If you’re looking for an effective way to add length or volume
to your hair, extensions and weaves may provide a perfect solution—but
only when applied by a qualified stylist.
With extensions, hair strands are either braided into, or glued
onto, your hair. Each extension may be the same length, or the
stylist may apply varied lengths. Extensions are relatively easy
to maintain and allow for many styling options: worn loose, tied
into a ponytail or coiled into an updo.
Weaves, by contrast, are sewn onto the hair. The stylist first
braids the natural hair, starting at the scalp and creating a
series of evenly spaced rows. The weaves are then hand-sewn into
the braids—a process that necessitates meticulous attention
to detail and takes more time to complete than extensions.
Weaves and extensions are ideal for women with short hair who
want to add length and fullness, but women with hair of any length
can wear them. You have your choice of human hair, which is more
expensive, or synthetic hair, which can appear less natural and
sometimes be itchy. Synthetic hair is also heavier, holds water
longer and dries more slowly, according to Dianne M. Daniels,
a certified image consultant in Norwich, Connecticut. Excess heaviness
can make your natural hair more fragile, leading to possible breakage.
Whether you choose extensions or weaves, it’s critical
to find a qualified stylist. With improper techniques, you run
the risk of developing problems that require a physician’s
attention. Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a dermatologist at the University
of Alabama at Birmingham, has some issues with these styles because
he has personally seen the consequences of poor salon and do-it-yourself
“If one must use hair weaves, then the sewn-in method is
much more desirable,” he tells Stellure.com. Glue is more
problematic because contact with the scalp may cause an allergic
“contact dermatitis”—an inflammation of the
skin characterized by irritation, scales and even scarring “if
the process is deep and intense enough,” he notes.
As a specialist in natural hair care, Farika Broadnax, owner
of No Lye in Washington, DC, has spent many hours during her eight-year
career correcting other hairstylists’ weaving and extension
errors. The major problems she sees are hairline thinning and
“Sometimes braiders braid too tightly, for a ‘clean’
edge line,” she tells Stellure.com, “but the drawback
is that edge-line hairs are finer, weaker and thinner than other
hairs on the head.” Hair follicles become overstressed,
and the hairline can actually begin to recede.
Clients who wear extensions, weaves or braids need to allow for
“downtime”—a “less stressful hairstyle
between applications, usually every three months,” Broadnax
Proper maintenance is also essential.
“Clients think that because they can't wash their hair
by submerging it in water, they do nothing to the scalp,”
Broadnax explains. “In time, this creates an unhealthy scalp.
Because the hair is not being combed, brushed or stimulated for
three to four months at a time, the scalp is also not being stimulated,
so it doesn’t shed as it should. The results can be a dry
scalp and clogged pores drowned in oils applied by the client.
Not good! Using products like Sea Breeze and ‘no lather’
shampoos can help remove oil, dirt and debris from the scalp so
the pores don’t get clogged and flakes can be removed. Some
braiders don’t tell clients how to maintain their scalp
health—just how to maintain their look.”
“Washing weekly, or once every two weeks, is recommended
for maintenance of a clean and healthy scalp,” adds Dr.
Andrew Alexis, a practicing dermatologist and associate director
of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s–Roosevelt
Hospital Center in New York City. “The frequency depends
on a woman’s susceptibility to ‘seborrheic dermatitis’—an
itchy, flaky scalp—and oil buildup,” he tells Stellure.com.
“Washing more frequently than once a week, however, will
often lead to unwanted drying of the hair.”
Before having extension or weaves applied, ask your stylist the
following questions, supplied by Broadnax:
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