My sister and her friends came to stay with me in New York City this past weekend before they migrated back to Boston for their final semester of college. As I threw out trash, folded blankets and shoved used towels into the laundry basket, I saw a large, hairy spider on one of my white towels. I yelped and jumped backwards, only to step on another hairy creature of some sort. Upon closer inspection, though, I realized that my apartment hadn’t been infested with vermin; it had just been littered with false eyelashes and some stray hair extensions. In other words, the signs of women glamming it up for a night on the town.

But hair extensions aren’t just for fun nights out. They can be a serious tool in the battle against hair loss. Even if your hair is just naturally thin or you have a hard time growing it, extensions can be a great way to feign thick, luxuriously long locks. The ones that my sister’s friends used (and left sprawled across my apartment) are clip on hair extensions, made from synthetic materials that are attached to little combs, which attach to natural hair easily. They cost next to nothing and come in and out in minutes. A woman I know who is particularly self-conscious about thinning hair invested in clip on extensions that are made from real human hair, similar to this product. Though they are pricier, they look incredibly natural; in fact, I never knew she had extensions until she told me herself. Another benefit of using real hair is that you can curl it, straighten it, dye it and really do anything to it that you can do to your own hair. Best of all, these extensions really can’t cause your hair any damage unless you’re really rough with the combs. The only drawback of clip-ons is the fact that they are truly temporary; they can certainly fall out, and the little combs that attach the extensions to your hair can become embarrassingly visible if the wind shifts in your direction and gives your tresses a tousle. And don’t even try sleeping with them in unless you want to wake up with an unruly mess on your head.

For a more enduring form of extensions, you can head to your salon and get ones that celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Britney Spears, Victoria Beckham and the Kardashians, just to name a few, wear on a regular basis. If you decide to go the professional route, a stylist will either bond or weave the extensions into your hair; the former process involves using glue and the latter involves getting tracks of hair sewed into your natural hair. The process is expensive – it can easily run you thousands of dollars if you want your whole head done. If done properly, the extensions will look natural and can last for several months. But you can also do some serious damage to your hair. Pictures of Christina Aguilera, Naomi Campbell, Kate Beckinsale and other starlets – all sporting bald spots – can be found splashed across Internet. And all are due, apparently, to hair extensions. Jennifer Aniston even publicly announced, “nothing destroys your hair faster than extensions.”

Why? Extensions can break off if they are too heavy, taking your natural hair along with them. In addition, the tension of the glue and the weaving on the hair follicles can cause traction alopecia, a condition that causes hair to fall out, which in turn may lead to irreversible damage and balding. Women in England have actually sued for and won thousands of pounds from hairdressers due to hair extension complications.

There is also some concern over the glue that is used to attach hair extensions; if you have a latex allergy, be sure to ask your stylist if the glue she is using contains latex, as there is at least one documented case of a woman developing systemic anaphylaxis after being repeatedly exposed to hair bonding glue.

Hair extensions are absolutely something to consider if you’re looking for a quick fix. However, in most cases, I’d stick with the clip ons. If you’re interested in a more permanent do, be sure to discuss ways in which you can reduce your risk of hair damage and traction alopecia with your stylist. This is especially important if your hair is thin or weak to begin with, as you don’t want to worsen the situation.