I Tried It: Tape-In Hair Extensions

The ultimate guide to tape-in hair extensions. Before and after pics, what to expect, the cost, how to style them, drawbacks and more.
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The ultimate guide to tape-in hair extensions. Before and after pics, what to expect, the cost, how to style them, drawbacks and more.
Hair extensions

Photo: ELLE

Ever since I can remember, I've always wanted to have a thick head of voluminous, cascading hair, like the celebrities I watched on TV and the models I saw in magazines. Sure, I realized that they probably had some professional intervention to help make their hair look that great. Regardless, my thin, static-prone locks have always been a source of great frustration.

A few months ago, I ran into my friend Kat and my jaw dropped. She's always been one of the prettiest and most fashion-forward friends I've known, but suddenly, she had hair that would make any Victoria's Secret Angel green with envy. After a little (okay, a lot) of questioning and badgering from me, Kat finally let me in on her glamorous secret: tape-in hair extensions.

Less than a month later, I too finally had the luscious mane I'd been craving my whole life. While I loved many aspects of my new hair, there were also several things that I wished I knew and had considered before getting them.

In this post, I'll share the story of my experience with my tape-in hair extensions, from pre-installation to how my natural hair fared after I took them out. Along the way, I'll share some tips and pointers to help out any of you who might be considering a set of your own.

Of course, if you have any experiences, tricks, or stories about hair extensions to share, please leave a comment at the end to add to this discussion!

This is my friend Kat--talk about some major hair envy!

This is my friend Kat -- talk about some major hair envy!

Taking the Plunge

I had pretty long hair prior to getting extensions, so my primary goal was to increase the body and volume. My hairdresser recommended that I use only half of a package of extensions, which would not only be less expensive, but easier to care for.

My friend pictured above used a full set, which as you can see looks absolutely amazing. I'm not as skilled in the beauty department as my friend is, though, and I figured half the amount would be as good starting place. Plus, I could always add more if I wanted to later.

Here's what I learned while my hairdresser installed them:

  • How they're attached. Basically, the stylist will take a three or four inch hair extension track and attach a special kind of double-sided tape to them. They will then sandwich 10-15 individual hairs between the two extension tracks, adhered together with the double-sided tape. Because the extension is actually glued to another extension, it allows this sort of hair installation last much, much longer than when extensions are just glued to your scalp with that tar-like weft glue you may have seen before at the beauty supply stores. Typical weft glue usually only lasts 2-3 weeks, but the tape-in method lasts around 2 months.
  • Styling. Don't worry, you can still pull your hair into ponytails and such. The only thing that's a little difficult is parting your hair down the back for pigtail braids, or something along those lines. Your hair dresser will attach the hair extension tracks on the sides of your head VERY close to your scalp though, so it might be uncomfortable for a day or two.
  • Potential hair loss issues. According to my hairdresser, the only hairs in jeopardy are the strands sandwiched between the extensions. My stylist also said we lose an average of 100 individual strands of hair a day, so comparatively, even the worst-case scenario damage wouldn't be too big of a deal.
  • Upkeep. My hairdresser told me I would need to brush my extensions twice a day, and always be sure to sleep in a ponytail or a loose braid to keep the extensions from matting. Seemed like a piece of cake to me.
  • Price. My hairdresser charged me for the true price of the extensions, plus $50 to install them. We got a few extra tracks of hair, as well as two different colors since my natural hair was a bit ombre-d. All together, it cost around $200 to get started, and would cost $50 every other month to have them removed and re-installed. Since I had just received a tax return, I could afford the large first-time fee, and planned to set aside $25 dollars every month for to build a budget for maintenance.

After she finished installing my extensions, this is what I looked like:

Hair extensions

Not too shabby, huh?

The Care and Keeping of Tape-In Hair Extensions

As with almost everything you do in life for the first time, the theory of keeping my hair extensions looking great was a little bit more difficult than I imagined. Of course, there were a ton of fringe benefits as well.

Here are a few things that I learned over the next month:

They can get pretty warm.

