Guide to Hair Extensions

Everything you ever wanted to know about hair extensions and then some. Afrocare’s experts set down an encyclopedia of hair extensions for the public. Drawing on our experience, knowledge and answers to frequently asked questions since we established in the ’90s, this is much more than just a hair extension FAQ, this is more like a Twiki.  We are open to suggestions on improvements.

Introduction

This guide provides information about various types of hair enhancement available at present, it will be updated as advancements are made. It is a work in progress and will grow with time. It will cover everything from what they are and how they are made and used, to religious, moral and ethical views of their manufacture and use.

It is intended as a reference only and does not advocate any of the methods or products described. All external sources of information are cited in the Acknowledgements section at the end of the guide. Any feedback for the authors can be directed through the main website contact us page.

Hair Extensions

Hair extensions are any artificial hair that is added to one’s growing hair.  Hair extensions are used to increase length and/or volume, cover thinning hair and bald spots and add adornment. Hair extensions are manufactured in several different forms for different application techniques.

Types of Hair used in the manufacture of Extensions

Human Hair

Human hair extensions are made from genuine human hair that is paid for and harvested from people, usually young women, all over the world.

Human hair extensions can vary broadly in quality. On the low-medium end of the scale, hair is chemically stripped of its cuticle so that it can be machine processed without regard for direction or root-tip alignment. If the cuticle were left in but the root-tip alignment mixed up, the microscopic scales that form the cuticle would be opposed and snag on each other causing tangling.  The  negative effects of stripping the cuticle are brittleness, reduced protection from sunlight, dryness, salt, chlorine and pollution as well as a tendency to absorb liquids and swell or matt.  It is not advisable to colour or heat-style this hair.

Remi [AKA Remy] hair refers to hair that has not had its cuticle stripped and has at least been partially hand-processed to maintain root-tip alignment.  This hair is more expensive but will remain in good condition for much longer than stripped hair. It can also be heat styled and coloured.  Sadly, this industry is not regulated and many manufacturers will mark as Remi or Remy, hair that has no cuticle or is even mixed with synthetic.

The other main scale of measurement of hair quality is the ‘percentage full length’  Hanks or Wefts of hair are often made of differing lengths of hair strands.

An average quality of hair that is 18 inches [45cm] long may have 20% of the strands measuring 18 inches [45cm] a further 40% measuring from 14-16 inches [35-40cm] and the other 40% measuring 6-12 inches [15-30cm]

A few of the superior grades [e.g. Bohyme Remi] are in fact full length, meaning each strand is exactly the stated length.

Colours of human hair are usually described by a colour scale which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer but they are available in a very wide range of natural and psychedelic colours.

Outside of these, there is a third type of hair.  Virgin hair is hair that has not been chemically treated. It is harvested, sanitised and sold as bulk hair in hanks. The colour remains the same and the quality is completely dependant on the donor. Having said that, hair that is in poor condition [Split ends, chlorine/salt/UV damage etc.] rarely finds it way into this market as the buyers are quite discriminating.

Texture & Style

Human hair is generally processed and sold in two textures; Silky, also called European and Yaki sometimes spelt Yaky.  Silky (European) hair is pretty much exactly as it sounds, straight and silky.  Yaki (Yaky) hair has more volume, it feels coarser to touch than Silky (European) hair. This effect is created by imparting a very slight crimp to the hair strands during processing. Under a microscope, one can see a wave in each strand even though they appear straight to the naked eye. Yaki (Yaky) textured hair is a good match for relaxed African hair. It is also used by people who want a fuller style.  Yaki (Yaky) textured hair tends to be sold only in straight styles but Silky (European) textured hair is curled and waved into a myriad of styles of hair extensions.  These are named according to their curl/wave and include styles such as: French Wave, French Refined, Italian Wave, Body Wave, Spanish Wave, Brazilian wave, French Curl, Spring Curl, Corkscrew, Afro-Kinky, Tight Curl, Deep Wave, Deep Curl, Wet Look, Natural Wave and Body Wave.

To test human hair for quality, perform the following;

Scrunch Test: Holding the hair by the top [tied] part, place your other hand under the tips and push the tips up until your hands meet. Rub briefly and release. Run your fingers through the hair, your fingers should slide freely through the hair. The more it snags, the lower the quality.

Grip Test (AKA Length Test) Grip the hair at the top, near the weft or band securing the hair if it is bulk hair. Slide your hand down and grip it about a quarter of the way down, repeat it for halfway and three quarters and finally grip it just before the tips.  . Poor quality hair will be significantly thinner at each step of this test.  Most  good quality  hair will be the same thickness for the first three steps only thinning in the final quarter of  its length.

Great quality hair is made from hair strands that are all approximately the same length so the thickness of the hair should be the same all the way down its length.  This is rare and expensive, such hair is called ‘full length’.

