All about wigs
There are various reasons for wearing a wig, fashion, alopecia, medical, partial hair loss, I wanted to share some information to assist you in making your choices. 7 years ago I had the greatest pleasure in training to become one of My New Hair ( www.mynewhair.org ) representatives. Trevor Sorbie MBE campaigned for better wigs and set up training for hairdressers to be able to cut and style wigs. I’d strongly recommend visiting their website as it holds so much information for you and details of all registered hairdressers so you can find help wherever you are.
I can supply and style wigs for you but I am not registered with the NHS so this would be on a private basis as I cannot accept NHS vouchers.
Is there such a thing as an NHS wig?
The NHS does not make wigs as such but has a list of suppliers around the country to which a hospital can refer you. They will offer a range of wigs provided by their suppliers, which may vary from hospital to hospital. A prescription is sometimes available to cover the cost. Unfortunately there is not a standard offering for all patients. It very much depends on where you live as to what you might be offered. Always ask your dermatologist to find out if you’re able to get a wig on prescription.
You can get free wigs and fabric supports if you are:
- under 16
- 16-18 and in full-time education
- a hospital inpatient
- a war pensioner and the wig or fabric support is for your accepted disablement and you have a valid war pension exemption certificate
The prescription charge is £70-150
If you or your partner – including civil partner – receive, or you’re under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
- Universal Credit and meet the criteria
If you’re entitled to or named on:
- a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate – if you don’t have a certificate, you can show your award notice; you qualify if you get Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element (or both), and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less
- a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2)
People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help.
Synthetic vs Human Hair
The first decision you will have to make is whether you go for a wig made out of human hair or one made out of synthetic hair. Here’s a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Human Hair Wigs Advantages
- look and feel very natural
- you can style them how you like as they are heat resistant
- you can add darker colour tones
- soft texture
- usable for up to one year on average
- can be custom-made
Synthetic Wigs Advantages
- pre-styled, so no need for self-styling (stays in shape after washing)
- has the appearance of natural hair
- less expensive than human hair
- is colour-fast so will not fade in the sun as much
- dries quickly
- easy maintenance
Human Hair Wigs Disadvantages
- more expensive than synthetic hair
- porous, dries slowly
- high maintenance (usually require restyling after each wash)
- heavier than synthetic fibre
- loses colour and darker colours can turn slightly reddish
- Can be re coloured by a professional
Synthetic Wigs Disadvantages
- get damaged when exposed to heat
- prone to friction frizz
- you can’t change the style or colour
- can have a slightly false shine
- doesn’t last as long as a human hair wig
An Introduction to Synthetic Wigs
Synthetic wigs are lighter than real hair and can look very natural. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of styles to choose from. They can be washed and come pre-styled, so their hairstyle stays in shape after washing. It does not matter if an acrylic wig is worn in the rain as they’ll never lose their shape. Acrylic wigs can be obtained quickly as they are affordable and stocked in wig salons. If worn daily, most people find their synthetic wig will need replacing between 3 and 6 months. It totally depends on the activities undertaken by the individual. They can last longer.
Most people have a couple of wigs: one to wear and one to wash. For totally bald heads, you can buy special adhesive tape to stop the wig slipping. Many people with alopecia use wig tape for extra security. The most important is comfort so try a few on for size and style!
Choosing a style and colour
You might feel comfortable choosing a style and shade that matching the hair you have lost. But some enjoy experimenting with different styles and colours. Most wigs come in dozens of shades including natural looking greys. Consider your lifestyle. What does your day involve? Will you be wearing your wig everyday? Be sure to keep your typical daily or weekly activities in mind when you try different wigs. Remember synthetic wigs are lighter and easier to manage if you’re tired or busy but not suitable for some activities – such as working in a hot kitchen!
Wigs can be fun. Perhaps take this opportunity to have the hair you always wanted. Try on lots of different styles and colours before settling on the one you want to buy. The perfect wig isn’t always the first one we try on and not necessarily the one we thought would be walking out the shop with!
Human hair wigs
An Introduction to Human Hair Wigs
Human hair wigs are available in a huge number of styles and can look incredibly natural. Some are custom-made for the perfect fit however these do come at a higher cost. Cheaper human hair wigs are bought ‘off the shelf’.
Many prefer human hair wigs to synthetic wigs as they tend to be longer lasting.
They also offer greater styling options than synthetic wigs but involve a greater degree of maintenance.
Check out the advantages and disadvantages of both human hair and synthetic wigs.
Human hair wigs are available in a number of different caps/foundations. You can read about the different types here.
Supplex and Dermalite Wigs
These special types of wigs can only be worn by people with total loss of hair from the scalp (alopecia totalis or universalis).
