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The Great Beauty Experiment: How to Make Your Own DIY (Extremely Convincing) Hair Extensions for Under $200

I’m so excited to introduce a new feature here on Family Style, called The Great Beauty Experiment! Where Babble pays me to try all manner of bizarre and not-so-bizarre and painful and not-so-painful beauty treatments and DIYs to see just how far us females will go for beauty, which treatments actually work, and how painful are Brazilian waxes really?

Up first, a dream come true for yours truly: DIY Barbie Hair!

It turns out that hair extensions are so much more common than I ever realized. When I first sat down with Kristen Jex, my hairdresser (and lovely friend), to discuss this project, she explained that as much as I might think hair extensions are this exotic, only-for-the-rich-and-famous luxury, that the hair industry is huge. People are buying and wearing other people’s hair. A lot. And that putting together your own head of hair extensions is actually really, really easy. And fun! Time consuming. But fairly inexpensive! I was so excited to get started.

After the jump, we documented the process of putting together a fabulous head of hair for me to wear around Manhattan like a glamazon, so you can try it yourself. No, really! Here we go!


  • Welcome to Midtown! 1 of 26
    Welcome to Midtown!
    Kristen took me to midtown Manhattan to get my hair, or "bag of hair," as we started to call it. On Broadway between 32nd and 28th there are many, many hair shops. We stopped in a few to compare prices and inventory before settling on our own bag of hair.
  • Welcome! 2 of 26
    Welcome!
    Come on in and I'll show you what a hair store might look like.
  • Wigs 3 of 26
    Wigs
    Should you be interested, you can buy a full wig! Full wigs are PRICEY.
  • Human vs Synthetic 4 of 26
    Human vs Synthetic
    When buying hair, you have options, and what you choose will depend on how you intend to use your hair. Kristen explained that for girls needing extensions to add to a head full of braids, or for girls who will be requiring a LOT of hair, a mix of human and synthetic (or often just synthetic) is a smart way to go, to save on costs. Human hair is more expensive than synthetic, though synthetic options are far-reaching, with all sorts of textures and quality differences to consider. This one is sexy, so you know it's a good place to start! ;)
  • The Different Types of Human Hair 5 of 26
    The Different Types of Human Hair
    The type of human hair you choose will depend on your budget and the type of hair you have. There's virgin hair, which is completely unprocessed and typically dark, then there's processed hair, which is hair that's been curled, dyed, relaxed, etc. Then there's origin and type to consider. The most common options are European, Brazilian, Indian, and Peruvian. These don't necessarily mean the hair itself came from those countries, but rather from a person of that descent. A natural blonde won't necessarily want a dark Peruvian weft of hair. When you go in, plan to ask questions about how processed the hair is and expect to feel the hair. You'll want to buy hair that matches your own texture as closely as possible, though there's lots of wiggle room. You can expect a roll of hair to cost between $30 and $100, depending on quality and length. These here were all in the $40 range.
  • This Is the Place 6 of 26
    This Is the Place
    After looking through a few stores and feeling more than a few ponytails of hair, we found this place. The seediest place of them all! It was kind of a thrill.
  • The Window Display 7 of 26
    The Window Display
    This momentarily distracted me from my Barbie hair quest. Wouldn't I rather have a dramatic head of feathers? Hmm. Tempting.
  • Remy Peruvian Hair, 18 8 of 26
    Remy Peruvian Hair, 18
    The wall of hair. Unlike other shops, this hair did not come packaged with a pretty label. It just hung there. Unlike the other stores' inventory, this hair actually felt REAL. The ends were split and damaged, like REAL hair is. There were even a couple grays. We found our hair. Peruvian Remy Virgin hair. We selected 18". You can choose anything from 8-12-14-18 inches. Since I was going for length, we selected the 18" length. It came to $110. You'll also need to buy extension clips, which come in many colors. We got a bag of 12 for $8.
  • Time to Put Them Together! 9 of 26
    Time to Put Them Together!
    Unless your hair is already the exact color of the hair you purchased, there'll be a little bit of color prep involved. Here's what you'll need: Hair, clips, needle and thread (not pictured), Diet Coke....
