Hollywood's Hair-Extension Tension: Why Stars Won't Admit Using Fake Locks

Hollywood's Hair-Extension Tension - Photo Illo Graphic - H 2017
Michael Tran/WireImage (Gomez), Dimitrios Kambouris (Teigen), Amanda Edwards/WireImage (Hale), Alberto E. Rodriguez (Henson), all Getty Images; Courtesy of Freeform (Benson, Thorne), Hulu (Kaling)

Almost all big names wear them — from Taraji P. Henson to Selena Gomez — but few fess up, to the displeasure of online trolls clamoring for transparency in all things glam.

Nowadays, actresses like Sarah Hyland and Rachel Bloom name-check Spanx on the red carpet, and stars from Sofia Vergara to Zendaya have posted the requisite no-makeup selfie. Even eyelash enhancements get a shout-out in social media posts. But a falsely full head of hair — courtesy of extensions — may be the final frontier of beauty transparency on the red carpet, social media and television.

At a time when experts like Hollywood hairstylist Priscilla Valles, whose clients include Kylie Jenner, Chrissy Teigen and Christina Aguilera, estimate that 97 percent of all female stars wear hair extensions — both onscreen and off, whenever there are cameras — many still remain mum about using them. "I would say wearing extensions all the time is the new normal," says hairstylist Amie Jorgensen of Beverly Hills' Giuseppe Franco Salon, who has worked on NBC's The Apprentice and Bravo's The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: "Most actresses and models wear them off set as well." Valles adds that some of her television clients have contract clauses requiring the production budget to cover the cost of their extensions (from $1,000), even on hiatus: "The camera eats hair, so you always need more. If an actress is in front of a camera, whether it's a photo shoot or a TV show or a film, she's definitely wearing extensions." Yet most actresses don't want their extensions status revealed — especially with the advent of Instagram hecklers, who criticize stars for setting unrealistic expectations about female appearance. (Jennifer Lopez recently was called out by trolls mocking her in L'Oreal ads: "If only she sang as nice as her extensions look.") Celebrity stylist Jen Atkin, hair guru to the Kardashian clan, has taken to social media to advocate against "extension shaming" and insists that more women fight the stigma by talking openly about their fake hair.

Yet most of Hollywood — and its hairstylists — aren't sharing. Fox's Scream Queens lead stylist Jennifer Johnson says she won't out a client who wears them (she always has on hand "a full trunk of hair" in case an actress wants some added off-duty oomph): "When we first started Gossip Girl, it wasn't accepted to even say that an actress had hair extensions on the show. Now we talk about using them, but I still will not say any names of actresses who wear extensions all the time." Valles agrees: "When I started doing extensions 16 years ago, I was signing confidentiality agreements daily because no one wanted anyone to know they had them in," she says. "Now, because of social media, people started being more open about beauty — but still, about half of my clients don't want to go public."

Notable exceptions include Mindy Kaling and 13 Reasons Why exec producer Selena Gomez, who always have copped to flirting with faux tresses; Pretty Little Liars' Lucy Hale (who has said, "It's important for young girls to realize ... some of us have extensions"); and Empire's Taraji P. Henson, whom hair department head Melissa Forney says credits extensions and wigs for her lavish locks. And leave it to Lena Dunham to spearhead truth in beauty on the small screen: "I had some extra hair put in for a scene, and [executive producer Judd Apatow] was like, 'Get it off!'" she says with a laugh, explaining Girls' no-hair-extensions rule. "On every sitcom that's about fun, normal girls, they have full bouffants. It's insane." Adds showrunner Jenni Konner, "People look like they have poodles on their heads."

Johnson says that when it comes to style, no TV is reality TV: "Creators of shows will be like, 'Make it '80s. But not ugly '80s.'" Characters might save lives (Chicago Fire's paramedic, played by Monica Raymund); fetch coffee (Sutton Foster's 40-something assistant in Younger); or eat human flesh (Drew Barrymore's Santa Clarita Diet zombie mom), but they all sport undulating waves that start an inch above the ears, coincidentally where extensions are sewn in or clipped on. Still, hairstylist Kim Ferry, who used extensions to create Pretty Little Liars' iconic waves, doesn't feel it's necessary to politicize star coifs. "I think it's OK if we're throwing in some extra extensions just to thicken up hair a little bit because no one will really know," she says. "It's not like we're trying to trick anybody."


Kim Ferry, former Pretty Little Liars lead stylist who's now tending to Bella Thorne on Famous in Love, breaks down the three steps to getting that ubiquitous sexy, beachy cascade.

STEP 1 Start with a setting spray, like Aquage Beyond Body Thermal Spray, on wet or dry hair — Ferry prefers clean, dry hair — and spritz each section of hair, beginning at the nape of the neck.

STEP 2 Using a 1-inch barrel curling iron, wrap 1-inch sections of hair vertically around the barrel with the iron aimed toward the ceiling. ("The vertical angle curl gives the effect that you just came out of the ocean and your hair dried in the California sun," says Ferry, who uses an iron by GHD.) Hold each section for five seconds and then gently pull down on the end of the curl and let the hair cool as it hangs. For larger waves, Ferry advises using a 1 ½-inch barrel. "I don't curl the last inch of hair. I leave the ends straight," she says. "That is my signature trick!"

STEP 3 Rather than mist with hair spray, use a few drops of a hair oil, like White Sands Orchids Oil, on the fingertips to tame flyaways on the crown and smooth dry ends.

This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.