Lauren Conrad, Kim Kardashian, and Cher Lloyd—these three celebrities, among many others, are rarely spotted in the public eye without their signature hair extensions. As America’s favorite celebrities take to Instagram to showcase their new lift and length, more and more clients are relying on hair stylists to create a similar look for their tresses by applying extensions.
Applying hair extensions falls well within the scope of your cosmetologist license, but to give your clients those gorgeous Kardashian locks they’re dreaming of, you may choose to attend advanced training courses through your local cosmetology school or through a hair salon offering short courses from a stylist skilled in the art.
Helping Clients Choose the Right Hair Extensions
An important part of your role as expert stylist will involve helping your clients choose what type of hair extensions are right for the look they want to achieve (and selecting a type that is not too demanding on their wallet!) Regardless of the manner of application, there are two types of hair extension materials in play: human hair, often just called India hair for the country that produces most of the world’s natural hair extensions, and synthetic.
There are also different grades of synthetic and human hair, with higher quality grades made to last longer and withstand heat styling, shampooing, and other day-to-day activities.
Synthetic hair is more cost-effective, but it’s not made to last. If your client is interested in adding hair extensions to add length and volume for an event, such as a prom, wedding, or other special day, synthetic hair extensions might be what they’re looking for. While human hair extensions are designed to last one-two years with proper care, synthetic clip-in extensions may only last up to six months.
Human hair extensions, though more expensive, will be much easier to manipulate, lending itself well to easy curling, straightening and styling. If your client is interested in adding long-lasting extensions that they can reapply over and over, human hair is a better option.
Sometimes called hot fusions or glue-in extensions, fusion extensions are attached with a keratin wax that is applied at the roots of your natural hair.
If you’re doing a full application for your client, you’ll apply anywhere from 100-180 strands of hair to the head. Each fusion strand comes with a solid keratin wax tip.
Although fusion extensions are the most expensive type, they’re made to last and easily reapply, so they’re ideal for those who want to get a full, textured look on a day-to-day basis. It’s important to remind your clients to consider their lifestyle when choosing extensions. Is your client throwing their hair up in a ponytail for yoga? Sweating it out at the gym? Using heat styling on their hair every morning? Fusion extensions will be able to take the wear-and-tear of an active lifestyle better than more temporary types of extensions.
To apply fusion extensions, you’ll need to:
- Clarify Your Client’s Natural Hair
To apply the extensions, you’ll need to clarify your client’s hair first. Drugstore shampoo, hair dyes, and chemicals in products such as hairspray and mousse build up on the hair shaft over time, and you’ll want to strip the hair down to the natural shaft in order for the extensions to adhere directly to the strand.
You’ll use a clarifying shampoo to strip all the chemicals out of the hair.
- Fuse the Extensions to Your Client’s Natural Hair
To apply the keratin wax, you’ll need to shield your client’s scalp to avoid burning, since the wax must be heated to high temperatures in order for it to liquefy. You’ll use circular cardboard pieces with a small hole cut in the middle to pull a strand of hair through. Next, you’ll use a flat iron to fuse the extension to the hair via the keratin wax. The cardboard strip will shield the scalp from the heat of the flat iron.
You’ll repeat this process with strands of hair until you’ve applied enough extensions through the side of back of the head to give a full, well-rounded appearance.
- Blend and Style the Extensions
The extensions will be fused under the top layer of your client’s hair to make them blend seamlessly with the rest of the hair. You’ll need to run your fingers through the extensions while the hair is still warm, helping them to blend together and look natural. Next, you’ll brush out the entire head of hair once the wax has cooled.
Fusion extensions are meant to last from three to six months. As your client’s hair grows, the keratin bond of the extensions will be loosened from the scalp, and you’ll need to re-apply the extensions by removing the former keratin and reapplying new keratin to the roots of the hair. You’ll use an alcohol-based solution that breaks down the adhesive in the wax to remove the old bonds.
Although fusion extensions are designed to be long-lasting, you’ll need to caution your clients not to brush the roots of their hair too vigorously. Brushes with textured ends can tug at the keratin and damage the bond.
Tape-in extensions, as you may have guessed, are adhered to your natural hair with a specially designed double-sided tape. The natural hair actually lies in between the double-sided tape, which is applied around the strand. This method allows the extensions to last for about two months before you or your client will need to reapply them.
Tape-in extensions are difficult for clients to remove on their own, so you may end up doing this part of the process for them. Like wax extensions, you’ll use alcohol-based remover to loosen the adhesive in the tape. Then, you’ll use the same extensions (as long as they’re still in good condition), and use new strips of double-sided tape to apply them near the scalp.
To upkeep the tape-in-extensions, you’ll need to be sure to caution clients to sleep with their hair in a ponytail or a braid. Tape-in extensions are more at risk than other types for the extension hair to become matted and difficult to brush out, which can happen if it gets tugged at while you’re sleeping.
Clip-in extensions are ideal for clients who don’t want to wear their extensions every day. For fans of versatility, or ladies who just want to add some length (Kylie Jenner style) for special events, you might recommend clip-ins.
To attach clip-in extensions, you’ll need to section off the top layer of your client’s hair. Then, you’ll need to take the remaining lower level of natural hair and section it off with small rubber bands. You’ll open the clips on the hair extensions and clip them to the rubber banded sections of natural hair. Don’t remove the rubber bands—those will need to stay to keep the clips in place.
You’ll work your way up from the base of the neck until you reach the top layer of hair, which you’ll leave natural to cover the extension clips.
Your client will usually be able to remove the extensions on thier own, as they simply un-clip from the sections of natural hair. However, if she’s on-the-go and needs the convenience of a salon visit, she might pop in to see you. You’ll just need to un-clip the sections and take out the rubber bands, then brush each section of hair to avoid tangles.
You’ll need to caution your clients that sleeping in clip-in extensions is a party foul. If your client tosses and turns in their sleep, it’ll cause the clips to tug on the natural hair, which can leave the natural hair thin and damaged when she removes the extensions. Think Miley Cyrus’s 2012 style—you might be better off trimming your hair while it’s in a ponytail than sleeping in clip-in extensions.
The Care and Keeping of Extensions
Part of your job as a stylist is helping your clients keep their tresses healthy, bouncy, and vivacious.
To keep those extensions looking Victoria’s Secret worthy, you might recommend:
- Brushing extensions twice a day to avoid the extensions tangling and knotting with their natural hair
- Washing extensions if they get oily, greasy, or dirty—clients can wash the extensions with shampoo and conditioner the same way they would wash their natural hair.
Once you’ve learned to properly apply extensions, you’ll be sure to see an increase in clients wanting to get the latest look.