  • …. Ingredients Continued 10 of 26
    .... Ingredients Continued
    ... hair color, a pot for mixing the color, hair shears...
  • … Ingredients Continued 11 of 26
    ... Ingredients Continued
    ... a good friend for moral support...
  • …. Ingredients Continued 12 of 26
    .... Ingredients Continued
    ... and a husband watching the Olympics (optional).
  • Step One 13 of 26
    Step One
    Unroll your hair. Resist the urge to make a human hair flag bunting. Or to wear it as a scarf. It's hard to do.
  • Step Two 14 of 26
    Step Two
    Measure your extensions. To get a convincing head of long hair, you'll want to cut three or four wefts. You will place them at ear level and lower, about a quarter to half inch apart. We decided to double up and do two layers of hair per extension, to give the most realistic look and blend best with my own hair. You want to cut the weft just slightly shorter than your own hair line. Don't make them go ALL the way across, just ALMOST.
  • Step Three 15 of 26
    Step Three
    Dye your hair. I needed to lighten it just ever so much. We spread the color on, just your usual at-home Clairol or L'Oreal will do. Use permanent dye and follow the instructions on the box.
  • Step Four 16 of 26
    Step Four
    Time to rinse!
  • Step Four Continued! 17 of 26
    Step Four Continued!
    This whole thing felt like a strange, slightly creepy art project. It was REALLY fun.
  • Step Four, One More Part! 18 of 26
    Step Four, One More Part!
    Rinse it very well. You won't be washing these extensions as often as you wash your real hair, as they aren't connected to your scalp and not as subject to oiliness. In fact, washing once a week is more than enough, you could even get away with every two weeks if you are careful, and when you do wash, Kristen recommends using watered-down shampoo and being VERY gentle. Use conditioner (she recommends smoothing a bit of heavy duty hand creme through hair when dry as the best conditioner).
  • Step Five 19 of 26
    Step Five
    Dry!
  • Step Six 20 of 26
    Step Six
    Sew your clips to your wefts. Be sure to use thread nearly the same color, and make them good and sturdy. The more clips, the better they stay in and the more real they look. Sagging wefts are sad!
  • Step Seven 21 of 26
    Step Seven
    My hair naturally lightens at the end, so we decided to do a color melt on the ends of the extensions so they'd blend seamlessy. This is actually very easy to do yourself, and if you've been interested in the ombre look, you're in luck. The first thing you do is rat the hair (either the extension or the hair on your head).
  • Step Seven Continued! 22 of 26
    Step Seven Continued!
    Next, apply your color to just the bottom portion of your hair. Kristen recommends that you NOT use bleach, but a lighter shade of your natural hair color. This way there's no breakage or damage, and you can let the color sit on the hair as long as you need to get the right fade. For my hair, we picked an ash blond. No matter what color you choose with this method, your hair will only be lightened by three shades (no hair dye can bring you more than three shades lighter, only bleach can, so keep that in mind any time you wish to lighten your hair).
  • Step Seven, One More Part! 23 of 26
    Step Seven, One More Part!
    Roll the hair in foil and let sit. We let ours sit about 45 minutes.
  • Step Eight 24 of 26
    Step Eight
    Place the hair in place and trim to make it pretty. When you put the clips in, Kristen recommends teasing your hair at the root to give the clip a bit of a nest to sit in. Once in, they actually felt like real hair, I couldn't tell the difference as she was trimming the extensions, it felt like a normal hair cut. Bizarre!
  • Step Nine 25 of 26
    Step Nine
    You can curl your extensions as you would your regular hair, but Kristen advises taking it easy, and avoiding product. This hair was selected for its quality, so it will most likley hold a curl better than your own hair does.
  • Finished! 26 of 26
    Finished!
    Go in the bathroom and gawk at your Barbie hair. Hair extensions: TOTAL game changer. Worth the cost, worth the prep time, and this morning when I put them in before running off to get some work done, it only took me five minutes. I was able to skip the straightener on my own hair, so I actually cut my morning routine by 10 minutes! Extensions, I love you!

P.S. If you’re looking to buy human hair online, I found the brand we selected HERE, at humanhairwefts.com

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