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Human Hair Vs. Synthetic Hair: Which Is Best?

close up of stylist applying hair extensions

For a long time, quality wigs, weaves, and hair extensions were only available to the rich and famous. Fortunately, hair pieces have become more mainstream over the last few years and innovations in the beauty industry allow regular consumers access to quality hair at an affordable price. With more women embracing wigs, weaves, and hair extensions than ever before, new questions have emerged about which kind of hair is best: human hair or synthetic hair?

To get to the bottom of this pressing question, we reached out to Stephanie Nolan, model-turned-founder and CEO of XOXO Virgin Hair. Nolan breaks down everything you need to know about human hair, synthetic hair, and how to determine which type is best for you.

Human Hair

If you’re new to the world of hair extensions, we’re sure you have tons of questions about human hair. Where does it come from? Nolan says that most human hair comes from China, India, and parts of Southeast Asia. Much of the human hair used in hair extensions and wigs comes from religious people making a pilgrimage to temples such as the Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala, India. There, believers get their heads shaved bald as an act of religious devotion. The hair is then taken from the temple and sold at an auction.

Despite the fact that many manufacturers refer to styles of human hair extensions as Brazilian, Peruvian, or Malaysian hair, Nolan says those labels are not usually accurate. Once the hair is collected, Nolan says there are typically two different kinds of human hair you can buy: raw and non-Remy.

“Raw hair is when the hair is sold with the cuticle aligned and intact, and no chemicals are involved in achieving a wave or curl pattern,” Nolan explains.

While no chemicals are used on raw hair, sometimes manufacturers use steam to set a wave or curl pattern in the hair.

“Non-Remy hair is when the hair has misaligned cuticles that are bathed in acid to strip away the cuticles and it is then dipped in a silicone coating,” Nolan explains.

Chemicals don’t just wreak havoc on the hair that grows out of your head—it can also compromise the integrity of your extensions. Nolan says non-Remy hair is notoriously low quality and typically has a lifespan anywhere from two days to eight weeks, whereas quality raw hair can last anywhere from one to three years if properly cared for.

If you want to make sure you’re purchasing the most quality human hair possible, Nolan says there are a few things you should look out for.

If you trust yourself to analyze the hair alone, there are a few tricks Nolan uses to test the quality. The first trick is to style it. Much like your mane, human hair should be relatively easy to straighten and should hold a curl. If you don’t feel like styling the hair, simply washing it with a clarifying shampoo should give you some insight into its quality. Nolan says a clarifying shampoo will wash all substances from the hair, including any silicone coating. Poor quality hair will become matted, whereas quality hair will be easy to wash and detangle.

The greatest benefits of using human hair is that it is natural looking, long-lasting, and versatile. Human hair will most closely resemble your natural hair because it came from another human being! When properly cared for, human hair can last years and withstand several different styles. Cut it, dye it, heat style it—you can do everything to your human hair extensions or wigs that you would do to your hair.

While human hair boasts many benefits, it’s not without its downsides. As you can imagine, purchasing it can be quite costly. Be prepared to spend several hundred dollars on human hair wigs or bundles of extensions. Lastly, human hair is not immune from weather-related hair woes. Don’t be surprised if your human hair extensions become limp and frizzy in humid weather and dry in cold weather.

Synthetic Hair:

If using human hair is not your thing, synthetic hair is another option. Unlike human hair, synthetic hair is mass produced in factories all over the world.

“Synthetic hair is composed of monofilament fibers transformed by heat to create hair-like strands to imitate the look of human hair,” Nolan explains.

The greatest benefit of using synthetic hair is the price. Because synthetic hair is made in a factory and not collected from actual human beings, it is significantly cheaper than human hair. Synthetic hair also has great style memory, meaning the hair won’t lose its shape or texture no matter what elements (humidity, rain, etc.) it’s exposed to. Nolan says this makes it a great options for anyone with a limited range of motion who has difficulty styling their hair.

While technology has greatly improved the look of synthetic hair over the years, most of it still looks and feels a bit like plastic.

“Synthetic wigs usually possess an unnatural shine and can look unflattering to the naked eye,” Nolan says.

Furthermore, synthetic hair does not last as long or provide as many styling options as human hair.

Synthetic hair also cannot be dyed or heat styled, which means you’ll have to go out and buy a new wig if you want to slay a new style. Because of these factors, the best indicator of quality synthetic hair is usually price. More expensive synthetic hair can sometimes appear more natural-looking than cheaper synthetic hair.

Which is best?

Like almost every other part of your hair care routine, deciding whether human or synthetic hair is best depends on your personal preferences and desired final look. If you’re looking for a wig that won’t lose its shape or style and lasts you one night, opt for synthetic hair. Synthetic hair is also a great option for anyone looking to experiment with wigs and extensions without breaking the bank. Not sure if red hair will look amazing on you? Take a $20 wig for a spin!

If you’re looking for a hairpiece that looks more natural and has a longer lifespan, opt for human hair. Even though human hair is pricey, you’ll realize it was well worth the investment a few years down the line. Human hair not only looks great, but also provides you with endless styling options!

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