After years of DIY yarn dreads, LED augmented wigs, 26 different hair colours and every kind of batty hair extensions you can imagine, it occurred to me the only thing I haven’t tried is something that approximates normalcy.
What can I tell ya: I’m just not wired for vanilla.
So I decided to start last year looking like the Little Mermaid.
That seems reasonable, right?
I ended up getting wefts attached with micro rings; they were flawless after four months of wear and I had a really great experience with the Toronto pros who helped out.
If you’re contemplating getting your first hair extensions, take a look at this guide to the common materials used in the process.
For Toronto folk, I’ve also included some awesome local resources (read shameless plugs).
Sure, you could do it yourself. Materials are easy to source on eBay; however, quality of product and assembly are critical for durability.
It was my first attempt at wearing this type of extensions, so I wanted to have a professional benchmark to measure future endeavours.
Searching for hair extension salons in a city of 3 million people yields an insane number of results. I went bleary-eyed reading reviews.
After exhaustive research, I also came to the conclusion that wispy, thousand-times-bleached hair like mine can’t withstand many of the hair extension attachment procedures.
This was starting to look like a perilous adventure.
There are quite a few ways to permanently attach extensions; fusion, tracking or micro rings are among the more common methods.
Don’t let the word permanent confuse you: in time even your natural mop and even that will desert you. I use the term to distinguish these types of extensions from clip in hair pieces.
I once nailed down a 2 lb hair piece consisting of garden hose, heat shrink tubing and phone cords with four cleverly placed bobby pins. In comparison, the tedium of attaching clip in extensions every morning is just beyond anything I can muster at 6AM; that would be cutting into crucial coffee and email time and I can’t start my day groggy and uninformed.
Fusion or bonded extensions are applied by dispensing a keratin based adhesive through a glorified hot glue gun. That’s problematic right off the bat: I don’t want hot glue anywhere near my scalp. And neither do you.
Seriously. I’ve seen some messed up sh** while researching this.
If third degree burns and bald patches aren’t enough deterrent, the removal procedure involves harsh solvents which would wreck havoc on stripped and/or dyed hair.
Micro rings are by far the better means of attach individual strands of hair. They cause less damage and they can be readjusted and moved closer to the root as your hair grows out.
Instead of the loop strands demonstrated in the video, I opted for wefts.
Wefts are sewn tracks of hair.
For a first time loose hair extension experience, they had three advantages: convenience, durability and cost. Wefts are easy to maintain and they can be reused.
Wefts are typically applied by tracking – sewing them along cornrows – but this method isn’t ideal for brittle hair. Instead, I found a few places that offered the best of both worlds: weft extensions attached with micro rings.
No glueing or sewing required; adjustable and reusable.
With all that confidence of having done my homework, I embarked on this new hair adventure.
Round 1 – Beauty is pain
Remember all those warnings in my DIY woolies post about the process of installing fake dreads being a painful ordeal?
Guess what: taking them out sucks even worse!
The first step for me was thus removing six month old dread extensions with comical results.
That was day one. And day two. On the third day I finally mustered the strength to sweep the mess of discarded dreads, elastics and skin cells.
Long-term dready applications lead to a sort of dysmorphia. I suffer separation anxiety every time and deeply lament my tiny unadorned head. So, I put on my sauciest and largest hat and went to source a battery of hair rescue products from Cosmetic World.
Round 2 – TLC
In preparation for this process, it’s worth investing in some decent pro product because you will be using them to care for both your mane and the extensions.
Shoppers brand shampoos and conditioners are garbage. Don’t kid yourself. Nothing in there can hold a candle to even a modestly priced professional product. Especially after an ordeal like removing dread extensions, you need to thoroughly but gently clean your hair.
Yeah, you read that right: coconut oil.
I’ve been bleaching and dying my hair since I was 15, I should know a thing or two about aftercare.
Forget ginseng-infused-pro-keratin-tears-of-virgin-unicorn nonsense. Straight up coconut oil is the greatest thing that will ever touch your hair. I applied some after removing the dreads and went from hair with the consistency of lychen to smooth and silky tresses overnight.
Even with the extensions in, I used tiny amounts to style my hair day to day. It works miracles and smells delicious!
Round 3 – Bang on
Never cut your own bangs.
Sage advice here.
I have enough hair stylists in my network to have acquired a rudimentary knowledge of the tools and techniques they use.
More importantly I’ve learned that there are boundaries even the DIY queen shouldn’t cross. If you haven’t gone to hair school or sunk an equivalent number of hours into YouTube and experimenting on hapless subjects, don’t cut your own hair.
So with freshly incarnadine, coconut scented hair, I shlepped over to my friend Nicole’s home base for my first haircut in I-don’t-actually-know-how-many years.
This lady knows hair. I explained that I wanted a choppy asymmetric fringe and some layers to transition into the extensions.
She got it bang on.
This isn’t just a shameless plug; my point is either before or after installing your extensions, whatever method you use, you’ll probably want a pro haircut.
