I got sew-in hair extensions—here’s how I care for them
Show your long locks some love.
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For my entire life, I've dreamed of having long hair. My hair has never been super short, besides an unfortunate year in middle school when I thought the pageboy cut would look good on me (it did not). But it's also never been super long. No matter what I did or how many products I used, my hair refused to grow past my collarbone. I envied girls with waist-length hair, imagining how much better my life would be if I had a flip-worthy ponytail.
I thought I was doomed to a life of searching for medium-length hairstyles on Pinterest—until the day I discovered clip-in hair extensions some eight years ago. From 2012 to 2020, every morning, I spent 30 minutes meticulously clipping in each row and styling the extensions to match my naturally wavy locks. I had become a pro at clip-ins, but they were a pain. Not only was the daily process tedious, but I was tired of worrying about them falling out on a windy day or in the middle of a date (fortunately, this never actually happened).
Eventually, I decided to shell out nearly $1,000 for professional sew-in hair extensions. I entered the salon on a Sunday afternoon with thin, shoulder-length hair and left with a head of thick, 22-inch extensions that even Ariana Grande would be jealous of. I felt like a new woman—and I definitely looked like one. The installation was surprisingly effortless and painless, taking just over two hours. Even a month later, I'm still obsessed with my new hair, which should last about a year, with proper care.
And indeed, hair extensions require some extra attention. In some ways, caring for extensions is the same as maintaining my natural hair, but I've found that a few products and alternative methods go a long way. Here's how I care for my sew-in hair extensions, along with some of my stylist's recommendations.
1. Use a loop brush
One thing I learned very quickly after getting extensions was that brushing my hair was going to look—and feel—a lot different. Gone were the days of carelessly dragging a brush through it. Now, there are wefts (a group of hair extensions sewn onto a thin strip of fabric) and beads to navigate around. Enter the loop brush, which is also labeled as a wig or extensions brush.
Rather than bristles, it has tiny nylon loops that are designed to glide over the wefts while simultaneously detangling hair. I bought one per my stylist's recommendation and love how easy and painless it is to use. While I have the RemySoft loop brush, which is the highest-rated option on Amazon, there are plenty of types and sizes of loop brushes to choose from at varying sizes and shapes.
2. Wash with a sulfate-free shampoo
I already used a sulfate-free hair wash prior to getting extensions, but if I hadn't, it would be vital now. Sulfates are cleansing agents used in cleaning products or shampoos and conditioners. As well as being responsible for creating lather, sulfates have been associated with drying out hair and fading its color. All around, it's best to avoid them to maintain the longevity of my extensions.
I'm a big fan of Hairstory, which is a hair "cleanser" that's made of essential oils and fatty alcohols. I've been using Hairstory New Wash for almost two years (even pre-extensions) and no other product has made my hair feel so soft and silky. Now that my hair is so long, I typically use about three pumps—one pump is a quarter-sized dollop—of the cleanser and carefully work it through my hair. It can be tricky around my roots where the wefts are sewn. Instead of scrubbing vigorously, I gently massage the product into my scalp as thoroughly as I can—I don't want to loosen the wefts but I also want to make sure I don't neglect my scalp or roots.
My stylist also recommends Pureology Hydrate for a more traditional shampoo. She says it's very gentle on all hair types, is safe for color-treated hair, and it's sulfate-free.
- Get New Wash from Hairstory for $40
- Get the Pureology Hydrate Sheer Nourishing Shampoo from Amazon for $30
3. Spritz on heat protectant before styling
Heat protectant is essential for avoiding split ends and hair damage while using styling tools. The same rule applies to my extensions. After all, they're human hair, too! My favorite spray to use before blow-drying is Perfect Defense from Moroccanoil. Infused with argan oil, it adds some moisture to my extensions while also protecting them from the heat of my hair dryer (the Conair InfinitPro, which I always use on the low setting, F.Y.I.). I spritz five or six sprays all over my hair, then carefully use a wide-tooth comb to pull it through from roots to ends.
- Get the Moroccanoil Perfect Defense from Amazon for $28
- Get the Chi 44 Iron Guard Thermal Protection Spray from Amazon for $10.59
4. Deep-moisturize at least once or twice a week
The better care I take of my extensions, the longer they'll last. And at about $800 a pop (i.e., the hair itself plus installation), I want to make sure I get as much wear out of these babies as I can. My stylist recommended that I moisturize my extensions at least once or twice per week, in addition to regularly conditioning them, by applying a leave-in product. Using a conditioner and leaving it on overnight also works, but I usually go for the former option.
Of all the leave-in conditioners I've used, the It's A 10 Miracle Leave-In Product is by far my favorite. It makes even my damaged natural hair feel super silky and soft, and I've noticed it's had the same effect on my extensions. I mist it lightly over my hair—either damp or dry—and then comb it through to make sure all of the strands are evenly coated.
At the salon, my stylist used Ouai Leave-In Conditioner on my new extensions after she blow-dried them. While I haven't yet purchased it for myself, the product left my hair smelling so nice and fresh and I liked how soft my strands felt for the following few days. If that one experience is indicative of what it's like to use this product regularly, I can see why it has over 3,600 Amazon reviews and a 4.7-star rating.
- Get the It's a 10 Haircare Miracle Leave-In Product from Amazon for $17.50
- Get the Ouai Leave-In Conditioner from Amazon for $26
5. Sleep on a silk pillowcase with my hair in a ponytail or braid
The first night of sleeping with my new extensions revealed one downside of super long hair: It gets tangled very easily. That's why my stylist recommended I braid my hair or pull it into a loose, low ponytail when it was time for bed. Not only does this prevent knots and snarls, it's much more comfortable. With this method, I don't have to worry about my extensions getting caught under the pillow or pulling on my head because they're secured in place. I really like using the Scunci No Damage elastics because they're metal-free, so they don't snag my hair, yet they're strong enough to hold my (now totally flip-worthy) ponytail.
I've also started sleeping on silk pillowcase per my stylist's recommendation. Silk is gentler on my strands than rougher cotton or even flannel. It can minimize damage and frizz and help my extensions last longer, which is of utmost importance to me. I bought this affordable ZimaSilk one from Amazon and like that it feels good on my hair and also makes bedtime feel that much more luxurious.
- Get the Scunci No Damage Elastics (36-Count) from Amazon for $4.46
- Get the ZimaSilk Pillowcase from Amazon for $24.99
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.