Weaves and extensions add length and volume, allowing women with short hair to enjoy an instant makeover.
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 several 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 jobs.
“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 follicle damage.
“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 says.
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 build-up,” 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:
1. How do I maintain them?
2. What products should I use on my hair—and on my scalp?
3. What can I use to clean my scalp if I can't wash my hair?
4. How long should I wear this style before taking it down?
5. Do you have a portfolio or your work?
6. How long have you been doing braids?