Photo courtesy of Hairtalk Extensions
Photo courtesy of Hairtalk Extensions

There could be a number of reasons you might be hesitant to color a client’s hair, but hair health is typically chief among them. Thankfully, hair extensions provide an alternative solution to the client wanting on-trend looks—fashion colors, rooted styles, highlights or lowlights—without processing natural hair at all.

“Let the extension take the hit,” says Brent Hardgrave, Atlanta-based extensionist and Brent Brush creator. “With the coloring behaviors of many clients, this is the best option for damage-free coloring. You can change the extensions as soon as you change their mind—swipe left or right on the color wheel.” Hardgrave says clients’ color expectations are often above and beyond what their hair fiber can handle, and that’s where extensions play a vital role in helping them achieve their dream hair without damage.

“I love creating new hair cuts with extensions, fixing bad cuts or damage or thinning,” says Victoria Casciola, Hairtalk Hair Extensions artistic director. “But my favorite is providing a color service through extensions.”

Casciola works out of her salon in Las Vegas but also does photoshoots throughout the year. Being able to craft unique color creations on a model who doesn’t want to commit to— albeit very chic—multi-tonal pastel hair is often paramount to Casciola’s vision for a shoot.

When a client wants to test-drive a few lavender pieces in her hair, make sure you are well-prepared to facilitate the service.

“When working with human-hair clip-ins, store your color swatches where they’re protected from light exposure, and replace them every year or two as needed to make sure your swatch is true to color,” says Alex Lozano, Studio 2 owner in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, who uses HairUWear Professional. “Because clip-ins will always have the client’s natural hair laying over them, choose colors that create an effect such as a lowlight, highlight or accent color. A perfect match isn’t necessary to result with a perfect blend.”

Of course, it is possible to custom-color extensions for a client’s desired look. Just like when coloring natural hair, always start with a high-lift blonde to ensure the best results, and be sure to pre-wash extensions with a purifying shampoo to achieve even results.

“On top of a counter, apply plastic wrap, then lay out a single row of extensions to apply color,” says Ashley Rocks from AK Lounge in San Antonio, Texas, who uses Donna Bella hair extensions. “Make sure to flip over the extensions and saturate both sides. If coloring tape-in extensions, remove the tape that comes applied to the extension before coloring to avoid possible slippage.”

Rayshell Clipper, director of sales and education for Hairtalk says to remember the color theory you learned in cosmetology school and never lighten extensions because you’ll likely end up ruining them.

“Never leave color on the extensions as long as you would typically on natural hair,” Clipper says. “Extensions process and absorb color a lot faster. You don’t want the extensions to over-process. Keep an eye on them! And never darken the extensions more than 2-3 shades.”

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to blending extensions with natural hair, so test a few methods before you take shears or razor to hair on a client.

“The best way to blend extensions with natural hair is by starting with the right color, length and texture,” says Niki Galanomatis, Platinum Seamless educator and stylist. She recommends mixing and matching solids that are a shade or two lighter or darker than the client’s natural hair for a multi-dimensional, blended look.

“When using fashion shades, try applying one extension on top that matches the client’s hair and sandwiching the fashion color on the bottom,” she says. “This will leave the client with a gorgeous and natural peek-a-boo effect. Cutting in long layers will remove the weight line, versus a blunt cut, which might leave hair extensions looking heavy or unnatural. Creating texture in the hair and relieving weight by layering will result in soft, natural movement with a seamless finish.”

Send extension clients home with tips to keep their new locks looking their best for as long as possible. Some tips are just a matter of retraining your clients like moving hair out of the way of a shoulder bag or avoiding placing sunglasses on the head to avoid pulling.

“For some reason, once extensions are applied, clients stop putting in the effort to maintain their hair—wrong!” Clipper says. “These are my most important tips for clients once extensions have been applied: Brush hair before shampoo and conditioning, air-dry when you can, do not go to bed with wet hair, and try to braid or tie back hair while sleeping.”

Clipper knows it can be a lot to remember, so she gives her clients an extension-maintenance cheat sheet that outlines all the dos and don’ts. She and Hardgrave both say this is a good—and necessary—time for your client to invest in treatments. Tell them to think of it as an insurance policy to keep the hair beautiful.

"I like to recommend deep-conditioning masques and leave-in conditioners,” Hardgrave says. “Heat-protection spray is key.”

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