A Columbus Weddings staffer chases the luscious locks of her dreams.

This story first appeared in the spring/summer 2020 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in December 2019.

I have four sisters who all have long, thick or otherwise luxurious hair. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for me, whose fine hair is too weak to grow much past my shoulders. So when a friend mentioned that her stylist, Kelsey Rowley at Sola Salon Studios, needed to practice installing Aqua hair extensions on live models, I signed right up.

The process began with a consultation to assess my hair and goals. I had a medium-length, layered bob; “mermaid hair” stretching all the way down my back wasn’t realistic, but Rowley assured me that we could add noticeable length. She recommended the hand-tied “wefts” from Aqua, the brand she was newly certified in. Installation took about three hours as Rowley clamped three rows of beads into my hair, then sewed a long, curtain-like sheet of human hair, called wefts, to each row, using the beads as anchors. (In coarser, typically African hair, a similar effect can be achieved with braids instead of beads; Aqua’s method is designed for hair too weak for braids.)

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Finally, Rowley trimmed the extensions to a length that would blend with my natural hair. I think a shorter length would have blended more seamlessly, but I didn’t buy someone else’s hair just to have shoulder-length locks.

Few brides realize that to obtain the full updos or long, radiant curls seen in many bridal styles, a little extra hair often is necessary. Knowing this, I put my extensions to the test in terms of styling, trying to see just how much of a difference those extra inches make.

After a few months, I realized that Aqua’s installation method simply wasn’t working for me. I don’t get enough long hair framing my face, which means I have to style it carefully to avoid a mullet effect. I love high ponytails and top knots, which expose the beads if I don’t add a headband. And because my hair is so fine, the beads tend to slide down the shafts, requiring a three-hour appointment to remove and replace them every four weeks, rather than the standard six to eight.

Curious about my options, I turned to Daphne Dysinger, a designer at PENZONE Salon + Spa Dublin, who’s been doing hair extensions for seven years. She, too, is certified in Aqua extensions, as well as Hairtalk tape-in extensions and several Hairdreams products: Quikkies tape-in extensions, Microlines volumizing pieces and Nano semipermanent extensions.

When I told Dysinger my concerns, she recommended Hairdreams Nano, thin bundles of human hair that are individually bonded to one’s natural hair using a clear (or brown) crystal polymer. The result is an almost invisible bond with versatile styling options. A whole head of hair, Dysinger says, can be installed in under an hour, and there’s no need to remove and replace the extensions as with Aqua or tape-in versions. The polymer moves down the shaft as hair grows and typically remains unnoticeable.

The looming question about extensions, for brides and non-brides alike, is cost. Anecdotally, I’d come to think of extensions as coming in two formats: very expensive and affordable (but terrible-looking). For me, an apples-to-apples cost comparison of Aqua vs. Hairdreams Nano at PENZONE puts the latter as the more cost-effective version. Hairdreams Nano extensions last only four to six months and have a higher upfront cost for the type and length of hair I want; Aqua has a six- to 12-month wear time and costs less to purchase and install the hair, but requires regular move-up appointments. Because my move-ups happen more frequently than average, Aqua is squarely in the “more expensive” category for me. That may not be the case for all brides, however, so be sure to ask your stylist about all of your options, or even seek out opinions from several stylists with experience in different brands and processes for installing extensions.

While everyone’s hair and extensions journey is different, here are a few takeaways from my experience.

There’s a learning curve

It’s a weird feeling, having someone else’s hair sewn onto your head. I was hyper-aware of the bonds for a couple of weeks, and I had to learn how to delicately brush, wash and style hair that was very different from my own in terms of texture and hold.

Dysinger says the maintenance will be lower with Hairdreams Nano, though I will have to play with my hair daily to ensure that the individual bonds aren’t sticking to one another. I also will have to avoid hair products with alcohol and oils, which can turn the bonds brittle, and wax, which can build up. Do you know how many hair products contain those products? Most of them.

Not all products are created equal

Hair extensions can be for everybody, Dysinger says, but not every product works for everyone. My experience with Aqua is proof. If you’re a bride who wants just a little extra volume for a down-do, you might consider the less expensive (but more visible and shorter-lasting) tape-in extensions. A removable option, like clip-ins or the “halo” style extensions (a long sheet of hair attached to a clear string, which is worn like a headband), could also work.

If you have alopecia, extreme thinning or bald spots, you might consider Microlines to add volume at the very top of your head, where standard extensions can’t be placed. If your hair has very specific texture, Hairdreams is a great option, as it’s available in a variety of curl types. Hairdreams also seems to be a frontrunner when it comes to adding extreme length. If you just want to add a bit of volume without a ton of length, the Aqua hand-tied wefts could be your best bet.

Texture matters

Because my hair is very fine and a tad overprocessed, it gets pretty fluffy when it’s freshly washed. This differs greatly from my Aqua extensions, which are a bit coarser even when they’re squeaky clean. The result? It doesn’t blend as well the first day after I wash it, and a half-up or updo tends to look best.

Color can be difficult

When we installed my silver extensions, they were a near-perfect match to the hue of my own hair. I couldn’t believe my good fortune … until I started getting touch-up color. I started to notice that my Aqua hair was taking the silvery dye better than my own hair, resulting in a top layer of platinum, nearly white-silver, and a longer bottom layer of more gray-silver. That ultimately led to my decision to take the plunge on the rose gold hue seen in my editor’s letter, but even that saw some differences in tone and depth of color.

The verdict
Ultimately, I am obsessed with my long hair, even to the point of tolerating some less-than-convenient maintenance and styling requirements. I’m looking forward to trying out Hairdreams Nano in a few months, when my Aqua hair has run its course. Consider me fully team “long hair, don’t care!”