Hair extensions are nothing new. I had them done nearly 20 years ago, when the technology was still in its infancy and the hair used was synthetic. It took two hairdressers two days to laboriously pleat each section, then bond it with a heat gun, effectively melting the synthetic strands into my own, natural hair. Every day the hair had to be meticulously styled to prevent it looking as fake as it really was.
Great Lengths are different. They are human hair, ethically sourced – it is the only company to source and process its own hair, making it 100 per cent traceable. It comes from India, where women give their hair to the temples as part of a Hindu ritual. Great Lengths then buys the hair and the money provides income for the community.
Another difference is in the bonds that attach the extensions to the natural hair. These contain keratin, which is kind to the hair, as opposed to glues, waxes and knots, which are not. And they can be dried, styled and dyed as you would your natural hair (though not bleached). Rachel Stevens uses them. Katie Price uses them. The Saturdays use them. And now I use them too.
The process begins with a consultation at LA Hair Solutions in Edinburgh. My hair must be suitable for the process – no excess breakages, for instances, and I should not be pregnant or breastfeeding because of the changes that occur to the hair during this time. It might seem obvious, but my own hair must also be long enough to attach the extensions to, without the bonds being visible.
Once I tick all the right boxes, the hair is ordered from London and I must wait a couple of days for my transformation to occur.
I arrive on the allotted day with my hair freshly washed and dried, and Audrey McCracken sets to work. She's been doing extensions since 1992 and the demand is so great these days, it's not unusual for her to do a set every day. "I do anyone from lap dancers to people who want it for vanity (people like me) to women who are coming out of chemotherapy and whose hair is just beginning to grow back.
"One client comes from Libya every four months to get a full head done, and another comes from London. She arrives on the Friday, gets the old extensions removed, gets her hair coloured on the Saturday then comes back in to me to get a new set of extensions. I've done firewomen, CID officers – you name it, I've seen them."
Each section comes pre-bonded and is wrapped around a strand of my own hair, then heated at the root to activate the keratin bond. After three hours, all 164 strands have been attached seamlessly to my own locks. McCracken then styles the lot to ensure it looks natural, and curls it for top glamour effect.
The cost varies, depending on the length and number of extensions used. My full-on Farrah cost 738, but some clients just get a couple of rows to add volume to their existing style. "One client just comes in every few months, gets a few strips put in and it costs 85. It gives her a bit of shape and style," says McCracken. Others opt for a spot of crazy colour, and there is even a range that comes with Swarovski crystals.
Some extensions can be cheaper, she admits, but the quality can be poor and they end up tangling and falling out because they don't necessarily come root-to-tip, so the cuticle layers don't all face the same way.
But, for me, the proof of the process is in the after-care – can this low-maintenance girl handle Hollywood hair? Washing is surprisingly simple, though it does need some styling – I don't just walk out of the shower looking like Cheryl Cole. A girl can dream.
LA Hair Solutions, Comiston Road, Edinburgh (0131-452 9000, www.lahairsolutions.co.uk) For salons throughout Scotland see www.greatlengthshair.co.uk
This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, June 6, 2010