Everything You Need to Know About Getting Hair Extensions If You Work Out A Lot

Plus, learn more about the types of hair extensions, how much they cost, and how long they can last.

Woman with long hair exercising outdoors
Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to working out, I've always thought that my shortish hair — which ranges in length from a long bob to slightly past my shoulders, depending on how long it's been since my last cut — was pretty low maintenance. My hair does not get in the way when I work out, generally stays put when I throw it up in a scrunchie for a class and is easy to wash and dry. But when I realized I hadn't grown my hair out past my shoulders since college, I started thinking about what it would look like if it was longer.

The thing about growing out your hair is that it can go through an awkward phase — at least mine does. It gets to a certain length and just kinda looks bad, IMO. I usually either like my hair shorter or longer, but not in between. But it dawned on me that one way to skip that awkward grow-out phase altogether is to try hair extensions. Simple enough, right?

It turns out, getting hair extensions is anything but a simple process. Yes, they can give you length, volume, and body fast, but they are a huge commitment in terms of time and money, and many types require regular care and upkeep. And if you like to work out a lot, maintaining extensions becomes all the more complicated. Below, everything you need to know about getting hair extensions, including the types you can choose from and which ones are best for those who are super active.

How Do Hair Extensions Work?

Hair extensions help you get longer, fuller, hair and can even help you play around with different colors and textures depending on what type of extensions you get. They come in tons of different varieties (in terms of colors, textures, application method, and the type of hair that is used to make them), but below you'll find the most popular and commonly used hair extensions at the moment.

Almost anyone can try hair extensions, but the type that you should choose will depend on your hair texture in addition to other factors such as how often you wash your hair, if you're willing to commit to maintenance appointments, and how long you want them to stay in. Many people who are interested in extensions have fine hair and want to add more volume and body, although length is certainly a common goal too, according to Marissa Martoni, senior stylist and hair extension specialist at Mark Ryan Salon in New York, who's applied extensions for Vanessa Hudgens, Rita Ora, and Kate Beckinsale.

While your stylist should assess your hair and make the call on what type of extensions will work best for your goals and budget, here are the main types of extensions and the pros and cons of each.

What Are the Different Types of Hair Extensions?

Keratip Extensions

Keratip extensions are also called bonded extensions since they are fused to the hair by applying a keratin bond to the tip of the extension. The bond is applied with a heat tool, which looks like a cross between a hair straightener and pliers. These types of extensions can last a really long time (three to four months, according to Martoni) if you take care of them properly by keeping them brushed and tangle free and avoiding application of high-temperature heat (keep hot tools under 400 degrees), especially to the bond itself which can melt. Once you hit the three- or four-month mark, you will have to get them removed at the salon and usually, they can't be reapplied.

Image of hair extensions being put in at the salon
Courtesy of Mercey Livingston

Keratip extensions also tend to look less noticeable. "You can put in as many or as little [extensions as you'd like] for whatever [your] desired look, and it almost always looks so natural," says Martoni.

The drawback is that Keratip extensions can be really expensive depending on how many you get (a full head of them can cost several thousand dollars). One reason the cost is high is that they can take a long time to apply since the stylist is bonding the extensions to your hair one small section at a time. The total cost varies based on the stylist, so always ask for a consultation and come with a budget in mind so you can decide if they will work for you.

I-Tip Extensions

I-Tip hair extensions are applied to the hair in sections or small bundles of hair with beads made from copper and silicone, and the application processes don't require heat, according to The Hair Shop. They can take a long time to apply, but the good news is that you can usually reuse the hair again once you take them out, according to The Hair Shop. These last for about eight to 10 weeks, and you can typically reuse the hair about two to three times, unlike with the Keratip extensions, which require you to use fresh hair each time.

Sew-In Extensions

Sew-in extensions are applied by a stylist in a variety of different methods. These are sometimes referred to as a weave, and they are either braided in or clipped in, according to Martoni. According to Martoni, a potential drawback is that if you have a very heavy hair extension, it can cause breakage with this method. Pricing is similar to bonded hair extensions but will vary based on how much hair you get, the brand of extensions, as well as the stylist themselves.

"[Sew-in extensions are] easier to style than bonded or tape-in extensions," says Dafina Smith, founder and CEO of Covet & Mane. "Our hair offers versatility to wear hair up, down, braided, in a ponytail or bun, and to live an active lifestyle without ever seeing the extensions...They also allow clients and stylists to use hair products and hot tools freely without breaking down bonds."

Covet & Mane also launched a line of textured, sew-in hair extensions. "This collection works with the natural texture of the hair, giving the option to wear hair natural or blown out without having to match your natural texture to the extension — if you don't want to. Women of all hair textures wear extensions, but the extension industry is behind," says Smith. "Now, with our kinky blowout texture for example, a woman with this hair type can wear her hair natural, blown out, in a ponytail — really embrace the versatility of her hair while wearing extensions."

Tape-In Extensions

"The tape-ins are usually flat to the head which for some people can feel best," says Martoni. But with tape-ins, it's hard to have more flexible styles, especially when you want to wear your hair up, she says. "Also you need to come in every 8-10 weeks to have them taken out and moved up," she says. If having them adjusted every 8 weeks or so does not bother you, they are a less expensive option, especially since you can reuse the hair when they need to be adjusted or put back in.

