The mane menu: Everything you need to know about hair extensions in the UAE

From the pros and the cons to the best options for your hair type, here’s what to consider before stepping foot in the salon

10-piece human hair extensions by Hershesons. Courtesy of Hershesons *** Local Caption ***  AL10oc-ADU-Hershesons03.jpg

What do Shawn Mendes, Joan Jett and hair extensions have in common? They have all, at one time or another, had a bad reputation. But while the first two whizzed to the top of the charts with theirs, the latter has created a series of front-page horror stories, with clumped strands and badly stuck-in tapes sported by the likes of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Victoria Beckham. To reimagine a phrase from a childhood poem: when they are good, they are very good indeed. But when they are bad, they are horrid.

Hair extensions have moved on from the mid-2000s, however, with technology and technique evolving to create an impressively realistic finish when executed well. Whether you’re looking to add volume to thinner locks or just help damaged hair grow an extra inch or two, well-placed extensions can be used to achieve a pared-back effect, rather than a bob-to-back-grazing transformation (although that’s possible, too). Rather than having to seek out a specialist salon, many individual hairstylists in the UAE are adept at working with extensions, thanks to an ever-growing demand from customers. And with this demand has come an evolving range of options, giving clients more choice when it comes to price, application time and durability.

“Hair extensions are really popular in UAE, as well as the wider Middle East region, and the number of brands that manufacture and supply them is growing year on year,” says Haysam Eid, managing director of hair tools and accessories company Eideal, which has just launched its own tape extensions.

What are your options?

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 12, 2013   :   
(C) Diana Bukhari, 35, sits patiently through hours of treatment as she gets her short, dark hair transformed into a long, blond do by a team of hairstylists, including (2-R) Ahmad Makkawi, a hair extensions specialist, at the hair salon Artistic Hair at the Eclipe Hotel downtown Abu Dhabi on Thursday night, Sept. 12, 2013. The salon owner, Nicholas Baaklini, opened the salon 7 years ago and has built a solid clientele and reputation.
Silvia Razgova / The National

Section: AL, undated
Reporter: freelancer Kelly Ann Crane

 *** Local Caption ***  sr-130912-hairsalon23.jpg

Services may vary from salon to salon, but the most common options are: temporary clip-ins, which simply clip on to hair and should be removed daily; keratin bonded, in which keratin “glue” is used to attach extensions; weave, which plaits extensions into existing hair; tapes, which sandwich wefts of extensions between natural hair; and micro or nano bonds, which clamp strands of extensions on to natural hair.

"The most popular extension methods used in the UAE are the LA weave, tapes and nanorings," says Louise, a stylist from Dubai salon That Hair Tho, where weaves start from Dh2,890, including the hair. "We find that most of our clientele request the LA weave. It's super low-maintenance, comfortable and easy to remove."

Jennie Davies, manager of Italian salon Rossano Ferretti in Dubai, agrees, adding that the Jumeirah location mostly deals with tapes, individual keratin bonds and weaves. “The clip-ins are always a popular choice for special events and weddings,” she says.

Splitting hairs

So with an array of varieties on offer, how do you decide the best option for you? First, you should always book a consultation at your chosen salon, so you can discuss your needs with an experienced stylist. Extensions are typically priced after a consultation, depending on what you want; you’ll be charged for the cost of the hair, with a fee for maintenance at future appointments.

“Never agree to having extensions fitted if you have not had a thorough consultation with the stylist beforehand, so they can talk through the different options,” says Karl Warner, senior stylist at Pastels Salon at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. “And always select a stylist who is qualified in fitting hair extensions and who has experience of different methods, so you can be sure that they are fitting the type that is best suited to your hair and your lifestyle.”

For those with fine hair or seeking a little fullness rather than dramatic length, That Hair Tho recommends trying tape-ins. “They aren’t bulky and can be reused,” says Weng, another specialist from the JLT salon. “For clients with medium to thick hair we always recommend the LA weave for adding length and thickness. We measure, cut and sew the hair to fit each individual client, and then blend it in with the natural hair. It looks seamless and lets your natural hair grow without damaging it.”

