Everything I learned from getting keratin-bonded extensions for my thin, damaged hair

7 January 2020, 14:33

Hair extensions can completely transform your look
Hair extensions can completely transform your look. Picture: Heart
Mared Parry

By Mared Parry

There's a lot of maintenance involved but it's totally worth it for amazing thick locks.

Not all of us are blessed with long thick, healthy tresses, and we require a little assistance in getting that "because you're worth it" moment, especially those of us with thin, lifeless hair (like me).

I first got my hair extensions put in last summer, by the amazing Hadley at Hershesons in Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge.

He put some 18-inch chocolate brown individual bonds by UK extension brand Great Lengths in my boring blunt bob and it absolutely transformed me, and from that moment on I knew that I was hooked.

How keratin-bonded individual extensions work, is that the bond is wrapped around a small supporting section of hair, and secured in place (just down from the root) using a Great Lengths application machine - and one set can last up to five whole months if looked after correctly.

Before the extensions I had a short, blunt bob
Before the extensions I had a short, blunt bob. Picture: Heart

I'm now over six months into having them in, so I've learned a thing or two along the way, including lessons on how I should've looked after them better and hadn't!

Here are all my realisations from the past few months - hopefully this'll help you make a decision if you're thinking about getting them done, or will aid you if you've already taken the plunge.

They work well with thin hair

This was the main thing that shocked me. I've already mentioned that I've got very thin hair, it's genetic and it's an absolute nightmare to style - volumising sprays, powders and OTT blowdries are my saving grace.

The hair around my scalp was so thin at times that you could see right through, so I was understandably dubious about getting extensions as I was scared the bonds would be visible, or that it'd be really heavy on my already weak hair, therefore causing further damage.

Thankfully, neither of these things were true and Hadley reassured me that any extensions, once installed correctly, would be perfectly hidden and cause no damage whatsoever.

A week or two afterwards I was already experimenting with Ariana-esque ponytails and the bonds weren't visible at all, it was only if I'd do a half-up style and you looked really closely you could see a couple of them, but that's inevitable.

Getting used to the heaviness and sheer amount of hair was hard to start with and I wasn't used to having it all there - I definitely jerked it a few times when putting a handbag on my shoulder and scared myself senseless in bed when I thought I felt a spider crawling up my arm. It was just my hair.

Just after getting the brunette extensions done in the salon
Just after getting the brunette extensions done in the salon. Picture: Heart
I looked like a completely different person with long hair
I looked like a completely different person with long hair. Picture: Heart

You can dye them

Another thing I never fully understood was whether of not you can dye hair extensions, and with Great Lengths ones - you totally can!

All of Great Lengths' hair is 100% human and 100% ethical, sourced from temples in India where hair is voluntarily donated during a religious ritual known as "tonsuring".

This means that it can be treated exactly the same way as you would your own hair, so you're free to style it and dye it as you wish.

I'm naturally blonde, so six weeks into me having my brown hair extensions my naturally light roots started to show, and I panicked, but thankfully fellow Hershesons hair wizard and colourist, James was able to fill in my roots and give my hair a boost - all with my hair extensions still in!

My hair felt so empty when Hadley removed the extensions but it had grown a lot
My hair felt so empty when Hadley removed the extensions but it had grown a lot. Picture: Heart

You can instantly transform your look

On the topic of colour - after a few months of long brunette hair I decided I was missing my blonde locks and in a matter of two swift appointments I was able to go from long and brunette, to a short blonde bob, to long golden blonde princess hair.

In less than an hour I had my full head of chocolate-coloured extensions out, and what's even better is that clients' old hair doesn't need to go to waste, as all Great Lengths hair extension wearers are now given the chance to donate their used extensions to the Little Princess Trust.

It's the only dedicated charity to provide real hair wigs to boys and girls who have suffered hair loss from Alopecia and Cancer across the UK and Ireland, free of charge.

After a few hours with James, taking me from a dark rich brown shade to a golden blonde in ONE appointment (something that should be applauded in itself, it was a major transformation) I was colour matched before returning to get the new batch of hair fitted in.

As soon as Hadley fitted my new blonde hair in I felt like a new person, all in the space of a week! I'd opted for three different shades of light and golden blonde, a few inches longer than my previous locks for that true Disney princess feel.

Once his work was complete, I floated out of the salon and onto Knightsbridge High Street feeling like I was on my way to a glitzy premiere... when in reality I was off to catch the Piccadilly line home to eat packet noodles in my cold house share.

But I was doing it with great hair.

I had a week in-between appointments where I rocked a blonde bob
I had a week in-between appointments where I rocked a blonde bob. Picture: Heart
The long blonde extensions were installed and I felt amazing
The long blonde extensions were installed and I felt amazing. Picture: Heart

You need to brush them a lot!

Oh, how I wish someone had repeatedly screamed this at me when I'd gotten my first load of extensions in.

I was told to not avoid brushing them, but I usually only brushed mine once a day anyways, so stuck to that rule. However, this resulted in a few of my extensions by the nape of my neck and around the back of my head to get a bit tangled.

To start, I was scared to run my fingers properly through my hair as I didn't want to damage the bonds, but this time around I know it's essential to do so, and to brush with an extension-friendly hairbrush regularly to prevent any tangling or matting.

Sleeping with a silk cap helps

Another way to prevent tangles and to help prolong the life of your extensions is by making sure you take proper care of them when you're sound asleep.

You should invest in a silk bonnet for when you sleep, they're available for under £10 on sites such as Amazon or eBay and come in a range of styles and sizes.

Using silk pillowcases, braiding your hair and never going to sleep with your hair soaked through is also essential, as your hair is at its most vulnerable when it's wet.

They're so easy to take care of and style
They're so easy to take care of and style. Picture: Heart

Using the right products is essential

This is pretty standard extensions 101, but if you've had them done, you NEED to use sulphate-free hair products.

Using ones that do contain sulphates (the majority of high street products) will damage and loosen the bonds, meaning your extensions could actually slip or fall out!

Great Lengths has its own range of haircare, all of which is sulphate free and available on their website.

But they don't even need to be expensive products, you can also grab shampoo and conditioner sets from bargain stores like B&M or Home Bargains for a couple of quid.

Washing your hair is a myth

Okay, not exactly, but you definitely don't need to wash your hair as often as you would without extensions.

With a spritz of dry shampoo your hair can hold a curl and stay looking fresh for around five days, I've tried and tested it myself and trust me when I say it's saved me SO much time getting ready in the morning.

If I've curled my hair that day, I twist it into two low buns, put my hair in my silk cap and sleep on it, give it a quick brush through and some dry shampoo in the morning and it looks as good as the day before!

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