Whenever I get bored with my style or look, the first thing I do is change my hair. Whether it's a dramatic cut or color change, there's something about switching up my locks that makes me feel brand new, but I've never ever considered tape-in hair extensions — in fact, I didn't even know what they were until recently. Over the past few years, switching my hair usually meant chopping it off into a lob (which I am still a huge fan of), but recently, a piece of me has been wanting to revisit my college years when I had long hair almost down to my belly button (blame it on a mid-life crisis or the Kardashians). The only thing is, I can't really get to that point anymore. Due to all the damage I've done from coloring my hair since I was 16, my locks just can't seem to grow past my chest anymore. I'm also pretty impatient. Luckily, there is a rather easy solution to my problems: hair extensions.
The only issue? The world of extensions can be an intimidating one. With so many different options, from microtips to one-step wefts, where does one even begin? I started by taking a trip to The Hair Shop, a Hollywood hair institution (favored by stylists in the industry) where you can get pretty much any hair extension or wig imaginable, no matter the color or texture. Anais Maldonado, The Hair Shop's Digital Marketing Associate, and Saena Park, The Hair Shop's Marketing Director, walked me through the process.
How To Shop For Extensions
"When someone comes in for the first time, we do like to ask them a little bit about their needs, [because the kind of extension] depends on their lifestyle, what they need, what their habits are, if they have thick hair or fine hair — that's when we go and filter for them because we don't want this to be an overwhelming experience," Maldonado explains to me, as I stand surrounded by hundreds of different kinds of hair. "We also ask [if they want] permanent extensions or temporary extensions. Sometimes it depends on the occasion — some people want it for everyday wear, some have an upcoming event that's important to them."
I decided I wanted permanent extensions for everyday wear. I ask Maldonado and Park what they think would be best for my lifestyle, needs, and hair goals and they suggest tape-ins. Maldonado walks me through the options.
"We have two different types of tape-ins. We have our skin weft, which is our classic method and this is our Smart Tabs, which is our new method. These are no heat required, they're much finer hair, they last six to eight weeks, and you can reuse them up to three times."
Because I'm looking for the easiest, but also most natural-looking extensions to go with my finer Asian hair, I decide that the Smart Tabs are the best option for me. Park tells me that The Smart Tabs, which are made in small clusters, can also be mixed with other shades if you have highlights or dimension in your hair, which I do.
"That's the great thing about the Smart Tabs is that they come in packs of six pieces — a lot of our stylists will blend colors together," Park says.
After deciding how long I want to go and how much hair I want, Maldonado and Park help me pick out two shades of 18-inch Smart Tab extensions that will add about four to five inches of length to my natural hair.
How To Get Extensions Installed
Before I shopped for my extensions or had them installed, I made sure the current state of my hair was as healthy as it could be and that my color was even all over, matching the extensions that I purchased. Since extensions last six to eight weeks, I didn't want to have to get my color retouched until I had to get my extensions removed, so I got a Keratin Complex color service. This treatment incorporates keratin technology into the hair-coloring process, helping to reduce the porosity in damaged hair and achieve smoother, stronger, and shinier locks.
Now, for the fun part. Jacob Schwartz, hair colorist (and expert extensions stylist) at Meche Salon, was tasked with installing my new hair, as well as teach me about the entire process, from how to apply them to how to care for them afterwards.
Schwartz and his assistant first brushed and laid out the extensions onto a tray so that he could decide which ones to mix and match. His method would involve sandwiching parts of my real hair with the extension strips, or wefts, as they're called.
"We're using a darker weft on top and then a lighter one underneath so that it forms layers and the corners of the hair blend," Schwartz explains. Doing this helps to give the illusion of highlights and dimension to match the rest of my hair.
Since I don't wear my hair up in a ponytail very often and I have layers, Schwartz wanted to apply some of the extensions higher up on my head and then the rest would be applied gradually lower. But first, Schwartz started at the bottom, concentrating on creating the longer pieces of my hair. Because the Smart Tabs do not require heat, Scwartz was able to move quickly (but precisely) around my head. He separated my hair in layers using styling clips, working his way from the bottom to the top. Overall, he applied approximately 20 "sandwiches" of wefts on my head, which is about 40 pieces.
After about an hour, my new hair look was complete. Schwartz was able to add about four inches of length to my hair, seamlessly blending them with my real hair.
My hair had never grown longer than my chest my entire life and I was completely obsessed. The extensions did feel a bit heavy and tight at first, but Schwartz assured me that both would lessen as my hair grew out.
How To Care For The Extensions
To ensure my extensions would last the six to eight weeks it should, I would have to follow a handful of rules. Schwartz first suggested I get a hair brush made specifically for extensions, like the Sheila Stotts Removal Brush. Tape-in extensions are particularly fragile when wet, so I need to make sure that I blow dry my roots before detangling my hair with a brush. I should also avoid applying any product to the roots of my hair, especially ones made with oil (but my beloved dry shampoo is A-OK).
Other than that, tape-in extensions are pretty easy to care for. Besides making sure I don't tug at my extensions or expose the tape accidentally (I'm not embarrassed about my new fake hair, but want to make sure they look as real as possible), all I am really concerned about now is how I want to style my new gorgeous long locks. Could this be a new life-long obsession, like my eyelash extensions? I think that I'll eventually return to my lob in the future, but for now, it's pretty fun whipping my hair back and forth.