What Should You Know About Hair Extensions?

When considering whether to get hair extensions, the question that’s probably at the top of your mind is how much it will cost you. It’s normal for you to only think about yourself when it comes to hair extensions, as not enough is said about what your new hair might have cost others or the environment.

The following will shock you, but it’s important that you know the darker side of the hair extensions industry. You need to choose your brand and salon very carefully as the hair extensions industry isn’t properly regulated. This article should help you to know what questions to ask.

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There are two types of hair extensions – real human hair or synthetic hair. However, behind this, there’s a whole host of ethical things to think about – where did the human hair come from? Is the brand able to trace it back to its source? What is the synthetic hair made from?

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Yes, real human hair looks the most natural, but the truth is that many brands can’t trace where the hair they use comes from. Sometimes the givers of the hair are willing volunteers (often for religious reasons in Hindu communities), but other times, the hair comes from some of the poorer communities across the world – such as India, China and Russia – where women are forced to give up their hair in return for a small amount of money to feed their families. Even worse, un-dyed, un-treated ‘virgin’ hair is sometimes forcibly cut from young girls, to be sold to beauty consumers in the West. It’s important for brands to be able to trace the origins of the hair that they use, but some can’t or just don’t want to know.

You may think that the easy option is just to go synthetic; but this then brings up some environmental issues. Many synthetic hair extensions are made from plastics (PET or PVC) that have real effects on the environment as they aren’t bio-degradable. You can’t recycle them. The vast amount of this man-made waste from the hair extensions industry is releasing carcinogenic toxins into the air and soil as it lays there and slowly breaks down. O Eco Textures explain that the principle ingredient in acrylic fibres is the cancer-causing acrylonitrile, aka vinyl cyanide – and it can enter your body though both skin absorption and by breathing in spores in the air. There’s also the issue that fully synthetic hair extensions can’t be heat styled or coloured, so the options of how you can style them are limited.

I spoke to some of the key real hair extension brands in the UK and asked them the difficult questions so that you don’t have to.

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Great Lengths

Great Lengths are probably the best-known ethical real hair extensions brand on the market. I spoke to Louise Jenkins, the Great Lengths Education and Creative Manager, so that she can further explain the importance of full traceability.

Your extensions are real human hair. How much do you know about the journey that hair has made from its initial head to the head of the person getting the extensions?

One of the most important aspects of Great Lengths extensions is that they are fully traceable. The brand prides itself on holding ethicality high in its regard. All of the hair is 100% human Indian hair from temples that work directly with Great Lengths. Our extensions are formed from hair that is willingly donated as part of a religious offering to community temples. This offering is usually made to celebrate an occasion within a family, for example a birth of a new baby. This hair is then sold on to become extensions. Great Lengths works closely with specific temples to ensure that the hair given is given freely, that the price paid to the temples is fair and that the money is used to help the communities of the people who donated it. Our commitment to ethical practice sees the proceeds from the purchase of the Indian Temple hair go directly back into the local communities from where it originates – aiding the development of temples, medical services, schools and many other charitable concerns.

As part of our certified training, all of our stylists learn about the importance of where our hair comes from and its process to becoming an extension. The traceability of the hair ensures that we not only receive the best quality, handpicked hair, but also that a fair price is paid and that the money is given back to help the people who initially donated it.

Do you think the hair extensions industry needs to be better regulated?

As a professional and ethical extension brand, we would welcome greater regulations relating to not only extensions, but the wider hair industry as a whole. Whilst not mandatory, we ensure all our education teams are members of the State Registered Hairdresser scheme that is striving to bring further structure and regulations to the industry.

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Gold Class Hair Extensions

Gold Class is another brand that takes its ethical responsibilities seriously. I spoke to Hannah at the Gary Pellicci salon in London – an official Gold Class Hair Extensions partner.

Your extensions are real human hair. How much do you know about the journey that hair has made from its initial head to the head of the person getting the extensions?

It was very important to the founder Inanch Emir, that her Gold Class hair extensions are 100% traceable and that we can talk to our clients about the journey so they can truly understand about their hair. The hair is Indian Temple hair where the hair is donated by Hindu pilgrims as part of their religious tradition known as ‘tonsuring.’ They selflessly give up their hair to offer thanks to their god and to reject their vanity. The temples then sell the hair to raise funds for their upkeep and community projects, such as schooling and health.

Throughout the processing and right to the delivery of the hair to an elite Gold Class salon, the hair is documented and checked to ensure the traceability & quality. As part of the consultation, the stylist always explains to a client the origins of the hair and why it’s so special.

How important to you is it to know exactly where the hair you use comes from and where the money you pay for it goes?

When looking at an extension brand, it as something we questioned a lot - to understand it and to make sure our team were comfortable, as there are still horror stories in the press highlighting how other brands source their hair. We are happy with the reassurances of the Gold Class brand and are happy paying for not only the highest hair quality, but for hair that is willingly donated and paid for legitimately to improve the facilities at the temple and its community.

How can consumers be sure to choose an ethical hair extensions supplier?

We would always recommend clients research the different brands out there to make their choice, and we are more than happy to talk about it with them - from our perspective as hairdressers with many years in industry and having working with a few brands over the years. Gold Class share information on their website and social media, including pictures from their own visits to India, to help educate consumers so that they do start to understand and ask questions.

