Growing up, mermaid-like hair has always been a distant dream that I admired from afar. My entire life, I’ve had light brown roots that I highlight to bright blonde and a length that never quite extended past my clavicle. I never hated my hair, but I always envied the women who were able to home grow long locks that made curls, high ponies, messy buns, and braids look absolutely flawless.
Four months ago, I saved up some moolah, bit the bullet, and strutted into Nichole Beck Hair Salon of Chicago to partake in a consultation in hopes of getting a natural-looking extension option that I wouldn’t look back at and sigh, “Oh, dear, why did you do that, honey?”
My biggest concern was that though I loved the idea of having a full head of long locks to style to my heart’s desire, I didn’t want the extensions to ruin my hair. We’ve all heard a horror story or two about someone, somewhere who got hair extensions and later became dependent on them because they left the natural hair frail, damaged, and sad.
Enter: the Natural Beaded Rows method of hair extension application, created by Danielle K. White, founder of DKW styling and owner of the podcast Big Money Stylist. In her pursuit to find an extension option for her fine, collarbone-length hair, she tried almost every existing hair extension solution on the market. She found her hair becoming damaged, leaving her more dependent on extensions. With her experience, she learned that more areas of attachment on the hair meant more damage, and she set out to find a method that would provide her clients with long, luscious locks without sacrificing the integrity of their natural hair. The solution? NBR extensions, a method that uses 100% natural hair sewn together and attached using a bead and string.
I met my goddess of a stylist, 26-year-old Shannon Mahoney, who gave me a “no-BS” rundown of price, time commitment, and upkeep while assuring me that the investment was fully worth it. “NBR is the best of the best right now,” she stated. “The minute I started listening to Danielle’s podcast, I was hooked. I believed in her method and knew I needed to be a part of the NBR team. I attended Danielle’s conference, which included three weeks of pre-training that ended with a three-day convention of hands-on work.” She went on to tell me, “I had them in myself for about eight months. I have naturally very thick hair, so initially, I just got them so I could experience what my clients were going to be experiencing. I actually barely do my own hair, so a personal con for the extensions was having to get them done every six to eight weeks while I’d rather get my hair done once every six to eight months. I just chopped all of my hair off, but once it gets past my shoulders, I’m putting those suckers back in!”
And alas, after four months of sporting the hair of my dreams, I’m ready to reveal my honest, unfiltered review of one of my biggest investments to date.
Before I got my extensions sewn in, Shannon and I decided on length. I wanted my hair to fall mid-boob, so after a quick evaluation, we settled upon two 18-inch rows of human hair that she glossed and colored during a routine coloring of my natural hair. Two days later, I returned with eyes sparkling, ready to sport the hair of my dreams.
It took about two hours for my stylist to section out my hair, sew together the extensions, and secure them snugly to my head. I was shook at how well they blended, and she cut a bit into my natural hair to make the blend even more seamless. For 20 minutes post-application, I feel like I blacked out. It looked incredible, but was it me? Never had I ever had long hair before. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. Who is this beautiful, sexy woman? I don’t know her! I had either just made the best investment of my life or the biggest mistake. I immediately wanted more cut off because I was overwhelmed with the length and volume, but Shannon, as all hair-apists do, calmed me down and reassured me, saying, “If you want to cut it, we always can, but see how you feel in about a week.”
Guess who didn’t want to trim it after that first week? As the buyer’s remorse resolved and I became acclimated to seeing myself looking glorious AF as I passed mirrors and store windows, I fell madly in love with my new head of hair.
During and after the application, the woven strands of hair (AKA wefts) were a bit snug but never painful. It almost felt like I was wearing a small plastic headband during the first few days after installation. That sensation resolved in about a week as my natural hair grew away from my scalp.
When I call NBR an investment, I mean it. When you hear the numbers, you’ll likely freak out, as did I, but I’m here to tell you that the return on investment (for me, anyway) is worth it. Brace yourself: The natural hair that I purchased will last one to two years (depending on how well I take care of it), and it cost $1,20o. Each move up (taking the extensions out and moving them back up to the scalp) at the six to eight-week mark costs $250. This doesn’t include color, and so far, I’ve gotten a refresh on my color every other move up. Because I budgeted for it ahead of time and didn’t jump into the cost commitment lightly, the investment is tolerable for the joy that it brings me. So if you haven’t yet picked yourself up off the floor, now is the time to return to your seat. I don’t have any more bombs to drop on you from here on out, I promise.
If I were to request them to be taken out, the cost would be the same price as a blowout (around $50). I’m not there yet, but if I wanted to have them removed to rock a lob, it would be easy to make it happen.
The first two weeks of styling (blow drying, straightening, and curling) were a bit of a challenge. For the past 25 years of my life, I only had experience managing shoulder-length hair. I knew I would have to set aside more time to meet the steep learning curve that came with long hair. I had to say “adios” to my $5 drugstore hair products, as Mahoney recommended that I use a sulfate-free, paraben-free, professional shampoo and conditioner to protect the integrity of the extensions. Shampooing felt foreign, and I couldn’t scrub-a-dub the way that I normally did and had to shampoo carefully around the two rows of wefts. Brushing long, wet hair required more care with a Wet Brush and a lot of detangling spray.
Blow drying takes the most effort and takes me a good 35 minutes. I now have the system down to a science that includes air drying for a bit and later sectioning my hair into three chunks: the top layer of my natural hair, the first weft and middle section of natural hair, and the second weft and underhairs. I gently take a round brush from roots to ends and tackle any tangles along the way with my Wet Brush.
If I decide to straighten my hair at this point, it takes five minutes, while pulling out my curling iron and adding waves takes about 20 minutes.
The extensions hold their style a lot longer than my natural hair, which is so nice for days where I would otherwise have to wash just to freshen up the style. On that note, I’m washing my hair much less frequently than I do sans extensions. The extensions are natural hair, but they don’t produce their own oils, so they do a great job of absorbing my natural oils. I swear by dry shampoo and always have some on deck just in case, but honestly, I haven’t had to use it very much—and that’s waiting five days to rewash my hair.
Now for my absolute favorite aspect of having NBR extensions: The sectioning is insanely perfect. Whereas other types of extensions place the wefts in a horizontal fashion, NBR extensions are placed in a halo formation for the most natural look, which allows me to wear my hair any way that I normally would without extensions. With these extensions, I’m able to wear my hair in so many different styles. I can still put it in a high pony (praise be!), low pony, and half-up.
I think that the weekly styling is probably about the same as it was pre-extension because I’m washing and styling my hair far less often. By getting NBR, I’m committing myself to a two-hour appointment for move-ups every six to eight weeks and adding two to three hours to that appointment if I’m touching up my color.
If you’re on the hunt for a natural-looking, seamless hair extension and aren’t afraid to spend a pretty penny, NBR is for you. There are, of course, cheaper options that exist for hair extensions, but I simply don’t want to risk damaging my natural hair and would rather pay for a quality product. I found my stylist by searching the IG hashtag #NBRChicago and finding some of the work that she highlighted on her page.
So, yes, I 10/10 would recommend NBR hair extensions to a friend. I’ve gotten so many compliments and, even better, many comments such as “I had no idea those were extensions, they look so real.” I absolutely feel like myself with these puppies in and, to me, that’s worth every penny.