Driven by the bottomless budgets of celebrities and their need for ever more column inches, the trend for elaborate hair extensions and weaves continues to beguile women wanting a new look with extra volume. But where once these stick-and-go hairstyles were famously punishing on the scalp, sometimes even leading to hair loss, is it possible that modern technology has changed the game?
What is certainly true is that women are being offered more ways to dramatically and quickly change their hairstyle than ever before. Reports of celebrity wigs costing more than $10,000 are not uncommon, but what seems even more appealing is the idea of adding to your existing hair with some form of extension or weave.
In fact, a recent article in Inquistr revealed that there were well over one million posts on Instagram that were accompanied by the #hairextensions hashtag. Going deeper, the website found trends such as micro rings, which are a relatively new way of attaching extensions or wefts (strips of hair) to the wearer's existing hair.
Before we delve into the different types of weaves and hair extensions that are available, it is worth explaining why these styles have been frowned upon by hair loss experts for so long.
The problem is a hair loss condition called Traction Alopecia, which happens when hair is consistently pulled, causing undue stress on the follicle. To some degree, most if not all weaving techniques even the most up-to-date ones continue to place pressure on the shaft, meaning that the risk of Traction Alopecia remains.
Hair loss experts including Belgravia generally counsel against using these hair modifications but recommend to anyone who insists that they use the most gentle method and even then, are careful to take them out again within a relatively short time frame. Methods of installation vary, so here is a quick guide to some of the key terms you’re likely to see:
Sew-in weaves and hair extensions
While it sounds like the hair piece is going to be sewn into the scalp, the truth isn’t quite so painful: all weaves typically involve attaching hair wefts (often made from real human hair, frequently bought from donors somewhere in the East) to the wearer’s own hair, which is frequently braided first, thus providing a kind of framework on which to build. Sew-in weaves are physically sewn or woven into the natural hair in layers, so that a full head of (donor) hair can be seen once the job is complete.
Micro ring extensions
As above, but here the wefts are attached via small metal bands, thus making the process quicker. Nano rings are even smaller and therefore less easy to spot for a more natural look.
Glue-in or tape-in hair extensions
Similar again, only this time using glue to attach the extension to the wearer’s own hair. While often the easiest and quickest way to get results, the glue itself and the chemical it contains have been known to cause damage to the hair. Similar to this is the fusion bonding technique, also perhaps misleadingly known as the tape-in technique because the extensions come with a sliver of “tape” at the end. This strip is in fact highly adhesive and it requires some effort to remove the hair pieces even after several months.
Lace front wigs
These can loosely be described as artificial hairlines, applied to the front of the head. They are also typically attached to the wearer’s existing hair, and are based around a strip of mesh onto which the fake (or real) hair has been bonded.
While weaves and extensions are popular in different cultures, they have been especially well received by black women, as they offer a rapid alternative to natural hair as afro hair can take longer to style than other hair types. Unsurprisingly, black people account for a very high proportion of Traction Alopecia cases. But the tide is turning: the natural look is gathering momentum, as too are hashtags such as #realhairdontcare.
Says Leonora Doclis, senior hair loss specialist at Belgravia: “Hair extensions and weaves can seem to offer a very appealing solution to people who want to dramatically change their hair, but they do come at a price no matter what technique you opt for. The best case scenario is likely to be a degree of hair breakage, caused by the extensions tugging on your hair, but it is also very common to see cases of Traction Alopecia."
"The longer and more voluminous the weave, the greater the stress on the follicles another problem is that weaves are sometimes kept in for many months or even years, meaning that the wearer is unaware of the damage they are causing to their scalp until they eventually change their hair style. In extreme cases, by then it can be too late, with the scalp having suffered irreparable damage.”
Avoiding the types of hairstyles that cause this entirely preventable condition in the first place, or at least taking them out at the first sign of trouble, is the best measure, as researchers from the John Hopkins University have recently announced.
Luckily for those who have encountered issues from wearing these types of styles, in many cases, a bespoke Traction Alopecia treatment course featuring personally recommended products, such as high strength minoxidil which has produced numerous cases of successful results for Belgravia clients, can help to encourage new hair growth.
If you are thinking of extensions or weaves as a solution to thinning hair, however, it is always a good idea to speak to an expert first. By making the most of what you already have - with the help of hair growth boosters and personalised treatments - you may be able to minimise future damage from a weave.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.