How to Choose a Wig You’ll Love After Cancer Hair Loss
“I want to feel like me again.”
These are the words wig designer Amy Gibson often hears when women come to her after experiencing hair loss. Amy, who is also a cancer hair loss consultant, works with women who are facing temporary hair loss from breast cancer treatment. One of the first things Amy asks is, “Did you like your hair?” Women often respond, “It was okay,” or “I did, but I’ve just never gotten the color right.”
“Well, this is the time we can get it right and make you rock!” says Amy.
If women want to explore something a little different, this is a chance to have some fun. When it comes to choosing a wig, there are many options available. Of course, that can also make shopping for a wig overwhelming.
Here, Amy breaks the process down. She shares her expertise not just as a wig designer but as someone who wears a wig every day. Amy experienced permanent hair loss due to an immune disorder called alopecia areata. She now councils women enduring hair loss from all medical conditions. Keep reading for Amy’s tips on finding a wig that fits your tastes and feels comfortable, too.
Prepare Before You Shop
“A woman’s instincts cannot be challenged,” says Amy. “You know intuitively when you see something if it’s for you.” Still, she recommends doing research on wig styles you like before you start shopping. “Doing some prep work in advance can help you save time and stress during your wig-shopping experience,” she says. “You may be tired from treatment and may not have a lot of time in between appointments, so you want to get your intention solved as fast and easily as possible.”
Before you shop, Amy recommends taking these 3 steps:
- Take pictures: “The truth is, once you lose your hair, within a short amount of time you actually forget what your style and color exactly were,” says Amy. If you haven’t experienced hair loss yet, she advises, “Take some pictures, because that’s what you want to match.” If you already have some great pictures of your hair, you are all set.
- Explore styles: “Do some research online for styles that are close to your hair. Or, if you feel like being a little different, print some photos of pieces that resonate with you. If you’re using your mobile phone, take screenshots,” says Amy. Be sure to mark down the name of the manufacturer and the style of each wig you find, she adds. Take your notes and photos with you to the wig shop.
- Know your size: You’ll need to know what wig cap size fits your head best. “You don’t want to buy a medium if your head is a small size,” says Amy. To find your size, measure the circumference of your head with a flexible measuring tape. Amy shares step-by-step guidance on how to measure your head.
If a wig ends up being a bit large for you, wig bands are an option. “Wearing a wig band underneath your wig will allow you to wear a wig more securely,” explains Amy. “Additionally, 99% of wigs have a hook in the back, so you can make them smaller,” she adds. “Or they have some Velcro located at the nape to make them smaller.”
When you are ready to shop, comfort should be a priority. Before you step out the door, make sure you aren’t experiencing scalp sensitivity. Some women experience this condition from their chemotherapy treatments. “It only happens for a little bit — sometimes 3 or 4 days, sometimes less,” says Amy. “And not everyone gets scalp sensitivity, but it’s a possibility. You want to shop for a wig when you don’t have scalp sensitivity.”
Comfort is also important when it comes to the wig you select.
“Comfort, comfort, comfort! I can’t stress this enough,” says Amy. “We all want the fantastic wig we just saw. However, we also don’t want to pull it off our head in 2 hours from discomfort. What fun is that? We want to live our life in a wig seamlessly. That is absolutely possible in the right base cap that is not itchy or tight. The main thing is to have a thin, breathable base. You are already going through stress. Don’t add to it. I wear my wigs for 12 hours a day and have no issue. If you buy the right one, that should be your experience.”
So, you'll want to inspect any wig you are considering. When you find one you like, says Amy, "Take the wig, look at it from the inside, and hold it up to the light — any light there is. If you can see through the base, you can breathe through it. If you can't see through it, it's going to be too heavy, not breathable enough, and you're going to be too hot."
Next, says Amy, make a fist and put the wig over it. “Blow on it from the outside and see if your hand feels your breath. If it does, that’s good. If you have a friend with you, put the wig on and have your friend blow on your head and see if you can feel that. That’s an immediate test to see if you are going to have a lot of sweating and perspiration with the wig you’ve chosen.”
Also consider the material of the wig’s base. “A wig made with a silk top and either a hand-tied or a wefted back is a good option, both for comfort and a more authentic look, because the silk top is made to replicate a hair part,” notes Amy.
“It does take a little time to acclimate to a wig. ... Give yourself a break and just relax and breathe. Little by little, you’ll acclimate."
— Amy Gibson
4 More Tips to Consider
- Review types of wig hair. Wigs are made with synthetic or human hair, and some wigs are made from a mix of both. While you are doing your research, think about whether you prefer one or the other. Your budget may also be a factor in your preference. Read more about synthetic vs. human hair.
- Think about getting a backup wig. “I always say get 2 wigs, because while one is being washed and you want to go somewhere, you are always prepared, again removing an unnecessary stress,” says Amy. “When I was dating, I would wear my good wig when I was on a date. Then, if I decided to be intimate, I’d go change into one that was okay to mess up. And then, in the morning, I would get up a bit before my partner and change back to the one my date remembered seeing me in at dinner! This worked every time.” If you want to play with different looks, you can choose a few wigs in a different style and color.
- Ask if the wig shop has a stylist. Whatever wig you choose, “the style and the cut are the finishing touch,” says Amy. “That’s where you are going to create authenticity. Every single wig is made for the masses. They must be thinned out or you are going to look like Cousin Itt from the Adams Family. There’s always a part of the wig that’s too heavy, usually at the top of the crown and sides.” Some wig shops have a stylist. If there’s no stylist on staff, a hair stylist may be an option. But first ask if he or she is comfortable cutting a wig. “If they aren’t, you need to find one who is,” advises Amy. “Just because you have a great stylist doesn’t mean they know how to cut a wig. Wigs take much more care and time to cut, and not all stylists are trained in wig styling.”
- Give yourself time to adjust. “It does take a little time to acclimate to a wig,” says Amy. “You’re looking in a mirror and you’re seeing one thing — either lack of hair or less hair — and then you put a wig on. It takes a moment for your brain to work with your eyes to get used to this look. Within a short amount of time, you put it on, it looks like you, and you’re out the door in 5 minutes! Super convenient. Give yourself a break and just relax and breathe. Little by little, you’ll acclimate.”
Covering the Cost of a Wig
Wigs range widely in price, from around $100 to $2,000 or more. You can also find some wigs for less than $100. Certain insurance companies will supplement or cover the cost of a wig, but you must submit a prescription from your doctor for a “cranial prosthesis” or “hair prosthesis.” Before you start shopping for a wig, ask your insurance company about their policy and what they require.
Often, cancer treatment centers have wig banks where you can get a refurbished or new wig for free or a small fee. Some nonprofit organizations also offer free wigs for people impacted by cancer. Wigs & Wishes is a network of salon owners, stylists, and beauty experts that offers free wigs to women with cancer.
The more you prepare for losing your hair, the easier it will be if it happens. Be kind to yourself and allow time and space to cope with this loss. Reach out for the support you need.