The disgusting truth about where your hair extensions come from (2024)

To find out more about the world of human hair extensions, just take a peek at your shower plug hole on wash day.

The silky locks you see in beauty shops and on the heads of celebrities actually have more in common with the matted strands you begrudgingly pull from your drains than you think.

Certified trichologist Afsennah shared a TikTok detailing her discovery, saying: ‘You know that most affordable human hair extensions come from city drains?

‘That’s right. In India, workers actually collect hair from public drains and plug holes. They clean and treat this hair, making it look nice and shiny. But the truth is, it’s not virgin hair.’

Afsennah’s video – which has racked up 477,000 views – showed video footage of this process, sparking strong reactions from followers.

A number of people tagged friends or replied with shocked and disgusted emojis, while @sofiafearnley1 commented: ‘Think it’s time I put mine in the bin.’


the truth about extensions😟 not only is this disgusting, its also really bad for your scalp and hair! Using hair extensions for too long can cause hairloss and scalp issues. I know its hard if you have thin broken hair, ive been tbhere, but if you use the right treatment and are consistent you will see results! So lets take care of your scalp and hair 🫶🏼❤️#hairtransformation #hairextensions #hairgrowthjourney #hairtips #fakehair #hairtok #fyl #fyp

♬ original sound – 𝐀𝐟𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐧𝐚𝐡- Trichologist

Before you do the same and chuck out your favourite clip-ins, it’s worth noting that not all extensions are created this way.

According to a BBC investigation into the topic, hair taken from drains and combs tends to be marketed as ‘standard’ rather than ‘Remy’ or ‘virgin’.

However, Emma Tarlo, author of Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair, says there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the industry, adding: ‘Quite a lot of mislabelling goes on and often the people buying it don’t ask questions anyway.’

So-called waste hair is sourced by companies from public drains or sold to manufacturers by women who save up their strands after brushing. They’re typically paid around 80p for a bundle that could take years to collect.

From there, it goes to untangling workshops in Bangladesh, India or Myanmar, where workers spend hours painstakingly sorting the hairballs based on length so it can be sent to brokers.

Human hair is graded by those working in processingfrom A to AAAAAAAA based on length, but this isn’t formally regulated. There’s also no universal regulation system used by all retailers to check the quality of the hair or where it was sourced.

That’s why it’s so important to do your homework if you’re considering extensions.

GennaroDell’Aquila, founder of GA Salons, tells ‘Reputable companies and suppliers adhere to strict guidelines to ensure their products are safe, ethical, and of high quality, distancing themselves from any practices that would compromise these standards.

‘Collecting hair from drains would present major hygiene risks, such as bacteria, mould, and other contaminants.’

Hair extensions glossary

To help you untangle the confusing world of hair extensions, to Millie Doughty, buyer atCapital Hair and Beauty, has shared the meaning of some common terms you might encounter when purchasing.

Remy: ‘Remy hair is essentially the process of preserving human hair, ensuring that the roots and tips all align in the same direction. That way, you don’t get those annoying tangles or mats because the cuticles are all lined up nicely. It tends to be more expensive due to the extra care it gets during processing to keep the cuticle intact and undamaged.

‘When it comes to Remy hair, it’s all about that smooth, shiny, and healthy look compared to non-Remy. The hair feels amazing even after several washes and tends to be long-lasting and easy to work with.’

Virgin: ‘Virgin hair is basically human hair in its purest form – untouched by any chemicals. That means no dyeing, perming, or any other kind of chemical processing. It’s basically as natural as it gets!

‘When you get quality hairextensionsmade from virgin hair, you can expect it to feel super soft, silky, and just like the real deal.Unlike synthetic hair, it won’t have that overly shiny look, and it behaves just like your own hair when it comes to styling, colouring, and other treatments.‘

Synthetic: ‘Synthetic hair extensions are crafted from different synthetic fibres and don’t contain any actual human hair. Essentially, it’s plastic material designed to mimic the appearance of real hair.

‘While synthetic hair doesn’t handle heat styling or colouring as well as human hair does, it’s still a popular choice because it’s a more budget-friendly option and has the ability to keep a style intact for longer – be it curly, wavy or straight – without much care.

‘Typically, synthetic hair extensions can hold up for several months, whereas human hair extensions last for years if you take care of them.’

Additionally, because the hair comes from multiple sources at different times, even if the hair is clean you may find it tangles easier or doesn’t look natural.

So what can you do? Alongside sticking to established and widely trusted retailers and specialists, ask them where they source their human hair from: Was it collected from multiple sources or a single donor? Was the collection safe, ethical and clean? How has the hair been processed?

Make sure to consider whether permanent extensions are the right choice for you, too, as they may require a lot of upkeep.

‘Potential downsides include the risk of hair damage if not applied or maintained properly, especially with methods that involve heat or glue,’ says Gennaro.

‘There’s also a commitment to maintenance and the cost, as high-qualityextensionsand professional application can be an investment.

‘On the bright side,extensionscan be great for changing up your look, adding volume, or length. But, like anything, they need proper care and the right application.’

Clip-in extensions can be a good alternative if you’re not ready for long-term commitment just yet. As with permanent options, though, it’s best not to skimp on a new set – that is unless you don’t mind wearing the remnants of a gutter on your head.

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The disgusting truth about where your hair extensions come from (2024)
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