Davies recommends reusable clip-ins for anyone not looking to make a commitment, and keratin bonds for fine-haired people looking for a longer-lasting effect with an undetectable finish. If you’re seeking a heat and glue-free application, which won’t damage your natural hair, micro or nano bonds are the safest bet. “It’s important to match the extension to your own hair’s density,” advises Eid. “If you have fine hair, always go for lightweight extensions to prevent hair damage. If you have thick hair, you should look for heavier extensions that will blend in well with your hair texture.”

How long will they last?

Tape extensions need to be adjusted every six to eight weeks. Courtesy Eideal

Typically, a customer will buy a packet of natural hair, which can be reused, if cared for correctly. Temporary clip-in extensions have a shelf life of up to two years, says Davies, while keratin bonds are the most durable and can be worn for between three to four months, if well maintained.

Tape extensions will need to be adjusted as the hair grows, typically every six to eight weeks; the same goes for LA weaves. Micro and nano bonds, however, can be worn for about two months straight before they need to be maintained, with the hair lasting for about six months before it needs to be replaced.

How do you look after them?

As with your natural hair, the better you look after extensions, the better their condition.

“Brush your hair regularly,” says Louise, who recommends using a Tangle Teezer brush to ensure you erase any knots without pulling at the bonds. “Invest in a good serum and use a hair mask or treatment on your extensions weekly.”

Leaving your extensions wet is a no-no, and you must always apply a heat protectant product before styling your hair with heat tools; as with your natural locks, extensions can suffer from frazzled, split ends, too. Davies advises using sulphate-free shampoo, as well as keeping clear of chlorine, saltwater and excessive sun exposure.

“Brush frequently from root to tip – this encourages natural oils from your scalp to protect the hair and prevent matting,” she says, adding that locks should be kept in a low ponytail or bun when sleeping, to keep them knot-free. “Always use the best-quality conditioner or hair mask for extensions, as the hair is not getting any nutrients from your scalp, so it needs extra-special conditioning.”

What should you avoid?

Take care of extensions like you would your natural hair. Courtesy That Hair Tho

If it’s your first time getting extensions and you’re shopping around for a salon, beware of being lured in by images on social media. “Steer clear of salons that promote their work using photos from Google or Shutterstock; their work should speak for itself,” warn the stylists at That Hair Tho. “Also, good-quality hair comes at a price. If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is. In the long run it will cost you more to replace, and it will shed like crazy.”

Davies advises using only human hair, not synthetic strands, and recommends Great Lengths, Remi Cachet and Beauty Works as brands to try. “If the salon uses synthetic hair extensions, the end result will lack shine and not be as long-lasting or natural, so I would advise avoiding these salons,” Eid agrees.

Extensions should be professionally colour-matched to ensure a natural result, although the maintenance required to keep them in tip-top condition makes them quite a commitment for those who prefer to leave six months or more between salon appointments.

Warner adds: “If applied by an expert who colour-­matches and blends the extensions with your own hair by cutting, colouring and styling them in the salon, your hair will never have looked better. Of course, the opposite is true, too – if they are applied incorrectly, you can cause severe damage to your hair, scalp and hair follicles.”

Are extensions ethical?

The methods behind sourcing human hair can be unethical, so look for trusted brands that strive to give back to the workers and community. AFP

Another question to ask yourself is whether your extensions have been made ethically. The methods behind sourcing human hair can undoubtedly be rather murky, with some women coerced into donating their locks in pockets of extreme poverty. But UAE salons advise looking for trusted brands that strive to give back to communities. “Great Lengths is actually very ethical,” says Davies. “The hair is 100 per cent traceable and 100 per cent human. A fair and reasonable price is paid, and the money goes straight back into the local community.”

What should you do when you’ve had enough?

Lastly, once you’re ready to bid goodbye to your extensions, resist the temptation to yank them out at home as you risk seriously damaging your scalp and natural hair by doing so.

You should also pop in to see your stylist immediately if your own hair gets tangled and matted, Davies adds. Warner says extensions should not be left in for more than three months, reiterating: "Never try to remove extensions yourself – always visit an expert."