If you’ve ever entertained the idea of getting hair extensions, you’ve probably come across the tape-in kind. I myself had been eyeing up getting a set for the last year or so and finally decided to give them a try back in May. 

After reading up on my current haircare routine, you’ll know I’m on a journey to grow out healthy, long hair. You might also discover that at one point in time I invested a lot of time, money and energy into growing out over-processed, damaged hair. As a result of this I had become rather attached to my natural, untouched hair (which has since had a lick of colour, funnily enough) and found myself limited in my options to experiment. 

I used to frequently cut, dye and change up my hairstyle and fighting the urge to do so was becoming tiresome to say the least. About four years ago, I completely cut heat styling out of my routine (with the exception of special occasions) and as it turns out there are only so many asymmetrical fringes you can go through to keep things interesting.

So, I figured why not just buy the hair of my dreams? I had saved a huge amount of money by avoiding colour treatments and because it was so healthy, I was only having it trimmed around 3-4 times per year. It seemed like a win-win; I would get the instant gratification of achieving long, thick, lustrous locks, while my natural hair kept growing. Eventually, I wouldn’t even need the extensions. 

As per my usual routine, I launched into research mode. I did the usual binge-watching of YouTube videos and picking through company reviews with a fine-tooth comb to see what was to be expected. I had already written off keratin bonded extensions due to the price point and stories I’d heard about hair snapping off. Sew-ins for me personally seemed like the most uncomfortable option and clip-ins were never of interest as I was after something more semi-permanent. Tape-in hair extensions have a reputation for being the least damaging form of extension, provided they are installed correctly.

As somewhat of a healthy hair buff and hair extension rookie, I thought it might be useful to walk you through my experience. There were definitely some surprises in my endeavour for mermaid hair so if you’re considering making the purchase, give this a read first.

What are tape-in hair extensions?

Tape-in extensions are essentially a weft of hair with a strip of medical-grade tape that runs along the top of each piece. To install, a “sandwich” is made with two wefts and a fine layer of your own hair is placed in between. 

They have become an increasingly popular as they offer a more permanent option than clip-ins, and more flexibility than other more permanent kinds like keratin bonds or sew-ins. They are also generally more economical, which is always a bonus!

The tapes lie flat against the head which tends to make them easier to hide. Provided you are keeping up with moving them up as your hair grows out, this gives you a more natural look overall. The process of having your extensions reinstalled varies for everyone – it really all depends on how quickly your hair grows. Some people might need them done very 6 weeks, while others may be able to get away with 8-10 weeks of wear. Mine lasted about 2 months before I felt like they needed attention but my hair sadly grows at a glacial pace.

Which brand should I buy?

I spent a long time going back and forth on several different brands. My first choice had actually Glam Seamless because they had wavy options and a great reputation. However, they were pretty pricey and also shipped from the USA, which didn’t leave me much room for error when it came to style and colour. 

I also didn’t necessarily want to buy top of the line because it was my first time and there was always the possibility I wouldn’t enjoy them. Going too cheap and hating them straight out the pack was also not a great idea, so I found something slightly cheaper and closer to home. I think buying locally, or at least somewhere relatively close in location is definitely wise. Colour matching tape-in hair extensions can be tricky to do online so purchasing extensions from far corners of the world could be risky and expensive if you end up with the wrong hue. 

In the end, I opted for Superior Hair Ultra Seamless Extensions. I was based in Auckland during my hair extensions venture but had also been close to purchasing from Aussie brand ZALA since they were well-known and had a lot of good reviews. There were also some additional criteria that my extensions needed to meet, beyond being top notch and 100% Remy human hair. Obviously the quality was imperative but I also wanted to make sure I was buying from a reputable brand that used ethically sourced hair. 

Ultimately, choosing a company that was in my city seemed like the safest, most cost-effective option. It meant I could physically go in store if there were any issues with my colour match and correct it before it was too late. The colour match Superior Hair Extensions offered online was perfect. In fact I was shocked they’d been able to match my virgin brunette hair so well with just photos I had send via Instagram DM! Overall they were very responsive and helped out with any questions I had too. 

I know it may be tempting to jump on Amazon and save a couple of hundred dollars but it’s not always clear where the hair comes from on this particular site. In my research I also found that lower quality hair is also sometimes mixed with synthetic strands to save on cost. This is not to say that you won’t find ethically sourced, quality tape-in hair extensions on Amazon – just make sure if you do go down this route that you do your homework. It’s also going to cost you more in the long run if you buy something that isn’t built to last.

Can I install them myself?

In short, yes you can, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people putting them in themselves and did briefly consider it to save some extra money. However, to be safe and ensure I would like the end result, I decided to ask my stylist to do it. After seeing the process unfold in front of me, it became very apparent that this was the smarter choice, considering I was a tape-in hair extensions newbie.

It can be really confusing understanding how much hair you need to buy. I actually bought one pack too many and I had been extremely misguided thinking the four I purchased might not be enough. The cost of each pack varies depending on length. I bought four packs of 22” Ultra Seamless (2 packs of Dark Brown & 2 packs of Chocolate Brown) at NZ$90 per bundle, which was the minimum amount recommended on the website for adding length and volume.

There are a lot of different opinions about how many “sandwiches” or grams of hair you need. A good professional will be able to map your head out and give you the coverage you need without overloading you with wefts though. It’s important to be aware that this portion of the process alone is going to cost a couple of hundred dollars. So bear in mind you will need to pay an installation fee on top of your extensions. I really do think it’s important a professional installs them – there’s more that goes into it than following a map and sticking em’ together.

