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The Ultimate Guide to Fibers

The Ultimate Guide to Fibers

Posted by I Kick Shins on Jun 28th 2023

A spool of hair

Deciding on what type of hair to use can be a little overwhelming these days. There are so many options out there! Knowing the different fibers on the market can help you make an informed decision on what will work best for your needs.

What does fiber even mean, anyway? When we talk about fiber, we really just mean long strands of plastic. Synthetic hair is technically a filament fiber, but it’s often shortened to just “fiber.” Filament fibers are man-made materials that come in a long, continuous length. At the manufacturing level, synthetic hair comes on big spools.

We’re going to start by talking about Kanekalon so that we can use it as a baseline to compare other fibers against. After that, all of the different fibers will be listed in alphabetical order.

Kanekalon

Kanekalon is a flame retardant modacrylic fiber that was originally developed for textiles by Kaneka Corp. It started being used for hair in Japan in the 1960’s, and began spreading worldwide in the 1970’s.

It’s naturally off-white in color, which is why the white shades of Kanekalon tend to lean a bit creamy or silvery. Factories cut, dye, and texturize the raw Kanekalon material to make different styles of Kanekalon braiding hair.

Kanekalon has a heat resistance of around 176°F (80°C), so it can be set in boiling water. There are other fibers out there with a similar heat resistance, but Kanekalon sets itself apart by shrinking down a little bit once it’s been set. That makes it ideal for styles like twist-and-seal dreads and any kind of braids or twists with dipped ends. The shrinking helps hold the hair in place a little more securely than just sealing on its own.

The downside to the low heat resistance is that Kanekalon doesn’t handle styling tools well. If you try to use a curling iron or straightener on it, it will singe, clump, or melt.

Although it can come in just about any texture that a factory wants to make it in, Kanekalon usually has a crimped “jumbo braid” texture – that’s the big, fluffy packs of hair that you’ll see commonly used for braids. The texture helps it grip your real hair when it’s braided in.

The crimped texture can also make for easier backcombing when making dreads. If you’re a beginner, we recommend giving Kanekalon a shot before trying other fibers. It lets you backcomb on easy mode!

Types of Kanekalon

There are a few types of hair that fall under the umbrella of “Kanekalon”: Tiara-II, Afrelle, and Elora.

Tiara-II is your regular ol’ no frills Kanekalon. It’s fairly matte without being dull and the strands aren’t notably thick or thin. It’s very much the normal, standard kind of Kanekalon. Sometimes packs of hair will say “Tiara-II Kanekalon” on them, but sometimes they’re just labeled as “100% Kanekalon.”

Afrelle, also called Afrelle by Kanekalon or Afrelle Kanekalon,is a little bit shiny, but not in a cheap party wig way. Like Tiara-II, Afrelle is sometimes labeled specifically, but sometimes it’s just called “100% Kanekalon.”

Afrelle can have thick or thin strands. RastAfri’s Freed’m Silky Braid is an example of Afrelle with thin strands; it’s a little bit finer than most other jumbo braid, but it’s not quite as fine as doll hair like Saran. Finer hair like this is great for sleek, smooth box braids.

Some brands of X-Pression Braid are also made from Afrelle. These tend to have thicker strands than the finer Afrelle options, and are also thicker than Tiara-II.

Finally, there’s Elora. Elora is simply Kanekalon that’s been coated to make it feel softer. It’s more likely to be found in hairpieces than as braiding hair.

Chinlon

This is a relatively new fiber from China that’s been growing in popularity since around 2020-2021. It’s low heat and hot water set, but not flame retardant. Chinlon is coarser in texture compared to Kanekalon. It works fine for both dreads and braids, but it can sometimes be a little bit scratchy because of the texture. It comes in some interesting colors that aren’t available for Kanekalon. Many Chinlon colors have dupes available in Henlon.

Chinlon is rarely actually labeled as such. It's usually just called "low temperature jumbo braid" or something along those lines.

Futura

Futura is heat resistant polyester fiber developed by the same folks responsible for Kanekalon. It’s designed to mimic human hair. It’s flame-retardant and can handle hot styling tools like curling irons and straighteners on low settings. Futura is commonly used for hairpieces, wefts, and wigs. You’ll often find it used for clip-in bangs.