Instead of the textile rim which other wigs have, the rim of these wigs is made out of a very thin, stretchy and transparent material which clings to the head. The great advantage is that the parting looks extremely natural. A disadvantage might be that the rim material does not breath and it can get very hot under the wig. Dermalite wigs are expensive, as they are made to measure (a mould is taken of the head to ensure an exact fit for the client); their rim is thinner and also more durable. Supplex is cheaper but the rim can tear more easily and it’s broader so there is more of the non-breathable material. Supplex wigs are ready made and come in two sizes.
Vacuum-fit (suction) wigs
Vacuum-fit or suction full scalp wigs are made from a plaster mould taken of the client’s head to ensure accuracy of fit. The client must have NO hair or must be willing to keep their scalp shaved in order to achieve a near perfect fit and also to maintain a good seal. A good mould cannot be achieved over hair or by putting a plastic wrap over existing hair.
There are “hard” vacuums and “soft” vacuums on the market. The hard vacuums are made from either an inert hard plastic or fiberglass. These can be useful for those who have suffered burns or an industrial accident to their scalp as well as persons who might want to wear them during sports like rugby or soccer. They have a “helmet-type” feel to them. The “soft” vacuums are generally considered more comfortable as they are flexible and usually made of a medical grade silicone and feel like a real scalp.
While wearing a vacuum-fit prosthesis, one can swim or ride in a convertible or engage in most outdoor activities without fear that the wind or activity will dislodge the vacuum. However, the wearer can take the vacuum off at any time by breaking the seal with their fingers at the nape of the neck.
The vacuum typically lasts two to four years with periodic maintenance which must be done at the factory. The client can care for the vacuum wig in the same way as they would care for their own hair, by washing it once a week with a good salon shampoo and using a good conditioner. It can be permed or highlighted as the hair has not been pre-processed and is strong and healthy to start. It can be blow-dried and styled as usual. You should not sleep in a vacuum as turning your head back and forth on the pillow will eventually break the hair off at the root. Costs for vacuum type wigs is usually in the range of £3,000 depending on the length of hair desired.
Human hair – the cost
Human hair wigs start from about £300. Some human hair wigs cost £1,000 and over. The higher cost of these wigs is mainly caused by three things: the wigs might have very refined & realistic looking wig bases; the base of the wig is made to measure (i.e. a mould is made of your head which is then used to make the base of the wig); and the main reason is usually that these wigs are made with European hair as opposed to Asian/Indian hair.
European hair is finer and might be similar to your own hair, but it is also less durable than Asian/Indian hair, so it is worth finding out which hair is used for the wig you are interested in and to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the different hair types with your wigmaker. One advantage of very expensive wigs is that when the hair on your wig gets sparse you can get hair added. However, this usually takes quite a few days or weeks which means you may need a back-up wig in the meantime.
Beware of online retailers selling ‘human hair wigs’ for extremely cheap prices. These are likely to be either entirely synthetic wigs or have a tiny percentage of human hair (10% or less).
Most wigs are made to a standard size, they then have adjustable straps to ensure the best fit. If your head size is quite a bit smaller or larger than average you will have less choice and might prefer to have a custom-made wig. If you would like advice on your head size then contact your wig supplier who will be able to advise.
Colour and style
Buying a wig means you can choose whatever colour and style you like! You could go for the colour of hair that you used to have or you could decide that you want to try something new. A good wig salon should have a trained hairdresser who will advise you on colour as well as style. If you go for an uncut wig, you can have a real ‘salon experience’ where the hairdresser discusses style and colour with you and then washes, cuts and blow-dries your new hair! Take your time choosing and don’t feel obliged to buy a wig at your first visit.
How does the wig stay on my head?
Most wigs have the adjustable straps to ensure a snug fit. If you still have some of your hair, you can use special hair clips sown into the wig which will keep your wig in place. If you have no hair, you can use special double sided tape which you stick on small plastic-coated parts of your wig (usually one at the front and one at each side). Additionally, some wigs have an elasticated part all around the cap which holds the wig in place. If you use double-sided tape and you want to make extra sure that your wig stays on, clean your head and the plastic coated parts of your wig with soap to ensure that both are absolutely grease free. Wearing a wig should certainly not stop you from doing sports or going outside in windy weather!
How do I care for my wig?
After the purchase most people are really pleased with the wigs they’ve just bought, but then comes the daunting moment, when it’s time for the first wash. To extend the lifespan of your wig, it is worth washing it carefully. Rough handling means that your wig will lose hair more easily, leaving you with bald patches in your wig too!
Ideally, you should have the following things when you wash your wig: a largish bowl (like a washing up bowl) or basin, specialized wig shampoo or shampoo for bleached/highlighted hair, lots of specialized conditioner or conditioner for dry hair or bleached/highlighted hair, a wide toothed comb for detangling the wet hair and a wig stand (see section below).