Dye Test Dye a sample of the hair. If it is 100% cuticle-intact human hair it will change colour uniformly. If it develops streaks, highlights or lowlights, it has probably been mixed with low-grade human hair or even synthetic hair (usually high temperature fibre)

Synthetic Hair

There are several different synthetic fibres used in the manufacture of  hair extensions. Synthetic hair has the advantage that it can be easily mass-produced in any colour and length.

Polypropylene Fibre Generally referred to as P.P. Fibre,  is one of the earlier types of fibre used in the manufacturer of hair extensions. If the packaging says, “100% Synthetic” it is usually PP fibre.  This fibre is not fire retardant and its use in the hair extensions industry is being phased out. (Afrocare.com & 1StopHair.com do not sell any PP Fibre extensions)

Toyokalon Fibre This fibre features widely in synthetic hair extensions It is particularly used in curly or wavy styles as it tends to maintain curls and is less likely to tangle than other fibres. It is quite natural looking but is slightly too glossy to pass for real hair under close scrutiny. Toyokalon is also used in the manufacture of wigs.

Toyokalon is flame retardant.

Kanekalon Fibre Also called KK fibre, this fibre is currently the most widely used in the manufacture of  hair extensions and wigs. It can be styled and sealed using varying degrees of heat. It is less glossy than Toyokalon and in certain styles, can pass for real hair. There have been improvements to this brand of fibre over the years and the latest types such as ‘K7 Kanekalon’ are particularly realistic, looking and behaving like 100% human hair.

A popular variant of synthetic hair extensions is where fibre is applied by beginning a micro-braid near a client’s scalp and then heating it to seal the fibre to the growing hair. The most popular forms of this are ProStyles’ Pro Hair and Dome’s Monofibre. These are heat-applied, can be waved or styled and are considered by many to be a viable alternative to human hair for a natural look.

High Temperature Fibre A new development in the industry is HT fibre sometimes called, Heat Resistant Fibre. This hair can be curled using curling irons, straightened using ceramic straighteners and behaves very much like human hair. It is sold in the same forms as human hair in wefts and with bulk hair tied at the top and not folded over like most synthetic hair. Popular brands are Futura and Protein Fibre. When choosing this type of hair be careful to ensure that it is flame retardant as well as heat resistant.  There are some poor examples on the market that are flammable, obviously dangerous if one is heat-styling.

Unlike human hair, synthetic fibres are consistent, Kanekalon will always behave like Kanekalon.  When choosing synthetic hair, all one really needs to do is read the packaging to have a fair idea what quality the product is.  There are now several flame retardant fibres widely available and there is no excuse for wearing any synthetic hair extensions that are not so labelled.

Types of Hair Extensions

Wefts

A weft is a long strip usually made of net-like fabric to which hair is attached. Wefts are either ‘machine sewn’ or ‘hand-tied’. Wefts can be made from 100% human hair, synthetic hair or a blend of both. (Hand-tied wefts are generally better quality and are only ever made with natural 100% human hair as the manufacture is labour intensive and expensive.)

The quality of a weft depends on the quality of the hair, the thickness of the weft and the tendency to shed.

Wefts are normally sold in approximately 4oz [108g] pieces.  Of course this means that the longer the hair on the weft, the shorter the weft itself. For example, If a manufacturer produces a weft of 12 inch (30cm) hair and a weft of 24 inch (60cm) hair, the weft of 12 inch hair will be twice the length of the weft of 24 inch hair.

Other specialised wefts are sold in other sizes or weights, defining either the weft size, for example;” Invisible Seamless Weft, single 12 inch (30cm) weft of Remi-grade hair” or the weight, for example; “Bohyme Remi Silky Straight 115g”

Applying WeftsThe Weave-on:  The oldest method of applying wefts is to plait the hair flat against the scalp in cornrows. This may take the form of one continuous helix or spiral; commencing at the very top of the head, concentric circles running horizontally or just straight horizontal cornrows for partial weaves.

The wefts of hair are then cut to size and sewn on to the cornrows starting at the lowest cornrow and working up so that each new weft covers the seam of the ones below it.  At the apex, the final seam is covered either with a small amount of growing hair that was left free for this purpose or using a special finishing piece called a parting piece or closure.  Weft Bonding: Wefts can be bonded to cornrows using latex based glues like Salon Pro Super Bonder. This is often considered to be a more temporary alternative to sewing.  There are more powerful liquid adhesives that are used as an alternative long-lasting method. In this way. wefts can also be bonded to hair near the scalp without first cornrowing it. This is one of the faster methods of hair extension application and is often called Cold Fusion . The Market leading adhesive for Cold Fusion is the Liquid Gold brand.  Yet another development for weft bonding is the use of double-sided tape. Weft Tape is actually a form of surgical tape that is used for fixing toupees and hair-pieces. It is considered to be skin-safe. For weft application it is used as an alternative to liquid glue for fixing wefts o hair that has not been cornrowed.  It is particularly used for applying polyurethane wefts ( also known as Seamless or invisible wefts)  Some (pre-taped or pre-tape) wefts are now available with the tape already applied; ready to peel & stick.