Henlon

Our Festival Braid is made from a heat resistant monofiber called Henlon. Henlon is much easier for factories to dye and the raw material is very light in color, so it can be made in a much wider range of shades than Kanekalon.

Henlon has a heat resistance of 250°F (120°C), so it can handle hot styling tools on lower settings. It can still be damaged by heat over time (kind of like your real hair!), so it’s best to be gentle and use heat sparingly if possible.

Henlon will hold its shape once set, but it doesn’t shrink down, so it’s not well-suited twist-and-seal style dreads. You can use it for braids or twists if you seal the ends, but they may come loose a little more quickly than ones made from Kanekalon.

Strands of Henlon are a little bit thicker and denser compared to Kanekalon. Henlon will hang down a bit more naturally as opposed to Kanekalon’s lightweight puffiness, and the denser fiber also means that a pack of Henlon will look like a lot less hair than Kanekalon in the same weight.

The thick, dense strands also mean that Henlon can withstand a little bit more abuse without breaking. That makes it work well for crochet-style synthetic dreads.

Henlon is soft and a bit slinky, so it’s ideal for styles like butterfly braids and bubble braids that require you to pull on tiny bits of the hair. It’s less prone to snagging than kinkier or coarser hair. Henlon is very well-suited to festival/rave braids; most brands of hair that cater to festival-goers make their products out of Henlon.

Hiperlon

Hiperlon is an extremely heat resistant, high quality fiber that’s used for wigs. It’s made to look as realistic as possible and is one of the nicest synthetics out there. It has a heat resistance of 788°F (420°C).

Modlon

Modlon is the shiny hair that’s used for cheap party wigs. It’s very plastic-y, tangles easily, and isn’t meant for long term wear. It can’t be set in hot water but will melt under dry heat. It is not flame retardant.

Monofibre

Monofibre is a type of monofiber that’s exclusively made by Dome. Note the spelling: monofiber (with “-er” at the end) is a generic term that can refer to other types of hair, but Monofibre (with “-re” at the end) is a specific brand name. It’s three times less weight than human hair and has a very natural look to it. Monofibre is commonly used for loose extensions. It has a heat resistance of around 266°F (130°C).

Nylon

Nylon is commonly used for doll hair, but can occasionally be found in party wigs as well. Nylon is slippery, shiny, and plastic-y. You can sometimes find very short, wefted Nylon in craft stores to be used on dolls. It comes straight, in teeny tiny doll-sized braids, and tight curls. It is not flame retardant.

Polypropylene

You know those cheap packs of jumbo braid that just say “100% synthetic” on them? Those guys are Polypropylene. Polypropylene is what was widely used to make jumbo braid before Kanekalon became the norm.

Aside from the label, an easy way to tell that jumbo braid is Polypropylene rather than Kanekalon is the price. Polypropylene hair retails as low as $1-3 per pack. Kanekalon is more expensive to make, so you generally won’t find it priced that low unless it’s on sale.

Polypropylene is not flame retardant and its reaction to heat varies a bit; some products made from it are hot water set, and some aren't. Jumbo braid made from it is usually shiny and has a fake, plastic-y look to it, but it’s not as shiny looking as Modlon. Sometimes, doing an ACV rinse can dull the shine a bit.

If you’re on a budget and want to give the inexpensive jumbo braid a try, we recommend the following:

  • Stick with small or medium size box braids. Large/jumbo braids will let the hair move too much and it will wear out faster.
  • Braid all the way down. This is not the hair you want to use for loose, feathery ends. It will matt and tangle if left loose.
  • Do an ACV rinse before installing it. Aside from the shine, this type of hair usually has an alkaline lye coating on it. That coating can cause itching and it’s easier to deal with it before installing rather than after.
  • Finish the ends with rubber bands. Polypropylene is not flame retardant, so it’s not safe to seal with a lighter, and dipping in hot water doesn’t always work well either.

One cool thing about Polypropylene is that it can be made to glow in the dark. Our Glow Yaki Braid and Glow Jumbo Braid are both made from Polypropylene. Glow in the dark hair tends to look a little nicer than the regular jumbo braid made from Polypropylene because it’s manufactured with the color in mind rather than the price.

