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I've worn hair extensions for years—here's my stylist's advice for choosing them

What you should know about the different types

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For almost my entire adulthood, I’ve worn hair extensions. It started with a pack of cheap clip-ins from Sally Beauty Supply my senior year of college. I then graduated to a pricier, higher-quality set of Luxy Hair Extensions, inspired by my obsession with influencer Amber Fillerup of Barefoot Blonde. And most recently, I took the plunge and splurged on $1,000-plus sew-in hair extensions courtesy of a professional stylist (worth every penny, by the way).

Growing up, I always had thin hair that refused to grow much longer than my collarbone. Thus, the idea of being able to don a waist-length ponytail was too tempting for me to pass up. Since my first foray into the world of long locks, I’ve learned a lot about hair extensions. There are clip-ins, sew-ins, tape-ins, micro-links, and, of course, wigs. As it turns out, there isn’t one kind of hair extension that works for everyone—it’s more about which one works for you based on budget and preferred style.

I spoke with my own hair stylist, Kaileigh Henninger of About Faces Day Spa in Baltimore, who specializes in hair extensions, on how to choose the right kind of locks based on your hair type and lifestyle. Below are the five most common types of hair extensions you may want to consider.

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1. Clip-in hair extensions

A hair stylist applies clip-in hair extensions to a person's blond hair.
Credit: Getty Images / robertprzybysz

Clip-in hair extensions offer a temporary style change.

Recommended for: Special occasions or non-daily use

Clip-in hair extensions consist of long wefts (sections of hair sewn onto a fabric strip) that you clip all around your head via tiny barrettes that are attached to each section of hair. You can clip them just at the base and crown of your head or, if you want even more volume, add middle sections as well.

After wearing clip-in extensions for five-plus years, I became quite the pro at putting them in and styling them to match my natural hair. That said, I may have gotten better at the technique, but it was still annoying. I found it inconvenient to put them in every morning and take them out every night. The process added at least 30 minutes to my daily routine and almost double that when I was a beginner. For that reason, clip-in extensions are ideal for someone who just wants temporary length or who plans to wear them for special events, like a wedding, vacation, or occasional date night.

You can find clip-in extensions at a number of retailers, including Sally Beauty Supply and Amazon. They typically cost between $80 to $300 for quality human hair, depending on the length and color. I’ve owned and worn this set, which has over 5,300 reviews on Amazon. They feel very thick and blend easily into my own hair, and come in six lengths and 13 colors, including balayage and ombre.

2. Sew-in hair extensions

The side of a person's blond hair as they get hair extensions sewn in.
Credit: Getty Images / Johnrob

Sew-in hair extensions require less maintenance than clip-ins.

Recommended for: The least amount of maintenance

If you plan to wear your extensions all day every day, sew-in hair extensions could be your best bet. I have had mine for eight months and counting and can attest to how much easier they are to manage than clip-ins. Henninger, who sewed mine in, agrees that they are her favorite choice for most clients. “The installation is quick and they are very easy to maintain,” she explains. “They are very versatile and can be used to add just volume or length and volume.”

You’ll need a professional to install these. First, your stylist will put centimeter-sized beads in a row along your scalp. The wefts are then woven into your hair around the beads. The beads, which are invisible by the end of the installation, hold the wefts securely in place so that you’re able to treat your hair just as you would your natural hair: You can wash it, style it, throw it in a ponytail, etc. Sew-in extensions require maintenance aside from regular care, too, though. They need to be tightened and adjusted every six to eight weeks as your hair grows out. They can cost anywhere from $500 to upwards of $1,000, depending on the length and brand of hair, along with the stylist’s hourly rate.

3. Tape-in hair extensions

The back of someone's head as they get tape-in hair extensions.
Credit: Getty Images / Edward Shtern

Tape-in hair extensions adhere to your natural locks.

Recommended for: Thick, strong hair

As the name suggests, tape-in extensions are taped directly onto your hair. Each weft of hair—which is generally about an inch wide—is taped between pieces of your natural hair at the root, creating a seamless look. The process, while it sounds complicated, takes between 45 to 90 minutes and costs a few hundred dollars, depending on the quality of the hair and the salon you choose for the installation.

Tape-ins can last about six months but, like sew-ins, require maintenance every four to six weeks. Henniger says they work best for people with thick, healthy hair as the adhesive can be rough on your natural locks. Tape-ins can fall out more easily than sew-ins if they aren’t cared for properly, which means using a sulfate- and paraben-free shampoo and conditioner to avoid breaking down the adhesive.

The back of a person's red-haired head with micro link hair extensions in it.
Credit: Getty Images / dimid_86

Micro link hair extensions add volume to fine, thin hair.

Recommended for: Thin, fine hair

One reason to get extensions is to add volume to otherwise thin hair. However, if your hair is especially fine, you should consider opting for micro-link hair extensions over other types to avoid breakage or damage to your natural locks. “Stay away from extensions that have strong adhesives in them like tape-in extensions,” Henninger warns. “Instead, try something like micro-beaded extensions or individually beaded extensions that have no heat or glue and can easily be removed without extra tension or pulling on the hair.”

In the case of micro-links, each extension is attached to your hair via a small silicone bead. This makes it easy to install and easy to remove—they can last for up to 12 weeks before needing to be adjusted—and don’t require heat during installation, making it less stressful on your natural strands. Similar to sew-ins and tape-ins, micro-link extensions cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000, depending on the stylist’s hourly rate and the length and brand of the hair.

5. Wigs

Recommended for: A temporary style change or someone with hair loss

I was always hesitant about wigs—I never thought they could look natural—until I saw Instagram influencers like Dani Austin and Mariam Musa rocking the removable hairpieces. You can find them online at retailers like Amazon and Insert Name Here or at specialty wig shops. They can range in price from under $100 to over $1,000, depending on whether you get a synthetic or human hair one.

While wigs are ideal for anyone who wants a non-permanent hair change or who wants to try something new without a commitment, they’re also a great option for people with very thin hair or hair loss who may not be able to comfortably wear extensions. Clip-ins or tape-ins could pull out hair even more and even sew-ins may not work as their anchor points may be visible through balding or thinning spots. Wigs provide full coverage and, if you’re willing to spend more on a high-quality one, a very natural look.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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