Hair Weaves

A woman’s hair is often seen as a symbol of her beauty and personality.  For eons, women have been using hair extensions (weaves) to enhance the natural beauty and uniqueness of their hair.  Hair weaves have always enjoyed popularity among women of color.  In recent years, as more stars and celebrities begin to experiment with new hairstyles, hair weaves have become even more ubiquitous. Like hair coloring, a hair weave is a relatively easy and non-invasive way to change your appearance.  However, if you are considering adding a weave to your natural hair, it will be very important to explore your options and understand the different effects that certain hairstyles can have on your natural locks.  It is also imperative that you take precautions to minimize the risks of damaging your natural hair and scalp.  There are several steps to adding a weave to your hair:

Step 1: Choosing a Hair Type
Before you get a weave, it is important to know that the type of hair you add to your own will seriously affect how realistic and attractive your extensions look.  Extensions and weaves come in both synthetic and natural forms and you will want to think carefully about your lifestyle and desired look before choosing a hair type. Synthetic (plastic) hair has its uses, particularly for braided or twisted styles. However, synthetic hair is not ideal for more free-flowing styles because it will not provide the desired natural look and will be easily detected as fake. It may also damage your natural hair and irritate your skin.  Human hair is more suitable for use with free-flowing styles.  There are many types of human hair to choose from: Asian, European, and Virgin/ Raw hair. Your personal preference, hair type, and cost restrictions will determine what type of extensions you and your stylist will choose. 

Step 2: Choose a Hair Application Method
Next, you will need to decide if you want to have your extensions applied in a single strand method, or in wefts. Individual strand methods involve taking small groups of hair, maybe 20-50 strands, and applying these sections to your own hair.  The hair is attached with heat fusion, adhesive, clamping, or waxes. Most of the individual methods involve coating the natural hair with foreign substances and then applying the extensions.  These styles last only a few months before they must be removed and re-applied.

Instead of single-strand application, you may choose to have your extensions applied in the form of wefts.  A weft is a grouping of hair that is continuously connected at the top, resembling a curtain, and free flowing at the bottom (you may often hear people refer to wefts as tracks).  Wefts come in two forms: machine- generated and handmade.  As you would imagine, those that are handmade are more expensive and more natural-looking than those that are produced via machine. Machine wefts come in all shades and sizes and are cut after they are attached to your natural hair. Handmade, natural wefts are made to match your hair pattern and custom designed to suit your individual head and scalp.  Wefts may be attached via glues, heat fusion or sewing

Step 3: Choose an Attachment/Bonding Method
Once you have picked a hair type and application method, you will want to decide how you want the weave attached to your own hair.  There are three basic types of weaves: braided, bonded, and fusion.

In a braided weave, your natural hair is braided along your scalp in tiny horizontal cornrows.  These braids are done in the middle of your scalp and should not be noticeable. The top area of the hair, known as the crown, will cover the highest braid, making it invisible.  Next, the hair you have chosen is sewn onto the braids with heavy weaving thread and your own hair is combed over the extensions so that they blend in.  The number of braid rows will be determined by the amount of hair you want to add and how your stylist thinks the weave will best simulate your own hair.  A braided weave usually lasts about two months and if cared for properly can actually stimulate hair growth assuming it is not too heavy and pulls your natural hair.  Another advantage is the absence of any chemical or heating process, which can cause damage to the natural hair. It is, however, important to care for this type of weave meticulously.  If the braids are too tight, or if the extensions are too heavy, there is a high risk of pulling out one’s own hair.  You must also be careful to keep the areas around the braids from drying out and becoming brittle.  It is advisable to apply oil to the areas of the scalp around the braids to prevent breakage and premature balding

Bonded weaves are another popular method of applying extensions.  In this process, the hair is first divided into small sections and a bonding glue adhesive is used to attach the weave to the natural hair near the scalp.  The glue should be used sparingly and your stylist should avoid getting excessive amounts on your scalp.  This method can be tricky, and may cause damage to your hair especially when it is removed. You will want to be careful if you choose this method because some people are known to have allergic reactions to the bonding solution. It is therefore advisable to test the adhesive on a small patch of skin before having it applied to your entire head.   Bonded weaves usually last between one and two months before they start to loosen on their own.  However, it is advisable to return to your stylist to have them removed by a professional. The removal process is essential as you do not want your natural hair pulled out during the removal process.

Another option, similar to a bonded weave, is a fusion weave, where your natural hair is divided into small sections and then the extensions are attached to the natural hair using hot wax. Fusion weaves tend to last longer, 2-3 months, and are also a bit more expensive. As with the bonded method, there are no weave tracks to hide, so the hair appears to be growing from the scalp and it appears full.

Step 4: Ongoing Care
After your weave is completed, it will be important to think of your extensions as your own hair. When done by a professional, the average hair weave--whether glued, heat-bonded, or sewn into natural hair--lasts about two months.  During this time, you will need to wash your weave as well as your natural hair. Weave hair is especially prone to becoming brittle and dry because it is not attached to the scalp and therefore doesn’t receive any of the body’s naturally nourishing oils. Your natural hair will become dry and brittle if it is not washed, conditioned and moisturized on a regular basis. Therefore, you will want to use gentle products to clean your hair and make sure you keep your hair moisturized with a deep conditioner.  Avoid over-processing the hair, as dyeing and bleaching hair with extensions will cause undue stress to your own natural hair, as well as quickly drying-out your weave.   You will also want to be careful when blow-drying and curling the weave. If you burn the extensions they will remain that way until they are removed.   As with your natural hair, if you do not properly care for your weave it will quickly develop split ends and become frizzy and unmanageable.

Although you should care for your weave as if it were your own hair, do not forget that it is a foreign object that has been attached to a part of your body.  Because of this, if weaves are not kept clean they can collect bacteria. Always wash your scalp as well as your natural hair and the weave hair every 7-14 days.  After about 6- 8 weeks, it will be time to return to your stylist and have your extensions removed.  Your hair will have grown out quite a bit (about 1/2 inches) and the extension hair will have started getting old and dry.  If you have braids your stylist will need to undo them and check for damage to your natural hair.  If the natural hair and your hairline has remained healthy, you will just need to have your old extensions removed and new ones added.  If the natural hair is in need of repair, give your hair at least a 6 month rest from the weaves and see your dermatologist.

Bottom Line
Although hair extensions are a great way to enhance naturally beautiful hair, they can also cause hair and scalp damage.  Also, many women do not realize that while length can be beautiful, having long heavy extensions also puts additional pressure on the scalp.  This pressure can pull hair out, and may cause long-term damage in the form of thinning and pre-mature balding.  Therefore, if you are trying to grow your hair long, you might want to think seriously of the potential hindrances hair extensions could pose to your long-hair quest. However, if you simply wish to have a new look for a few months and are prepared to possibly lose some of your natural hair along with the extensions, a hair weave can be a great solution.

As a woman of color, weaves provide a way for you to experiment with new styles and current hair trends in a unique way.  It is important to visit a professional before you have extensions applied.  Weaves provide new looks which are usually easily cared for, but you must be aware that these procedures have a limited life cycle. It is important to take care of your hair during this time, and to do proper upkeep while you experiment with your new look.

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