Before you wash your wig, brush it carefully from tip to root to ensure it’s free of knots. Fill the bowl with warm (not hot) water, put some shampoo in the water and place the wig into it. Leave the wig to soak for five minutes or so. This allows any residue to come loose of the hair. Gently take the wig out of the bowl and rinse it under running water. Take care to rinse the hair in the direction from roots to ends to avoid tangling. Put the shampoo into the hair, carefully spreading it all over. It’s not necessary to rub/massage the shampoo into the wig. Rinse it again as before. Then put the conditioner on the hair using two or three times the amount that you would use for hair growing on your head. Leave the conditioner in for five to 10 min. Rinse well making sure no traces of the conditioner are left in the hair. Gently place the wig onto a fresh towel and allow the towel to absorb any excess water.
Place the wig on your wig stand (see section below) and attach it to the stand with pins. Carefully comb the hair with the detangling comb, making sure that you only touch the hair not the base of the wig. Take extra care around the root area as the knots expand when wet. Once the hair has dried a little you can style it with your usual brushes/combs and a hairdryer. The great thing about human hair wigs is that you can style it any way you want and use any hair product you want – no need to get gloomy about all the hair care product ads on telly! If you want to use them, you can use them all. Maybe the easiest way of styling the hair on your wig is to let it dry overnight on big rollers. The rollers give the hair more volume and turn the end of the hair in. All you need to do is to take the rollers out of the dry hair in the morning, brush it through and you’re ready to go.
If the hair on your wig gets lighter with time and maybe gets a slight reddish tinge to it, the hair can be died back to the colour you want. Professional advice is always recommended as the hair has been heavily processed already colouring can be tricky. Normal home dyeing kits can work but a shade lighter than the colour you want to get should be used, as the wig hair is quite dry and absorbs colour much more easily than hair growing from a head. Wigs should never be coloured lighter.
Human Hair wigs need to be washed and conditioned regularly. The average is between seven and 10 days, but some people find that they need to wash it more regularly, especially if they play sports. One advantage of wearing a wig is that you only need to style your hair when you wash it, on the following days you can just take it off the wig stand and you’re ready to go!
Incidentally, even if you don’t have any hair on your head, it is important that you wash your scalp with shampoo whenever you have a shower or bath. The scalp produces sebum whether or not there is hair growing on your head. The base of the wig will absorb the sebum and pass it on to the hair on your wig, making your hair look greasy. Keeping your scalp as grease free as possible is well worth it, as it means you have to wash your wig less often.
If you think you will want to/have to wear a wig, it is very well worth investing in a good wig stand/head. Using a wig stand means that the base of your wig as well as the style of your hair will stay in shape. Also, it’s almost impossible to style a wig if it’s not attached to a head! The most popular is a ‘poly head’ for which you can also get a suction cap base that you can attach to any flat clean surface. A more costly but also more durable option is to get a head made out of cork which you can attach to any table or chair.
Wig Cap Types
Wigs are available with different types of cap. Here is an explanation of the different types:
This is a machine-made cap made from rows of hair stitched onto strips of material, known as ‘wefts’.
As they are machine-made, wefted foundation wigs are usually cheaper to purchase than hand-knotted net foundation wigs.
Wefted foundation wigs generally come in pre-cut styles and are ‘ready to wear’.
This is a cap made out of mesh and each hair is knotted by hand. Net foundation wigs can come ‘pre-cut’ but more commonly you choose the length and colour of the wig and a hairdresser cuts it to the length and style you want.
This involves the hair being hand tied to a sheer base such as lace. This style is comfortable for the wearer as the lace is soft on the skin and the cap will mould itself to their head.
The hair in the crown and hairline area is attached to a fine lace. The lace is cut to fit the wearer (some prior knowledge or experience is required – a wig professional will be able to advise). The lace area is often attached using strong glue. The delicate nature of lace means it is more difficult to maintain and not as durable as other caps.
These are custom designed pieces ideal for concealing hair loss in the crown area, as well as adding extra volume to your existing hair. These are a popular choice with people with androgenetic alopecia and some scarring alopecias resulting in one single area of hair loss. A full wig is not always the best option in these cases and a top piece, sometimes referred to as a ‘topper’ can prove really successful.
Designed to make the hair look like it is growing from your head. Individual grafts of hair are hand-placed onto the thin material at the crown and the special construction on their top and front make the scalp look natural. Hair can be parted and brushed in any direction. The thin material used allows excellent ventilation.
Vacuum or Suction Base
Made with silicone, these are made by a plaster mould of the head or digital scan so it can fit perfectly – a vacuum fit without the need for tape or glue. Hair is implanted into the silicone base by hand. To wear this type of base, you must be completely without hair on your scalp (or willing to close shave your head)