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Additional Lengths

Additional Lengths are the parent company to Remi Cacher hair extensions, and I was keen to speak to them as their website makes no obvious mention of any ethical or environmental considerations. The Remi Cachet website itself mentions where in the world the hair comes from and how good quality it is, but only mention how that hair is sourced deep down in its FAQ section. It’s says that it’s ethically donated hair and that a fair price is paid, but goes into no more detail than that. If I was getting Remi Cachet hair extensions, I’d want to dig a lot deeper first about where the hair comes from. Here’s what I asked them -

What do you think people should use - real hair extensions or synthetic hair extensions? What are the possible ethical and environmental dangers involved with each?

The benefit of real hair extensions is that you can style them just as if they’re your own hair, with heated tools; and in many respects, they are easy to care for. It also comes down to personal preference and the fact that the texture of real human hair extensions blend well with you own hair to look natural and can also last longer so that you get value for money.

Tell me about the hair extensions you work with?

Remi Cachet is a luxury hair extension brand offering a choice of application methods and hair qualities from different sources. The most popular method is pre-bonded Mini Tips® using discreet Mini Locks to secure the extension safely to the hair. Remi Cachet also offer a range of pre-bonded heat fusion bonds, Wefts, Clip ins and Tape Hair, so there is something for everyone. The hair is ethically sourced from either Indian Temples, Russia, Mongolia or China; offering different textures so that the stylist can match to your own hair. With good care, extensions can last up to 12months. They are available in over 40 shades including on-trend ombre, dip dyes and root stretches and lengths from 12” through to 24” for the Rapunzel-wanabees. They also offer HABIA approved training courses for professional stylists to ensure that they are offering the best application techniques for expert application and safe removal.

I didn’t really get any information about the traceability of the hair, so I went back and posed an additional question to them. Their answer confirmed my suspicions that they could not be 100% certain that the Remi Cacet Russian Mongolian or Chinese hair was sourced from willing volunteers or that they were paid a fair price for it, as it’s purchased at a market.

How much research has Additional Lengths done into how Remi Cachet source their hair? Their website is very vague on where the hair comes from and how and why it was donated to be sold. Can you trace all of the hair from all of the countries right back to where it came from and why it was given?

Additional Lengths are the parent company to Remi Cachet and are fully aware of the sourcing of hair, with the management team regularly making trips to the factory to check on quality and ethicality. Remi Cachet have three main hair sources:

• Indian Hair is sourced directly from the Temples where Hindu pilgrims donate their hair as a ritual. The temples then sell the hair to raise money for their community projects and the upkeep of the temples, where Remi Cachet’s agents purchase the highest quality hair to be made into extensions. The Indian ranges are Prestige and Exclusive products.

• The Russian Mongolian hair is purchased at raw hair markets where the hair is collected in braids from young women such as students and housewives with healthy, untreated hair. They are paid a reasonable price based on length, quality and density. The hair is cut into a ponytail braid, leaving the donor with a bob to grow again. This hair is from the Elegance Range of products.

• The Chinese Hair of the Luxury Range is similar to the Russian Mongolian.
We believe that by donors providing their hair by choice and receiving a reasonable fee for any hair donated, this ensures that our hair is always sourced ethically.

The factory have good records to ensure that they can track hair through this process, not just for ethicality, but for quality purchases and unique batch codes allowing for tracking. Our ranges are separated into these sources above, as is the production process, so we can ensure that hair types are not mixed.

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Racoon International

Racoon International are another UK real hair extensions brand that take a strong stance on their ethical responsibilities.

Your extensions are real human hair. How much do you know about the journey the hair makes from its initial head to the head of the person getting the extensions?

Racoon International is a leading supplier of premium quality, ethically sourced, real hair extensions. We’ve been in business since 1995 and so for over 20 years we have worked exclusively with a well-established supplier network which has sourced and provided human hair to the wig and extension industry for generations. By working closely with our supplier, we can guarantee the ethical sourcing of all our hair.

How important to you is it to know exactly where the hair you use comes from and where the money you pay for it goes?

Knowing exactly where our hair comes from and where monies are paid to ensure its supply is of paramount importance to us. A principled, moral standpoint on sourcing is a key pillar of our trading, which is why we’ve worked for over 20 years with the same supplier who we know and trust. We know all our hair is ethically sourced and can be traced back to its source, with monies paid for the hair going back into the local community. Independent hair expert, Mr Iain Sallis M.I.T, Consultant Trichologist and Member of the Institute of Trichology has been quoted as saying: “I am very impressed by Racoon’s strong stance on the ethical sourcing of hair and its dedication to extensions’ education.”

How can consumers be sure to choose an ethical hair extensions supplier? Is it something most customers care about?

Some customers care about ethical sourcing, some don’t. If in the hands of one of our highly-trained and qualified Racoon salon professional extensionists – the customer does not need to question the honourable nature of the hairs source.

Do you think the hair extensions industry needs to be better regulated?

Hairdressing is an unregulated industry in the UK. The Hair Council* is currently very active lobbying Parliament to introduce mandatory licensing/regulation of all hairdressers and barbers.

*The Hair Council is a not for profit Statutory Body, set up under the Hairdressers (Registration) Act of 1964. It is the sole industry organisation that has a mandate from Government to maintain, develop and protect the Register of hairdressers and barbers.

What's also very exciting is the launch of a new organisation Fair Hair Care, who are campaigning to bring fairness, transparency and a quality standard to the hair extensions industry. They will be giving a seal of approval to brands and manufacturers who meet their standards and pass their verificiation process; making it easier for consumers to know which brands to go for.

I put questions to a lot of other hair extension brands but didn’t get a response. When you are going to get extensions, do your research, and at the very least, ask these questions. The answers should be immediate and forthcoming. If they’re not, go elsewhere.

Main, Great Lengths 4th & 5th Images - Racoon International