Depending on the length of extensions you attach, you may also want a cut to blend in after installation. An experienced stylist should know how to work with you to prepare your hair for the process.
Round 4 – Dolling up
Not all hair is made alike.
I completed my doctoral thesis on hair types by day five of trying to find a source online. Lots of places will sell natural braids for anywhere from 50 to 200 bucks depending on the weight, provenance, quality, treatments etc.
The problem, as always with ordering things online, is that you really don’t know what you’re getting. Assuming positive intent – that is you’re getting real hair not some horse-hair-poly-acrylic-bullsh** blend – there is still so much variance in natural texture that you can only select the right product from hands-on experience.
Cosmetic World had a sad little weft in the back that looked über processed and very sparse. My other hangout, Cloré Beauty Supply had some beautiful pieces, but they were far too healthy and shinny-looking to blend into my hair, suspiciously cheap for supposedly human hair and predominantly dark colours I’d have to bleach before dying it red.
After feeling every strand of hair I could get my paws on, I was ready to shave my head; this was turning out to be more of a hassle than my dreads!
Luckily somebody recommended Doll Bar: located in Liberty Village near Queen and Dufferin, they are fully equipped to deal with any kind of hair and application method, and more than happy to indulge my fussiness.
The Doll Bar staff can do everything from removing old extensions (I bet they would’ve been thrilled by my 70 matted dread braids), to colour/cut services and post-application shaping. They also sell excellent hair pieces whether or not you have them perform the application.
After going through a few packs to get the right weight and consistency of hair, I bought the perfect 24″ pale blonde extensions.
Installations at Doll Bar are by appointment only, Monday through Saturday, but you can drop in any time for a consultation or to check out their products.
Round 5 – Dye another day
I brought home my newly acquired wefts and set to dying them.
I used the same Directions dye I put on my real hair. After a quick strand test, the dye took beautifully.
Dying a strand however is not the same as dying four feet of weft. It was a messy job!
My bathroom already bears the pigment scars of a thousand hair jobs, but to save myself some hours of vinegar scrubbing, I covered the whole floor in garbage bags, spread out the hair and started paintstakingly brushing on dye.
For all my precaution methods, I still wound up with pink cats.
Matted with dye, I carefully wrapped up the extensions in some plastic then rinsed them in icy water the next morning. The colour was perfect; good hair makes all the difference.
The final step was showing up with extensions in hand for my appointment at the Doll Bar. It took about half an hour for them to mount the links onto the weft. From there on it was seamless, and an hour later I strolled out flipping my mermaid hair.
In the end the hair cost me about 200 bucks, and the installation was another $150. Doll Bar offers free touchups for a month in case any of the rings slip out.
Factor in the dye, all the care products and Nicole’s haircut this was a 500 dollar ordeal.
It ain’t cheap, but it was so worth it.
Here’s the hair mid April, four months after the initial application.
I gave up dying it because I loved those shades of dusty rose. After the first month, some of the rings shifted as my hair grew out. If you keep on top of it, it’s very easy to readjust them as they get displaced from your scalp.
The extensions faded in tandem with my own hair and they took very well to flat ironing, curling, crimping and the load of theatrical crap I put it through week over week.
As far as after-care goes, here’s the obvious: try not to yank on your hair too much, extensions or not.
I found that loop silicone brushes were the best for daily maintenance. Get a good carry-on size brush because you’ll probably want to detangle throughout the day.
Combs are evil incarnate, especially for wefts. Their teeth can catch the rings in your hair and tear them out, particularly once your hair starts growing out.
There were more painful learns in having suddenly sprouted 24 inches of hair:
After the first Spright-ing, I learned to keep my hair braided when riding on a motorcycle – those were some epic tangles!
I also slept with my hair in a braid to keep it from getting tangled. This also gave it a really beautiful texture I could wear with minimal styling. I have a set of silk pillowcases and I strongly recommend investing in some if you have any kinds of extensions. Less friction means less damage.
Your wefts will shed – alarmingly so at first since some of the hairs may not be sewn as tightly as the bulk. That’s why I recommended finding a good hair supplier. If you start with thin wefts by the four month point you’ll have a lovely mullet. Try to minimize the wear and tear with the aforementioned tips, but don’t worry too much about little fly-aways.
Wash and style as you would your normal hair. For me, that means icy baths to preserve the colour and coconut oil for conditioning. Use good products and allow some extra time and care to avoid yanking something out.
You can also dye, bleach and strip the wefts as you would natural hair – the only complication is touching up roots beneath the wefts as your hair grows out.
How long should you keep the extensions in for? Doll Bar advised they’ll last about two months. I had them in for four.
I don’t think there’s a critical limit on their lifespan. It all depends on how well cared for they are. I got bored of the hairstyle before the extensions fell out or got too ratty to wear. Use your discretion in judging their condition.
Dye & styling supplies – Cosmetic World on Yonge
Haircut & style – Nicole @ Parlour Hair
Hair wefts & installation services – Doll Bar Toronto