Wigs commonly asked Q&A
In this section Cancer Hair Care Founder and UK’s leading Cancer Hair Loss Specialist Jasmin Julia Gupta shares her in-depth knowledge.
10 of the most common misconceptions about wigs and hairpieces
- “I heard that NHS wigs look false and are low quality”
- “Does a real hair wig always look more real?”
- “Is it true that wigs make your head sweat?”
- “How does a wig stay on your head – is it true that you have to tape a wig to your head otherwise it will fall off?”
- “Do you need to spend a lot of money to get a good wig?”
- “Is it true that a heated styling appliance or hairdryer will melt a wig?”
- “Will a good wig last forever?”
- “Can wearing a wig slow down the regrowth of new hair?”
- “If my hair is long before I lose it, can I cut it into a pony tail and have a wig made?”
- “Will people be able to tell I am wearing a wig?”
1. “I heard that NHS wigs look false and are low quality”
This is not true - the NHS simply do not make wigs themselves and outsource this service to wig suppliers around the country. The NHS requires their chosen providers to follow a code of conduct and care for their patients and wigs supplied. The wig supplier chooses where they get their stock of wigs from. If you qualify for a prescription, the NHS provides help towards the full or partial cost of wigs, usually in the form of a voucher prescription that is exchanged with a wig supplier.
The term “NHS wig” has earned itself a bad name, but I think this is because sadly you don’t hear about all of the fantastic looking wigs, only about the not so good ones. Let me be clear, there are plenty of good suppliers and masses of choice. Once you know a little bit more about wig choices this will make a huge difference to finding a stylish wig. But ultimately the quality and choice of wigs available comes down to what type of stock your individual wig supplier has available within the budget set out by the NHS.
“I’m so glad that I now understand the NHS doesn’t actually make wigs. I wasn’t even going to use my voucher because I thought ‘I don’t want one of those cheap NHS wigs’! It’s these little snippets of information that make all the difference.”
Jean, 55, teacher from Glasgow.
2. “Does a real hair wig always look more real?”
If I start by telling you that 90% of wigs that I recommend to cancer patients are synthetic and not real hair, then I guess that answers the question. When I first meet people they often say “I don’t mind what it costs, I want a real hair wig” and this is because they think it will look more realistic. But the simple truth is that a good quality synthetic wig is often easier to manage, has a wider range available and is more cost effective. The most important thing about any wig is that it is customised to suit you and that you know how to wear it well.
“My wig was just £97 and is synthetic hair…it’s long and wavy and was cut to suit my face and my glasses. When it first came out of the box I didn’t see how it could possibly look real but then once I was shown how to add some product in, it looked fantastic.” Margaret, 49, nurse from Hertfordshire.
3. “Is it true that wigs make your head sweat?”
It is fair to say that wearing a wig can make your head feel hotter then normal. Our heads naturally sweat but it is something that we don’t always notice because the air and our hair absorbs it. But when you wear a wig, a bit like wearing a hat, the heat and sweat from your head is normally increased. The hair on a wig is sown into a weft base that does allow some air through. However if your head is feeling overly hot you could try wearing a wig cap (which looks like the foot piece from a pair or tights) under your wig, it will help absorb sweat and hold your wig in place. I have also had feedback from several women who used a natural roll on deodorant on their bare scalp and said that it worked perfectly well to reduce sweat.
“I didn’t realise that the wig cap would help absorb sweat. I had thought it was something you used if your head itched, so when I found out it made a big difference.” Tessa, 39, Mum to four kids.
4. “How does a wig stay on your head – is it true that you have to tape a wig to your head or it will fall off?”
Wigs and hairpieces can be held in place with tape commonly referred to as toupee tape but the majority of wigs are held in place by small adjustable elasticated belt straps (a bit like a bra strap) that are inside a wig. These can be tightened easily to make the wig sit snugly and securely. The other way wigs or hairpieces can be held in place is with a thin wig glue sometimes supplied by a wig supplier. Additionally wig clips are used to grip some wigs or hairpieces onto the hair, for example when there is new hair growth or a hairpiece needs to be attached to real hair. But because most cancer patients experience temporary hair loss, the type of wig most recommended is likely to be secured with a belt strap. I would also recommend trying a wig cap, mentioned in the previous question, as it can help to hold a wig securely so that it does not move around on your head. Wigs are made to stay in place and in my experience it is a case of getting used to putting on your wig and knowing that it is secure.