Clip-In Extensions

A clip-in extension is less-permanent since you can simply take them in and out whenever you want. "It might be hard to get the exact placement every time when putting them in," says Martoni. If you want to have a fun option to occasionally wear extensions, clip-ins are a good choice. But if you want to have extensions that feel more "like your own hair" and stay in for long periods of time, keratips, sew-ins, or I-Tips could be a better fit.

Halo Extensions

"Halo extensions are great for added length and fullness without the commitment of permanent extensions," says Martoni. They lay like a halo on the head (hence the name) which makes them harder to put up in a ponytail or wear up, says Martoni. The "halo" is a wire that you place behind your hairline and then pull your hair over, hiding the wire, according to Halo Couture.

Pro tip no matter which extensions you try: it's important to take a break from extensions every few months to minimize hair loss risk.

How Much Do Hair Extensions Cost?

If you are considering hair extensions, your first step should be to book a consultation with a stylist. During this meeting you can discuss what you want your hair to look like, and your lifestyle and the stylist can assess your hair, which is an important first step. Certain types of hair extensions won't work for everyone, and if the wrong type of extension is applied by someone who is not skilled at doing them, can result in damage or even breakage on the extreme end.

You'll want to ask the stylist for a consult so you can understand the cost, level of commitment and also get color matched before your appointment. The cost can range anywhere from several hundreds to several thousands of dollars depending on your hair, the type of extension, the stylist, and the salon you go to.

Which Type of Hair Extensions Are Best for Working Out?

There is not necessarily one "best" type of extension for working out, since everyone is different and takes care of their hair differently. "I would look at how much are you sweating and then [consider] if you are air-drying your hair. The sweat can dry out your hair extensions over time if it's not washed directly after," explains Martoni. So if you're not willing to wash out the sweat and dry your extensions after each workout, you may want to reconsider the more permanent hair extensions.

Keratip extensions are the type I decided to try since the bonds are strong, they don't require much professional maintenance after the initial appointment, and once they are placed they stay in your hair for at least three months. They also don't show when you wear your hair up — and many other types do (especially the tape-ins) — which is a key factor to consider when you exercise a lot. I personally liked the idea of being able to wash, dry, and style them without having to adjust them or worry about them coming out or showing with my hair up during a workout. Given that I do have a lot more hair now, styling them post-workout does take a bit more time. But overall, I think my hair will be able to go for longer without washes since it has more body and volume.

One thing to know when you get extensions, especially if you go with the Keratip extensions, is that your scalp will hurt for several days after you get them. This is something I did not expect, so I had booked a workout class the next morning after getting them. Although it wasn't very painful when I was sitting upright, my scalp was really sensitive to the touch so when I had to lay back to do an abs workout at P.volve, laying my head on the mat was not fun. I did not have pain or issues at my dance cardio class at DanceBody since everything was done standing. Word of advice: Take a few days off from exercise after getting extensions or avoid anything that involves contact to your head. According to Martoni, the tender scalp will go away in about a week once the Keratip bonds loosen and adjust to your head. Working out, in general, was not painful though, but figuring out what to do with all of my new hair during class was a new experience!

How to Take Care of Hair Extensions Pre- and Post-Workout

When you work out, you'll want to wear your hair in a scrunchie or some type of hair tie that won't pull or tug your hair so hard as you move. I've been using Sweaty Betty hair scrunchies which I've loved since they hold your hair in place without pulling it, and the fabric dries quickly.

As Martoni mentioned above, you don't want to leave a lot of sweat in your extensions since it could dry them out. Ideally, you wash the after they get really sweaty, but if not, "I recommend just brushing through your extensions, to ensure nothing gets knotted and also rough drying the roots or washing after if needed," she says. Dry shampoo is ok to use after you "rough dry" the roots (aka drying the roots with a blow dryer and your fingers). The key to help them look good and last as long as possible is to brush them and keep them tangle-free, and avoid any products that can compromise the hair or bond (which you need to ask your stylist for depending on your specific extensions). In general, you want to avoid heavy conditioners and products with a lot of protein, and don't let sunscreens and self-tanner touch your hair, since they can discolor your extensions, according to Mark Ryan Salon's hair extension care guide. Some extensions also need to be treated gently, as putting heat on the bond can loosen it, as can pulling or tugging at the extensions.

Hair Extensions Before and After

side by side image of Mercey Livingston before and after having hair extensions
Courtesy of Mercey Livingston

I've been really impressed with my hair extensions before and after, and so happy with how natural they look and feel. Since I got them done by Martoni at Mark Ryan Salon, I knew I was in good hands (did you see her celeb roster, BTW?), and also impressed by how getting these to look natural and good is basically an art form. Martoni strategically placed the hair extensions based on my texture and color (for me she combined 3 different colors and 2 different textured extensions) and was able to give me more "blonde highlights" where I wanted them without coloring my hair. Other than getting used to the feeling of the bonds in my hair (they feel like little beads) working out with them and styling them feels pretty close to if this was my own hair. (More: Sydney Sweeney Says This Amazon Find 'Changed Everything' About Her Hair)

My last piece of advice is to make sure you go to someone who you know will do a great job (ask plenty of questions and you can also ask for pics of their previous work). If you find yourself in the wrong hands or with a bad extension job, the result can damage your hair.

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