“Anyone can wear extensions and still have healthy hair,” says Melanye Maclin, MD, a dermatologist and hair loss expert in Washington D.C. “You just have to take the time to show your natural hair and the weave some TLC.”
Here's how to do it.
Prime Your Hair and Scalp
Get your hair in good shape before adding extensions. Take a break from the weakening chemicals in curl relaxers or dyes to get a head start in avoiding breakage.
“If your scalp is dry and flaky, use a medicated shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide, concentrating the suds on your scalp,” Maclin says. Leave it on for 15 minutes and rinse out. Then wash once more with regular shampoo and condition. Do this once a week for 4 weeks.
If you're still seeing flakes, visit a dermatologist before getting extensions. You may have seborrheic dermatitis, which can be harder to get under control when you have extensions.
How Extensions Are Attached
How a hair extension is attached to your head depends on the type you use:
- A partial or full weave is sewn into tight braids of your own hair.
- Extensions are bonded to your hair with a type of glue. You may need 50 to 100 of them, depending on the thickness of your hair.
- Clip-in extensions add volume or length in a hurry. You attach them under the top layer of your hair.
Maclin says the biggest mistake that women make with extensions is wearing them too tight. This puts a lot of tension on the hair follicles, which can make your hair fall out. At worst, it can contribute to the most common type of permanent hair loss in African-American women.
Getting extensions should not be painful or cause headaches. If it does, they're too snug. Speak up! Ask your stylist to loosen them before continuing.
Clip-ins are the least damaging extensions because they can be removed quickly and require little to no glue or braiding. But they can cause hair breakage if they pull or snag your hair, so put them in loosely.
Don't Skimp on Shampooing
“Gently shampoo at least once a week to keep your scalp at its healthiest,” says hairstylist Tamika Fletcher, co-owner of Natural Resources Salon in Houston. “This reduces the buildup of product used for styling your extensions and dead skin cells.”
- If you wear clip-in extensions, remove them first. Clean and dry them separately before reattaching.
- If your weave or extensions are sewn, bonded, or glued into your hair, separate your natural hair from them as best you can. Then wash, rinse, and condition your real hair separately from your faux hair. Towel-dry gently before you comb through or blow-dry.
Don't Overdo It
Even if they still look neat and polished, don't wear hair extensions for more than 6 weeks at a time. “Weaves should be removed to allow for a thorough cleaning of the scalp and deep conditioning of the hair,” Maclin says.
Take Care When Taking Extensions Out
The glue used to secure hair extensions to your head contains chemicals that can cause hair loss. “If bonding glue is absolutely necessary, use bonding glue remover not only to take out the extensions but, more importantly, to ensure no glue remains in the hair,” Fletcher says. “Any remaining glue can adhere to hair and become nearly impossible to remove without losing hair in the process.”
If your hairline or scalp itches after your weave is removed, you may have an allergic reaction. Formaldehyde is used to preserve hair weaves, and it sometimes causes irritation. See a dermatologist. They can treat an itchy or irritated scalp.
Give Your Hair a Break
Forgo extensions for a few weeks while you baby your hair and scalp to give it a break. Switch to a hairdo that puts less stress on your hair. Then you can put the extensions back into healthy hair.