Weave Clips: With the increasing popularity of clip-in hair extensions, many people are turning to DIY and making their own.  Weave clips or toupee clips are readily available and can be sewn onto a weft to make custom clip-on hair extensions.  The advantage of custom clip-ons is that one can use much better quality hair than is normally used for the mass-produced ones.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that many stylists prefer to buy hair on a weft even when they intend to use it loose for braiding or strand by strand extensions. Having the hair on a weft means a drawing mat is not required to manage the extension hair and one can cut just enough hair off the weft for each extension.

Bulk Hair

Bulk hair is Loose hair that is sold in bundles or hanks. These are secured by tying them off near the root end for human hair [and synthetic hair like futura, Monofibre and Prohair that imitates human hair] or fastening them in the middle and folding the hair over for most synthetic styles.

Synthetic Bulk hair (loose hair) is available in a wide range of styles and fibres.  Toyokalon is mainly  used to make soft curly hair for partial braiding. You will find it in bulk styles like; Classy Curl, Twist, Gauffre, Elephant Braid, Neat Braid, Spiral Piece, Spring Curl, Soul Braid and Curly Piece

Kanekalon has wider ranging application, it is used for straight and curly braiding hair,. . It is backcombed and twisted into synthetic dreadlocks.  It is available in a huge choice of colours.  Kanekalon is also the precursor and basis of all temperature resistant fibres.  These can be heat applied  and heat styled like Dome’s Monofibre and ProStyles’ ProHair .  More recent incarnations include Futura and other ‘protein’ fibres which look and act like human hair.

Kanekalon is commonly used for the following styles of Bulk Hair; Kanekalon Jumbo Braid, Expression Braid, Silky Kanekalon, Singular Dreadlocks, Synthetic Afro-Kinky Bulk. In addition to this, many manufacturers are increasingly using it for curly styles either blended with or instead of Toyokalon

Applying Bulk HairBraiding:  Both human hair and synthetic hair can be braided into ones own growing hair to add length, volume or adornment.  Braids can either be complete or partial. Complete braids start at the roots and incorporating the growing hair are braided all the way to the tip of the extension Complete braids can look natural, giving the impression of longer hair, Expression Braid strands measure 90 inches (225cm) so there is virtually no limit to the length of braids. Anybody can be Rapunzel these days.

Partial Braids are created by braiding a little of the extension with all of the [usually short] growing hair and leaving the rest of the extensions loose. Partial braiding works well with curly or wavy bulk hair in both human hair and synthetic hair.

Twisting: Similar to complete braids, twists are created using two strands of Kinky extensions and the growing hair for a natural look by people of African heritage.

Bonding: Bulk hair can be bonded to growing hair in a strand by strand manner using a glue gun or hot pot. This is also referred to as Fusion.

Heat Application: Certain specialist fibre extensions can be applied by starting a micro-plait or slip knot in the hair and then heating the knot with a special hot tool that changes the nature of the fibre, locking it in place. Examples of this are Dome Monofibre and ProStyles ProHair.

Micro-Rings (Linkies); This method involves pulling a small amount of loose hair with a small amount of growing hair through a tiny metal tube which is then squeezed flat with a pair of Micro-ring Pliers. To remove these extensions, one simply squeezes the Micro-Ring open again.

Shrinkies: Similar to Micro-Rings, Shrinkies are made from thermosetting plastic and are closed by heating.  They are removed by breaking them down with a solvent.

Other Methods: There are many other ways of applying bulk hair extensions, hair extensions for theatres and other costume hair are created by artists who adapt and innovate to create truly amazing looks.  Elves, orcs, dragons, talking warthogs, damsels in distress, witches, wizards and mermaids have all appeared on stage in hair extensions and there are no rules about how to apply them. . .

Pre-Bonded Extensions

Pre-bonded (also called prebonded or pre-tipped) hair extensions are made by forming a bond on the root end of a small amount of extension hair. It is usual to use human hair for this but there are a few examples of synthetic pre-bonded hair around. The bond material is often loosely referred to as Keratin.  In some cases, it actually contains some Keratin but in other cases, it is just hot melt glue of synthetic origin. Some manufacturers do use natural bonding materials, these normally have a lower melting point. ( for example: Cinderella Hair’s protein moulded bond)

Pre-bonded hair can be divided into two main groups; Nail-Tipped and Stick-Tipped.  In Nail-tipped hair extensions, the bond is moulded into a flattish slightly curved form. [like a fingernail, hence the name]  These extensions are applied strand by strand with the bond melted using a hot applicator tool the bond is then rolled around the hair into a neat cylindrical bond or flattened

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