Hair extensions are one of the most popular hair accessories for women. In 2021, the hair extension market was worth more than $6bn globally, with demand increasing year-on-year .
Hair extensions can enhance the volume and appearance of your hair, so it’s no wonder they’re so popular.
But 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.”
So what’s the truth about hair extensions? Are they a helpful tool to boost hair thickness, volume, and length — or a surefire way to ruin your hair? Let’s find out.
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 .
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.
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.
But with repeated use, hair extensions actually cause your hair to become thinner. Hair extensions put serious and/or sustained pressure on your hair follicles. Over time, this action causes the 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 follicles.
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:
Additionally, supermodel Naomi Campbell and reality TV star Chloe Ferry have exposed their own battles with 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 thinning.
Because 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 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 . Research also shows black women who wear their hair in protective styles for long periods are also at high risk of traction alopecia.
Yes. If your hair is naturally thin, hair extensions are very much a temporary solution that will make matters worse if you wear them long-term.
The good news is that hair extension-related hair loss isn’t always permanent. Stopping or reducing the use of hair extensions can give your follicles the opportunity to recover, so they can start producing healthy hair again.
Alongside reducing your use of hair extensions, certain other treatments can help speed up regrowth after traction alopecia. Minoxidil has been shown to improve traction alopecia symptoms and promote regrowth [3-4].
There are several types of hair extensions, including:
All these methods put you at risk of developing traction alopecia, but some are more likely to cause problems than others.
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 apply additional pressure. Tape-in extensions may tear out healthy hair when removed.
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. But unlike other methods, they can be removed with ease and worn much less frequently, which can minimise the risk of hair loss and thinning.
Hair extensions are useful for giving thin hair a boost on special occasions. But ultimately, hair extensions that last for weeks or months are likely to take its 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.
If thin hair is getting you down and you want to stop relying on hair extensions, there are other options out there. Some hair extension alternatives include:
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.
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