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My gal pal Bernice turns 40 this summer. Her hubby Frank is taking her to Cancún to celebrate. Bernice has been preparing for the trip -- working out, dieting, and shopping for new outfits. "But my hair is a fizzy mess," she complained during our weekly kaffeeklatsch. "Too many dye jobs. I wish I had new hair." I suggested a Dolly Parton wig. She wasn't amused. "Then what about hair extensions?" I offered. She looked skeptical, but said she'd consider it if I could find something that didn't look horrible. I love a challenge, especially one from Bernice. I called C13 Salon, which is located downtown. "Once people have had extensions, then they really don't want to live without them," explained Rebecca Nan Franks, cosmetologist at C13. "I have clients that have been wearing them for ten years. The day they have a set removed, they have another set put in."

Franks says the reasons for putting them in vary. "Genetically your hair will grow to a certain length and then it will fall out," Franks continued. "So a lot of people get extensions for that reason. They want hair that is longer than their own will grow. Also, some people have really fine hair. I do a lot of models and people that are in the entertainment industry. The hair photographs better when you have extensions. It's beautiful hair, it's giving you what you don't normally have."

Franks added another plus to hair extensions. "Lets say your hair is 18 inches long. But on your head you have little short loose pieces of hair that are different lengths. If you put in an 18-inch piece of hair extension, that highlight is going to travel all the way from the top to the bottom. So you get a whole different effect of your color with the extensions.

"And it is just fun," she added. "I have clients who change their hair totally different colors every three to four months. Extensions come in colors like fire engine red, fuchsia, purple, blue, so you can add in funky colors with the hair. It's a way to do something fun with your hair, and a month from now, if you are sick of it, have it removed."

Who donates the hair?

"One of the companies I use, Great Lengths, gets their hair from the temples in India," she replied. "Hindu women grow their hair their whole life. They don't color it or perm it. Their hair is their treasure. When they get married, they go to the temple and they have their hair cut as an offering to their god. The temples then sell the hair to Great Lengths, who then processes the hair in Italy. The way they process it is they remove all the pigment from the hair. It's an osmosis treatment that takes anywhere from 16 to 22 days for the process to occur. So it's a lot more gentle process than getting highlights done in half an hour. Then Great Lengths re-dyes their hair with textile dyes, very similar to the way that cashmere is processed. So their colors stay forever."

There are a few different methods of putting in hair extensions. Franks uses the fusion method. "The hair comes with a bond already attached to the individual strands of hair and then we fuse that to the client's hair. To me it's more durable, more permanent. It becomes your hair. And nobody knows that you have them."

Franks laid out a few other hair extension methods.

"Another method, by a company called Hairlocs, is a metal link that has a wax inside of the metal. You use it like a little crochet hook, you pull a piece of hair out and put that little loop through the hair and then you smash it onto the hair. The benefit to them is they can be put back in, and they are taken out a little easier, but to me, they are a bit more obvious than the fusion method."

Then there is the weave. "A small braid like a little French braid is done right at the scalp area. Then they take what's called a weft of hair, which is a bunch of hair usually machine sewn together, and they sew that onto the braid. If you just wanted a temporary attachment, you want to make sure that it isn't going to come out for an evening out, then the weave is a good option. The problem with it, however, is as your hair grows out, that braid is growing out. The other problem is that you're getting tension where that braid is, your cuticle gets friction where that braid is."

How long do they last?

"I have clients that wear them up to seven months, but on average three to four months. The extensions grow out with your hair, which is why they need to get redone. Also, your naturally shedding hair gets trapped in the hair extension, and they don't have anywhere to go. So the extension that's attached to your hair is being supported by less and less hair. So it's important to have your hairdresser check your hair after getting extensions."

Any special care needed for hair extensions?

"Brushing hair is very important," answered Franks. "You can blow dry the hair and flat iron your hair. But you don't want to flat iron over the bond because it will re-melt."

The price, Franks says, "depends on how much hair we need to actually put in. People's head circumferences are different and longer length hairs are more expensive. It can range anywhere from $300 up to $2500 and it takes anywhere from three to five hours to put them in."

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