Our Glow Yaki Braid looks very similar to Henlon, but it feels a little bit coarse. Our Glow Jumbo Braid and RastAfri’s Glow Braid have a similar matte-but-not-dull look to Tiara-II Kanekalon. Our Glow Jumbo Braid is also a bit on the coarse side, while RastAfri’s Glow Braid is a little more soft.

There’s also glow in the dark Polypropylene hair out there that has a cheap, shiny look to it, but as far as we’ve seen, it’s not available as braiding hair. It’s usually reserved for Halloween wigs. If you come across another brand of glow in the dark braiding hair, it’s likely similar in quality to one of the three types that we carry.

Saran

Saran is commonly used for doll rerooting. It’s very fine, slightly limp, and has a bit of a waxy feel to it. In addition to a wide range of colors, Saran can also be made to glow in the dark or change color. Some of our color change Thermal Hair, for example, is made from Saran.

The waxy texture and fine strands make Saran kind of a pain to work with on a large scale, so for humans, we recommend only using it if you want something that changes color. The solid colors aren’t worth the hassle and are best suited for dolls.

Saran will melt under high, dry heat like a curling iron or straightener, but it can handle a hair dryer on lower settings and can also be set with steam. Boiling water generally isn’t hot enough to seal it. Saran will hold its shape once set, but will not shrink down like Kanekalon does.

Powerlon

Powerlon is similar to Hiperlon, but it's a little bit softer and isn’t nearly as heat resistant. Powerlon is commonly used for wigs.

Spetra / Spectra

Spetra, sometimes also called Spectra, is a flame retardant non-bromine fiber that has antimicrobial properties. This is what authentic EZ Braid is made from; there are a lot of knock-offs of EZ Braid out there that aren’t always made from Spetra, so it’s important that you buy from a trusted source if you want to be sure it’s actually Spetra.

Spetra is lightweight, hot water set, and generally behaves very similar to Kanekalon as far as heat sealing goes. Because it’s antimicrobial, it’s less likely to cause itching. Spetra also transfers moisture and dries very quickly compared to other types of hair.

In addition to braiding hair like EZ Braid, there are many different textures of hair available that are made from Spetra like crochet hair, wefts, and wigs. We don’t carry Spetra, but if you come across it in your local beauty supply, we highly recommend checking it out. It’s awesome stuff!

Toyokalon

Toyokalon is a smooth flame retardant PVC fiber that’s got a slightly higher tolerance to heat than Kanekalon. It was originally developed in 1952, so if your grandma’s got an old wig kickin’ around in the attic, it just might be made from Toyokalon.

It can handle a hair dryer on low heat, but may still melt under higher heat like from a curling iron or straightener. When sold loose, Toyokalon usually has a silky straight or silky yaki texture with a big curl down at the end. It’s also commonly used for wigs and hairpieces (like ponytails, dome hairpieces, etc).

Toyokalon feels soft at first, but it tends to wear out quickly. Those pretty, curly ends will start to get frizzy if you leave them loose. We’re not big fans of Toyokalon in general, so we don’t carry any products that are made entirely from it. If you’re using Toyokalon for braids, we recommend braiding all the way down to the ends so that the hair doesn’t move around too much. That will help it last longer.

Like Kanekalon, factories can turn Toyokalon into other textures. Marley braid, for example, is commonly made from Kanekalon, Toyokalon, or a blend of Kanekalon and Toyokalon. Marley braid made from Toyokalon tends to hold up a little bit better than loose Toyokalon because the individual strands of hair don’t get a chance to move around as much. If you’re in the market for marley braid (or other types of pre-styled hair that doesn’t have a lot of loose bits) and find some that’s 100% Toyokalon, it’ll likely work out just fine.

Ultima

Ultima is made from organic collagen protein that’s very similar to the keratin found in human hair. It can be set in hot water and can handle styling tools on low heat settings.

Ultima is the original brand name for this type of hair, but other companies have since developed their own versions. For example, Supreme Hair has a similar product to Ultima that’s called Prota.