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Are hair extensions bad for your hair?

Hair extensions are one of the most popular hair accessories for women. In 2023, the hair extension market was worth more than $4.5bn globally, with demand increasing year-on-year [1].

Hair extensions can enhance the volume and appearance of your hair, so it’s no wonder they’re so popular for women looking for longer and thicker hair.

However, in recent years, many female celebrities have revealed the impact hair extensions have had on their own hair. Friends star Jennifer Aniston said:

“The real reason I cut my hair? My real hair was getting thinned out again from all the extensions. It was starting to look fake.”

Jennifer Aniston before and after hair extensions
So what’s the truth about hair extensions? Are they a helpful tool to boost hair thickness, volume, and length — or will hair extensions damage your hair? Let’s find out.
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Do hair extensions ruin your hair?

Unfortunately for the thousands of women who rely on them, hair extensions really can damage your hair. Studies have shown hair extensions are responsible for hair thinning in women, which can range from lack of density to full-blown traction alopecia [2].

The good news is that this only really happens with sustained use of hair extensions. If you only use them occasionally — maybe once a month or so — you’re unlikely to see any long-term negative effects.

The negative effects of hair extensions

Relying on hair extensions often leads to a vicious cycle. Your hair is thin, so you use extensions to boost volume and thickness, giving you flexibility in how you style your hair on a daily basis.

Unfortunately with repeated use, hair extensions can cause your hair to become thinner by putting serious and/or sustained pressure on your hair follicles. Over time, this action causes the hair follicle to stop producing hair, leading to small bald patches. You might also notice tiny broken hairs within these areas where the hair has snapped off near the root.

As your hair gets thinner, you rely on hair extensions even more to boost your hair volume, until you end up with visibly thin, unhealthy natural hair.

Even worse, while traction alopecia is usually temporary, to begin with, it can become permanent if you don’t stop putting pressure on your hair follicles.

Hair damage from extensions in pictures

Women are more likely to wear hair extensions, so they’re more likely to experience the side effects of thin, damaged hair, including women’s hair loss.

Many female celebrities with hair loss have revealed the impact of wearing hair extensions too often. Geordie Shore‘s Vicky Pattison unveiled a large bald spot on the side of her scalp caused by hair extensions:

Vicky Pattison's hair loss caused by hair extensions
Vicky Pattison's hair loss caused by hair extensions

Additionally, supermodel Naomi Campbell and reality TV star Chloe Ferry have exposed their own battles with hair extensions:

Naomi Campbell's traction alopecia cause by hair extensions
Naomi Campbell's traction alopecia cause by hair extensions
Chloe Ferry's hair damage caused by hair extensions
Chloe Ferry's hair damage caused by hair extensions

Why is my hair so thin after using hair extensions?

The mechanism behind hair loss caused by hair extensions is pretty simple. The weight of your hair extensions loosens your natural hair shafts from their follicles. This ultimately causes your hair to fall out, creating the appearance of hair thinning.

Since hair extensions pull on dozens of hair follicles in the same area at the same time, you dislodge multiple hairs, leading to noticeable bald patches. While these will regrow initially, using hair extensions repeatedly can lead to irreparable hair follicle damage, which will stop them from producing hair.

You could be at greater risk of developing traction alopecia from hair extensions if your hair has been relaxed or chemically treated [3]. Research also shows black women who wear their hair in protective styles for long periods are also at high risk of traction alopecia.

Are hair extensions bad for thin hair?

Yes. If you have a naturally thin hair type then using hair extensions is very much a temporary solution that will make matters worse if you wear them long-term.

Hair loss from extensions: will it grow back?

The good news is that hair extension-related hair loss isn’t always permanent. Stopping or reducing the use of hair extensions can allow your follicles to recover, so they can start producing healthy hair again.

Alongside reducing your use of hair extensions, certain other treatments can help speed up hair regrowth after traction alopecia. Minoxidil has been shown to improve traction alopecia symptoms and promote hair growth [3-4].

Types of hair extensions

There are several types of hair extensions, including:

  • Clip-in hair extension — Individual wefts of hair are clipped into your natural hair using small pressure-sensitive clips.
  • Tape-in hair extensions — Each extension is taped to your existing hair using a thin strip of tape that sits flat against your scalp.
  • Weaves — Also known as sew-in extensions, a weave is sewn into a braid of your natural hair, allowing for longer-lasting extensions.
  • Pre-bonded/hot fusion — Long-lasting hair extensions applied using a warm keratin glue that fuses the extensions to your natural hair roots.
  • Cold fusion — Similar to hot fusion extensions, except that a small bead or ring is used to connect the extension to the natural hair root.

Which type of hair extension is the most damaging?

Regardless of what type you choose to use, using hair extensions will put you at risk of developing traction alopecia. However, some types are more likely to cause problems than others.
A variety of hair extensions

Least damaging hair extensions

Non-permanent hair extensions such as clip-ins are the healthiest type of hair extensions. This isn’t necessarily because they won’t cause traction alopecia (if you wear them continuously, the clips can also add bulk and weight, piling pressure on your follicles).

However, unlike other non-temporary hair extensions, they can be removed with ease by the individual wearing them and worn much less frequently, which can minimise the risk of hair loss and thinning.

Tape-in extensions are also one of the least damaging types of hair extensions out there however they may tear out healthy hair when removed.

permanent hair extensions being applied by a professional

Most damaging hair extensions

Hot fusion extensions can damage your hair by applying hot glue to the hair roots, while the beads, rings, and thread used for cold fusion extensions and weaves can add extra weight and add additional pressure.

Furthermore, it should be noted that unlike clip-ins and tape-ins where the wearer can remove their own hair extensions, these types of extensions should be removed by a professional to avoid further hair damage.

Are hair extensions worth it?

Hair extensions are useful for giving thin or fine hair a boost on special occasions. Unfortunately, hair extensions that last for weeks or months are likely to take their toll on your hair, leading to damage, thinning, and even bald patches. So it’s probably not worth getting these if you’re worried about hair extensions and hair loss.

If you’re unhappy with your hair volume and want to use hair extensions, try to stick with temporary clip-in hair extensions that you can remove at night and after work. They may look slightly less natural than other types, but they’re less likely to do permanent damage to your hair.

Alternatives to hair extensions

If thin hair is getting you down and you want to stop relying on hair extensions to give you the appearance of thick hair, there are other options out there. Some hair extension alternatives include:

  • Change your hairstyle — Just like Jennifer Aniston, many women find that shorter hairstyles add volume and bounce to their tresses. Check out the best women’s hairstyles for a receding hairline.
  • Stop heat styling your hair — Heat and hair loss go hand-in-hand, so keep your hair healthy by minimising the use of straighteners and curling tongs.
  • Apply Minoxidil — Minoxidil is a topical hair growth solution that’s suitable for most women. Applying it twice a day could improve traction alopecia symptoms and boost hair density [5].
  • Consider a hair transplant — Hair transplants are usually seen as a men’s hair loss treatment, but female hair transplants work just as well for women who want greater hair density.

Why is my hair so thin?

There may be an underlying reason that your hair is thin or brittle prior to the use of hair extensions. That’s why it’s important to investigate any hair loss or thinning with a medically trained hair loss specialist.

At the Wimpole Clinic, we can carry out hair loss blood tests and other examinations to fully assess your hair loss and ensure we provide the most appropriate treatment. It’s why more than 200,000 women have trusted us to help them find the right female hair loss treatment for their hair loss.

Book a consultation with the Wimpole Clinic team to tackle your hair thinning.

Are hair extensions bad for your hair?, Wimpole Clinic

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