the natural oils as much as possible.

Making the Most of Your Extension Specialist

Besides the cost of the hair, much of the rate involved with hair extensions is covering the expert behind the service. Pelaez-Barrick can’t stress enough how important it is to find a reputable specialist that not only uses the best possible quality hair but also offers more than one installation method.

Pelaez-Barrick adds, “When shopping for such a pro, ask for a consultation. Express your goals and ask what they recommend would be best for your hair to meet your target result. While pricing the initial installation, inquire about the maintenance and then take your time to make an informed decision. Hair extensions are a wonderful tool for added length, volume and even color, but they are an investment on several levels. You need to make sure that you are truly ready.”