Suddenly, you have twice as much hair laying on your back and neck than you're used to. Plus, extensions are attached in thick layers on the lower part of your head. I'm not going to lie, I got pretty toasty wearing them, especially since I had them installed right as when the weather started to get hot. It's almost feels like you're wearing an oddly-shaped hat of sorts.

This isn't always a bad thing though -- if you get chilly very easily, the extra hair can almost function as an portable warming device for your shoulders and head!

They were so fun to style.

Having a head full of thick, healthy hair was incredibly exciting when it came to playing with fun hairdos. My hair looked great in its naturally straight state, but looked fantastic curled into loose waves. Fishtail braids looked fancy and dramatic. I could build a bigger top knot than anyone else I encountered. My previous limp, lifeless hair that looked awful air-dried suddenly looked earthy and cool without a blow out. Even lazy high ponytails suddenly looked fashion-forward and chic!

Flexibility.

Nice tape-in extensions are made from human hair, so don't be afraid to use your straightener or curling iron on them. You can even dye or highlight tape-in extensions!

Time was an issue.

Another thing about extensions that took awhile to get used to was how long it took to detangle and blow-dry my new 'do. I used to be able to take and shower and finish blow drying in less than thirty minutes. But with my extensions, sometimes I'd go to bed with damp hair and wake up with it still feeling moist in the morning.

Long hair hairdryer

Photo: ELLE

Budget for twice as much time in your beauty routine.

Shampooing (because of the way the extensions are attached to your head, working shampoo in between layers takes quite a bit of effort), conditioning, and detangling once you're out of the shower (a tedious process as well) all take special attention. Also, I'm used to blowdrying my hair upside down, which isn't a great option when you have hair extensions. It took almost 45 minutes for my hair to air-dry to the point where it was safe for a blow dry.

Consider your lifestyle.

I exercise almost every day. Based on the tedious hair care routine I described above, this made me extremely hesitant about working up a sweat. Although dry shampoo works excellent with hair extensions, it just wasn't enough to get the grease and stink out of my new hair. So instead of going through the whole hair care dog and pony show, I just settled for, well, not exercising as much. Fun, but probably the less healthy and wise choice.

Be fanatic about brushing your hair.

My hair dresser told me to brush my extensions twice a day every day, but I didn't understand what she really meant by brushing. Typically, brushing my hair meant detangling with a comb after I showered, and maybe running a paddle-brush through my head to help evenly distribute the white powdery bits of dry shampoo some mornings. If you get tape-in extensions, mentally prepare for brushing each and every layer of your hair from scalp to end. It'll be a time consuming process, but it's completely necessary. If you don't, well -- I'll get to that in just a minute.

Sleep habits.

Once you're finished thoroughly brushing, throw your hair into a loose ponytail, braids, or pigtails to keep it from getting tangled overnight. I preferred braiding my hair, so I'd wake up the next morning with some texture. Sleeping on silk pillows will help keep your hair from getting roughed-up over night as well.

Other grown-up activities.

We're all friends here at College Fashion, so we can have a big-girl discussion and well, not giggle too much about it. If you have a special person in your life, and sometimes participate in an activity that encourages friction between your head and your pillows, you're going to have a crazy bird's nest of tangles on the back of your head to deal with afterwards.

I'm not saying you should stop said activities -- after all, it's a regular part of many adults' daily lives -- but I am saying that employing braids, a high ponytail, and/or a little bit of creativity to your routine might be a good idea.

Prepare to shed.

This is not an exaggeration -- I had to Swiffer my bathroom every other day because of the insane amount of hair that fell out while I (poorly) brushed my hair and styled it. I'm talking a noticeable, gross accumulation of hair in my sink, on my countertops, and covering my bathroom floor every single day. I have no idea what percentage of that hair was my natural locks and what percentage was my extensions, but either way, it was pretty alarming to look at, and definitely freaked out any friends I had over.

