By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy

Feature ImageWigs can help maintain patient’s self-esteem during the traumatic breast cancer treatment. While widely available, the wigs vary greatly in price as well as in their quality. The patient does well to gather all the information available before making the final choice regarding the hair wig. This way the choice made will be one that makes the patient feel comfortable and more confident.

Types of Hair Wigs

Wigs for Cancer PatientsThere are two main types of hair wigs: synthetic wigs and human hair wigs. Most synthetic hair wigs are made with a particular style that cannot be altered. Some can be styled just as real hair, but have to be reset after each wash. Synthetic hair, although it might look very much like the natural hair, will never move in a completely natural way, and it also cannot be treated the way the natural hair is. For example, it shouldn’t be exposed to intense heat because it will cause frizz. Heating products like curling irons shouldn’t be used with synthetic hair either, except if the wig was especially designed for such use. Human hair wigs look and feel more natural than the synthetic ones, but they are delicate and require a professional to wash and style them. The biggest disadvantage of the human hair wigs is their price, which starts at about $1,000 and makes them unaffordable to many cancer patients.


Types of Human Hair Used for Wigs

The prices of human hair wigs are greatly determined by the type of hair used for the wig construction. There are three types of hair used for this purpose: European, Asian, and Indonesian. The most expensive hair is the European hair since it’s regarded as the finest and is also the rarest on the market. Indonesian hair is slightly finer than the Asian and is considered mid-range. The least expensive is Asian hair, which is most readily available and resembles least the hair of the Western people. But when processed, colored and styled, it is very hard to tell apart wigs made from different types of hair.


All types of hair wigs require some basic daily care, besides the washing which should be done approximately every two weeks. This routine care includes storing the wig away from dust, heat, and humidity; smoothing out the hair with a hair comb; spraying lightly with alcohol and letting it dry; twisting and pinning the hair to secure the style; covering the wig with a hair net.

Wig Construction

More than the type of hair used for making wigs, what really makes a difference is their construction. A quality-made synthetic wig can be better than a poorly-made human hair wig. There are three types of wig construction: handmade, custom and machine-made.
Machine-made: They are most widely available and least expensive. Wefts of hair are sewn together, cut and assembled into a wig. They can look very realistic, but they shouldn’t be parted, pulled back or otherwise altered. Some people prefer them because their construction allows the air to circulate to the scalp.

Handmade: Because strands of hair are knotted onto the skullcap, these type of wigs can be styled and altered and the vents won’t be exposed. Out of the prefabricated choices, hair with this type of wigs looks most natural.

Custom-made: As the name implies, these wigs are made according to individual’s wants and needs and look most like the natural hair. This makes them the most expensive option. Besides the price, they have another downside for the majority of cancer patients: the time required to complete them. It usually takes more than two months, and most patients can’t afford to wait that long.

Wig Style

The style of the wig is completely the choice of the each individual; however, it is good to keep a few things in mind. Because cancer treatment makes many people lose a lot of weight, a shorter wig might help to add to the fullness of the face. A shorter wig is also a lot easier to care for, takes less time to brush and doesn’t get tangled so easily. Wisps of hair covering the hairline or bangs can help the wig to look more natural with the skin. Some wigs come with headbands, and while they can look very stylish, patients should know that they cannot change them; instead, they are stuck with one headband. Some people have found that buying two wigs instead of one expensive wig gives them the possibility to change styles without having to go the professional each time.

Where to Buy Wigs

A personal hairstylist can be a great source of information on where to buy a wig in the neighborhood. Doctors also likely have this information, so patients can turn to them for help. American Cancer Society and CancerCare provide free wigs to patients who cannot afford to buy a wig. They also know reputable wig shops. There are many wig online shops, but the bad thing about them is that the hair wigs cannot be tried on before the purchase. Therefore, it is recommended that buyers check the shop’s return policy.

Preparing to Wear a Wig

cancer survivorTalking to a doctor and asking specific questions about the cancer treatment can help to be better prepared for the hair loss when it occurs. It is a good idea to go to a wig shop before the hair falls out because this will help with choosing the wig that most resembles the natural hair. Some people cut their hair very short before they start losing hair in order to prepare themselves for the complete hair loss. Others only shorten their hairstyle, if they had worn their hair long before because losing hair is less obvious with a shorter haircut. Before buying the wig, patients should check with their insurance if the wig will be paid for. Most insurance policies pay for the wig if it’s for medical purposes.

Human hair wigs feel most like natural hair. Not only do they look natural, they also behave the way natural hair does. Their downside is the high price and the amount of time and care they require. Patients should also check the construction method of the wig, which is just as important as the type of hair used. Besides the quality, color and style of the wig are also very important in achieving a natural look. Cancer patients do well if they start preparing for wearing a wig long before their hair actually starts falling out.


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