In my mind I also thought it would make more sense to buy longer hair so there was plenty of room to trim them. In hindsight, I could have opted for 3 packs of 18” (or even 16”) and saved some cash. Don’t get me wrong, 22 inches was fun for the first week but I ended up cutting a fair bit of the length off so they were more manageable. If you’re buying good quality hair like Superior Hair Extensions, you stylist won’t need to do much to them once their installed anyway. Sometimes less is more!  

How do I look after them?

The thing about tape-in hair extensions is that they need a lot of TLC from quality products. Hair extension hair, (even 100% Remy human hair) needs proper maintenance if you want them to last. For me, I didn’t really need to make any changes, as I already have a lot of swanky hair products in my inventory. Using low quality products is going to degrade your extensions faster so this may be another expense to consider throughout the process. 

There’s a great deal of variation and debate as to how long they should last.

It can range anywhere from 12 weeks to an entire year but it really depends on how well they are looked after. Your lifestyle, haircare routine and how often you heat style will all impact this. I kept heat styling to the bare minimum while they were in – yes heatless curling works with tape-ins! When I did, I made sure I was using my go-to heat protectant, the ELEVEN Miracle Hair Treatment. This is a favourite of mine – it has a super light-weight feel and a divine coconut fragrance. I have naturally wavy hair with some ringlets, so I used the bathrobe belt heatless curling method which worked an absolute treat in blending my hair together with them.

It’s generally recommended that you only wash your hair once a week with tape-in hair extensions. I’m currently on Isotretinoin (you can read my story here), which has drastically reduced my scalp’s oil production. In turn, I can get away with the rinse and repeat once a week. However, if you have an oily scalp, trying to keep washing to a minimum is probably going to drive you nuts.

For this reason alone, if my sebum production was where it used to be pre-Iso, it’s unlikely I would have gone through with the process. You’ll also need to gently brush and detangle them at least once a day and it’s generally advised you keep your hair in braids (or another protective style) while you sleep to prevent breakage – this is a great habit to get into whether you have extensions or not!

When wet, they will become heavy and pull on the scalp, which can really damage your natural hair. It’s important you’re washing your hair with sulphate & paraben free shampoo and only applying conditioner to the ends of your hair, as it can loosen the bond. It’s also not recommended that you use any kind of clarifying shampoo. These are usually too harsh for extensions and can weaken the tape adhesion.

One thing I really missed the mark on was how getting sweaty would affect my experience. I work out around 4-5 times per week and boy did I find them annoying. It’s a lot of hair to deal with if you’re moving around and the constant perspiration can leave you feeling itchy and uncomfortable after exercising. If you’re active like me, do keep in mind it’s going to be an extra component to manage. I was left rather surprised that not many YouTubers or influencers I had watched bothered to mention this. They’re not terribly inconvenient but it’s definitely something to consider if you’re busy and constantly on the move.

What’s the removal process like?

This is one part of the process you definitely can do yourself! Removing tape-in hair extensions is a breeze and there are a number of glue removers available online. Superior Hair Extensions recommended the Walker Tape C22 Solvent, which seemed to be a popular option across the internet. While I initially intended (and would recommend you opt for this or something similar) to use the proper solution, my impatience got the better of me. Once I had my heart set on removing them I needed them out ASAP!

I googled whether there were any easy ways to take them out yourself and thanks to lockdown, there were a number of articles saying you could use methylated spirits and even hand sanitiser to take them out. 

I cannot stress this enough – I am not recommending you do this. It’s not good for your hair or the extensions for that matter.

You’re going to have to replace the tapes for your wefts after each application, so using a proper remover like the Walker Tape C22 Solvent will ensure you aren’t left with any glue residue from your first instalment. That being said, it does work if you are in a pinch, or incredibly eager like me. I made sure to follow up with a very intensive oil mask to remove any remaining residue and for some extra nourishment. I can’t say processed or damaged hair would hold up quite the same. As I’ve said, my hair is in very good condition so there’s the possibility that my hair health played a role in how well it coped with this. 

I had been expecting a lot of fall out when I took them out and while I did experience some hair loss, I was pleasantly surprised at how minimal it was. You must be prepared for your hair to feel a lot thinner. Not necessarily because you’ve lost hair but because you will be used to feeling the full weight of your extensions. I found this sensation dissipated after about a week or so.

Should I go for it?

The answer you’ve all been waiting for. Unfortunately, it’s not clear cut and to be honest I am in two minds about them. 

My two cents – they are more economically viable than a lot of other extension options but they are still going to cost you a fair bit. It’s also an ongoing expense as you have them re-applied.  I certainly spent more money on them than I anticipated and I did a lot of research. 

For myself, I don’t think they’re something that work well with my lifestyle – as it turns out I‘m a bit of a sweaty betty. I also love being able to run a brush through my roots and scrub around my scalp which is a no-go while they’re in. 

Funnily enough, they reignited my love for my natural hair and actually helped me stop focusing so obsessively  on growing it out. I had spent so long thinking I’d feel happiest with my hair if it was as long as possible. After having 22 inches – my “dream hair”- I realised I actually prefer it shorter! Words I never thought I’d say (or write). They’re also highly unlikely to mimic the natural texture and density of your own hair, so keep in mind they’re not going to feel quite the same. They did belong to someone else after all!  

If you have a lot of disposable income to throw at your hair, then I’d say go for it! Tape-in hair extensions are super fun. As long as you are prepared for the extra maintenance, they’re a great non-permanent hair treatment. It also means you can change things up without chopping off all your hair or having to colour it. 

Article by Grace Parsons, Photograph by @gigihadid

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