The Final Days

Tangled hair

Photo: ELLE

After about a month, the tracks of the hair extensions placed near the crown of my head began peaking through my natural hair. I could tell that a small (yet very scary) dreadlock-esque mess was developing in the layers near the nape of my neck. This final straw came when a track that had detached and folded over itself came out while I ran my fingers through my hair -- while I was at work chatting with a customer. Talk about bad timing!

Here are a few things I learned during the awkward two-week period with my extensions while I waited for an appointment with my hairdresser:

They definitely didn't last 2 months.

For me, at least. This was for a number of reasons, though, and most of them were my own fault. First of all, my hair naturally grows pretty fast, so the extension track had grown about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch away from my scalp.

Secondly, I didn't brush my extensions in the dedicated manner required, so I had some major matting issues going on, especially at the top of the extension track which got tangled with my new natural hair. Lastly, the bad knotting caused the hair extension track to bend and not lay flat, which made it poke through the top layers of my natural hair. If I would have taken proper care of my extensions, they probably would have lasted several weeks longer.

Removing tape-in hair extensions on your own is tough.

I felt like I used half of the bottle of remover they gave me just to get one track (which was already very grown out and coming loose) detached while trying to lose as little of my natural hair as possible. When I read the ingredients for the "glue dissolvant" though, I noticed that it was totally made up of natural essential oils. I'm not a hair professional, but I suspect that coconut, olive, or baby oil would do the job just as well, but cost a fraction of the price.

To remove, apply oil directly to the adhered track and let them soak for a few minutes and loosen. Then, using a wide-tooth comb or your fingers, slowly try to slide the two pieces either apart from each other, or down the shaft of your hair. I'll be honest, this is not an easy process. After spending twenty minutes removing one track, I decided to leave the rest up to the professionals.

Hair loss was minimal not too bad.

Your hair will feel dramatically thinner than it did with your extensions in. That being said, I'm actually shocked at how good my natural hair looked after my extensions were removed. I'd seen what felt like a wig's worth of hair get swept up off my bathroom floor, and due to the matting and tangling, it actually took two hairdressers working on my hair to get all of them removed. All of that considered, I still had a good amount of hair on my head, comparative to what it looked like pre-extensions.

Save your extensions.

According to my hairdresser, my extensions were still in good enough shape to re-install, which is the case for most girls who get tape-in hair extensions. Since we were not even halfway through the summer and I was getting restless from not exercising as frequently, I took my extensions home to wash, dry, and store until I'm ready to install them again.

The Aftermath

Long hair

Photo: ELLE

As a whole, I really liked tape-in hair extensions. I like that most of the expense involved is upfront, and they're semi-affordable to maintain.

They gave me a huge confidence boost -- even in my yoga pants and no make-up, I felt glamorous thanks to my thick and swoopy hair. My new hair looked amazing with hats, headbands, in ponytails, curled, and even air-dried. I got compliments all the time, and finally had the luscious hair that I'd dreamed about since I was a kid.

Although I had several issues with them, most of the problems were due to me not taking as good of care of my extensions as I should have. They're definitely a better fit for me during the winter, when I'm not constantly outdoors rollerblading, swimming, and going on hikes. When my workouts just consist of lifting weights and walking on the treadmill in an air-conditioned space, dry shampoo every other day will work just fine. I'll probably put my extensions back in around October.

Before you get tape-in hair extensions, I would recommend that you examine your schedule and lifestyle, and make a decision based on how much time you have. If you don't like to spend a lot of time grooming yourself, this is not the route to take.

Hair extensions also are not a good idea if you like to exercise a lot, if you toss and turn or sweat a lot in your sleep, or if you aren't sure if you'll steadily have enough money to keep them maintained. But if none of these factors are a problem, prepare to have a fantastic head of gorgeous hair, sure to catch eyes and make you feel great!

Stories? Tips? Tricks? Share!

Have you had tape-in hair extensions before? What about clip in, weave in, or glue in extensions? What did you love about them? What worked for your beauty routine? What would you recommend to others? Leave a comment and add to this discussion--us CF girls have got to help each other out!