In the realm of long-term hair extensions, versatility reigns supreme. No one really wants to have the same hairstyle for months at a time. The luxury of parting your hairstyle into a center part one day and a side part the next or pulling hanging tresses into a high ponytail is coveted by many. So it’s no surprise that microlink extension services have skyrocketed in popularity and have become a go-to alternative to wigs and traditional weaves. In addition to versatile styling, the extensions offer an undetectable install compared to some weaving techniques, can last three times longer, and even allows easy access to the scalp. One does not pat one’s head with microlink extensions. They simply scratch the itch 😉.
As tempting as microlink extensions are, there are downsides. Not all hair types are a great match, and if not installed properly, the extensions can damage the wearer’s natural hair. There are not one but two methods to installing microlinks, and finding out which is best for you is crucial to an enjoyable experience. So if you’re considering microlinks for your next ‘do but are confused about what they are and if they’re the right for you, we’ve got you covered!
- What are microlinks
- What should you expect during an install?
- Who is the perfect candidate?
- The Hair–Recommended Brands and Costs
- Caring for and Styling Microlinks
- Removing Microlinks
What are microlinks?
Microlinks, also referred to as microbeads or micro rings, are silicone beads that are used to attach extensions to natural hair in lieu of glues, tapes, and thread. There are two ways to do so. First, the iTip method, where individual strands bonded together by keratin at the tip are installed in sections of a ¼ to a ½ an inch. Then there’s the braid-less weft method, which is basically like installing a traditional weave but instead of sewing the tracks of hair into cornrows, you secure them onto your hair (near the scalp) using microbeads—more on each method below.
Weaves vs Microlinks
No cornrows is the key difference when it comes to microlinks vs traditional weaves. With either install method, no cornrows are installed, which means your own hair is left out. This can be a good and bad thing. On one hand it means greater access to your own hair for maintenance and it’s easier to achieve a look that looks laid. But it also means that you ABSOLUTELY need to find hair that matches your own texture and color because your hair is out.
What should you expect during an install?
Beginning with clean hair, your stylist will start by sectioning off and braiding 1½ to 2 inches around the perimeter (nape and sides) of hair that will be intentionally left out, similar to a “leave-out” to cover the soon-to-be installed microlinks. This allows your microlinks to be pulled into a ponytail without detection at its completion.
After sectioning off and braiding your leave-out, they will then part a horizontal line about half an inch above the leave out near the nape to create a sectioned row of hair to install the microlinks from left to right.
The iTip Method
For the iTip method, the microbead is then threaded onto the pre-sectioned hair–about ¼ to ½ an inch depending on the desired fullness–near the scalp with a hair threader. Once all sections are beaded, the keratin tip hair extension is inserted into each bead and crimped in place with a hair plier. Your stylist will then repeat section by section, row by row at the back and sides of the head, to achieve your requested look. 100 to 175 keratin tip hairpieces are required for a partial install. 150 to 250 is expected for full coverage. Install time ranges from 1.5 to 2 hours. Costs range from $300-$450, depending on the number of pieces installed and city location. Hair is usually sold separately.
Braid-less Weft Method
For the braid-less weft method, a weft of hair (a track) is clipped on top of a row of hair with microbeads. Firs, hair clips are used to secure the weft in place before installing the microbeads. A hair threader is then used to thread the microbead and a piece of the hair from the clipped weft together near the scalp. Most stylists apply just enough microbeads (5-7) to support the track once the hair clips are removed. Some hairstylists sew in an additional track on top of the beaded track for more fullness. Your stylist will then repeat section by section, row by row at the back and sides of the head, to achieve your requested look. Most braid-less weaves require no more than two bundles of hair wefts. Install time ranges from 45 to 75 minutes. Costs range from $300 to 450, depending on the number of bundles installed and city location. Hair is usually sold separately.
This is another example of the weft method but without the added step of sewing in additional tracks.
If you the above videos have you thinking you might be able to install this on your own, here’s a nifty microlink tool kit on Amazon.
Who is the perfect candidate?
As lightweight as microlinks are, they are generally best suited for healthy hair, no shorter than three inches. Pre-existing damaged hair will be weakened by the additional weight and pull of the beads, so it’s in your best interest to start with a healthy head of hair. At least four inches of length is recommended to ensure that the hair left out is long enough to cover the beads. Pro tip: Avoid booking a stylist without a consultation, as consulting with a stylist ensures that the microlink install and your hair type is an appropriate fit. (Take our quiz to find out if your hair is damaged).
Microlink installs can be installed on both natural hair types and relaxed hair. However, some stylists turn away clients with relaxed hair or recommend them only to transitioners, as it is believed that the bead structure does not interact well with the relaxers’ chemicals.
If your hair is natural, we strongly recommend that you make sure your stylist has installed microlinks in the method you want before booking your appointment, especially if you’re interested in the iTip method, as they can cause more damage if installed by an inexperienced stylist.
The Hair–Recommended Brands and Costs
Depending on your hair pattern and desired look, your stylist may or may not apply heat to your hair before adding extensions. Either way, a seamless blending of your hair and the hair extensions is key for a polished uniform result. So be sure to purchase hair that is similar to your hair type. For instance, if you wear your natural textured hair, look into virgin kinky and curly hair textures that can be manipulated with heat and revert to curls, if desired. We recommend the Atlanta-based hair company, Perfect Distraction Hair Gallery. They offer an array of textures from kinky afro, afro straight, textured straight, and kinky curly, among others. If your hair is relaxed, opt for straighter options like Indique’s virgin hair line, Keratique. Both brands offer weft and keratin tip hair extensions.
Microlinks on 4C Hair
Because matching texture is critical to getting microlinks, a common question is can they be installed on 4C hair? And the answer is yes! Vlogger Simone Sharice shows an install on 4C hair. The hair used in the video is from Perfect Distraction Hair Gallery. You’ll notice that the Simone’s client’s hair is stretched for the install and most likely stayed somewhat stretched while she had it in. Imagine what it would look like with shrinkage and the microlinks 😅.
As mentioned above, an install can require anywhere from 100 to 250 hair tips, depending on the circumference of the wearer’s head and the desired coverage–full or partial. Typically, manufacturers sell tubes that range from 50 to 100 pieces, starting from $59 to $175 a tube with textured hair costing more than straighter hair. All the same, both bundles and hairpieces are typically expected to last a year, available for 2-3 installs.
Caring for and Styling Microlinks
Whether installed with a weft or keratin tips, microlinks can be maintained at home if needed. Stylists recommend washing your hair every two weeks as you would your natural hair. However, it’s essential to wash with the fingertip method–massaging your scalp with your fingertips and sliding down the microbeads/wefts when washing and rinsing to avoid tangling new growth caught between the scalp and the top of the bead.
If you’re going to style your hair with heat, be sure to apply a thermal heat protector paired with low-setting hot tools. Avoid using fine tooth combs and placing direct heat from flat irons on new growth to prevent damage.
It’s important to note that all microlink installs require in-salon maintenance every six weeks to reposition microbeads that may have slid down due to hair growth or slippage, and to detangle any new growth. Each maintenance appointment ranges between $175 to $200, depending on the amount of hair installed. If you’re unable to go to the salon frequently, your install will need to be taken down no later than two months.
The above picture is why you don’t want to leave your hair in for longer than two months. Even though you have more access to your hair with microlinks in, product and dirt will build up, and you’ll need to take out the links in order to fully wash your hair.
The takedown is when microlinks get a little tricky. To safely take down a microlink install–hair weft or iTip–a hair plier is required. Make sure it’s a takedown hair plier and not the install version. They can be found at your local beauty supply store or on Amazon. However working with them can take some time to master, which can lead to (you guessed it) hair damage. The pliers are designed to pop the bead back open so it’s no longer crimped and pressed into the hair. This is achieved by applying pressure on the bead until it pops back into a round shape. Once the bead changes shape, hold the root of your hair before sliding out the extension from the bead. Again, this will minimize damage.
Once removed, there’ll be build-up on your hair where the bead was last placed. To avoid snagging and hair loss, working row by row, spray hair with water and conditioner. Then gently use a rat tail comb to part the gunk and debris, and finally comb through with a wide-tooth comb and soft bristle brush.
Pro tip: If you’re unsure if you’ll be able to tackle a takedown by yourself and immediately have anxiety from reading the above alone, we highly suggest heading back to your stylist to complete the job. It may cost you another $100 or so, but your sanity and hair will remain intact.
All in all, while microlinks offer a more versatile experience than the traditional weave and boast a more natural look, it’s much pricier in hair, installation, and maintenance appointment costs. All three components are vital to your natural hair’s health and can compromise its health if not taken with necessary precaution. However, if you are itching for the experience and don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, it’s worth the money for a couple of months of the year. Be sure you’re allowing your hair time to regroup months in advance between installs.
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