“It’s those little things that you forget once you leave the wig shop, like tightening the belts inside the wig to make it fit tightly. Those tips gave me the confidence to know that my wig would stay in place.” Bonnie, 41, who happily drives around in her convertible with her wig on, flapping in the wind, with an added headscarf like a movie star!
5. “Do you need to spend a lot of money to get a good wig?”
How much you spend on a wig all depends upon the quality and cost of wigs available from your wig supplier and if you qualify for support from the NHS towards the cost. If you are buying a wig without any NHS or other funding (e.g. private health insurance) I would say that a good quality wig, fitted by a professional wig supplier, can be purchased from £150 upwards. As a cancer patient you will be exempt from paying VAT but must fill out a VAT exemption form when purchasing your wig. You should also consider other costs related to your wig such as products and accessories.
“I decided to buy a wig privately. My husband and I had agreed that we would find the money to get a wig that looked real. I couldn’t believe that the price covered the wig itself, having it fitted and customised, the wig stand, products and brushes. Altogether it came to just under £250. I thought that was amazing, and that’s about what I would have spent on my hair in 6 months any way! It was a pleasant surprise as we had expected to pay around the thousand pound mark.” Lynn, 67, Grandmother to two girls
6. “Is it true that a heated styling appliance or hairdryer will melt a wig?”
Oh dear, I have seen many a good synthetic wig melted by a straightening iron or tong! Whilst there are some new generation synthetic hair wigs that can take gentle low hairdryer heat styling, the basic rule is that you should not use direct heat on a synthetic wig. On synthetic hair, direct heat such as straightening irons, hot rollers, hotbrush, tongs and hairdryers can melt the hair. Sometimes if the guidelines allow, you can use a hairdryer on a low heat setting (or cool button) to waft air through a synthetic wig but unless you are absolutely sure it is ok it is best to avoid this. Synthetic hair wigs can be washed and then left to dry naturally. They will return to their styled state without the need for additional work on your part.
A real hair wig will need the same amount of attention as natural hair so generally needs to be blow dried or set into a style. You can normally use most direct heated appliances on a real hair wig. For all wig types, always check the manufacturer’s advice label about how to treat them or take a look at our washing and styling guide.
For all wig types, always check the manufacturer’s advice label about how to treat them or take a look at our washing and styling guide.
“Yes that was me! I threw away the advice label from my wig. I decided to try and give my wig a new look and used my straightening irons on the fringe – needless to say they got stuck and melted the front! Well at least I can share that with you!” Elizabeth, 36, fashion clothes buyer, Leeds – had to buy a new wig!
7. “Will a good wig last for ever?”
No. In my experience, many people who wear a wig and combination of a scarf or hat for the duration of cancer treatment manage with just one wig for a period of up to a year. However if you are wearing a wig every day for six months or more you may need a new one or have some maintenance such as having any dry looking ends snipped off. When worn every day most wigs will become a little saggy over time, a bit like a pair of bikini bottoms or swimming trunks that are regularly worn. Wigs can also become frizzy at the ends, in particular longer wigs because they collect static, it’s called friction build-up.
Generally most manufacturers recommend you have your wig checked after six months to see if it needs to be replaced. However, I have found many people especially those with shorter wigs are fine with just one for up to a year and some people keep their wigs for a lot longer. It is worth knowing that if your wig was provided by an NHS wig supplier you may be able to ask for another referral after six months. This comes down to your local NHS funding provision.
“I had a real hair wig and I had no idea that it would frizz up and it made the style look dry. I had to laugh to myself because even wigs get bad hair days!” Judith, 37, from a little village called Aston.
8. “Can wearing a wig slow down the regrowth of new hair?”
No there is no evidence to suggest that wearing a regular wig will prevent new hair from growing or slow down the growth. When people wear a wig due to chemotherapy treatment they often wear a wig over the new growth. The hair on most wigs is attached to a weft that allows air and light to penetrate making the wig breathable.
“When my hair grew back it was strange because at first it came through really quickly, then it seemed to slow down a bit. I blamed it on my wig but was relieved to find out it’s just normal that it takes a while. After nine months I had a short textured style and a few blonde highlights, and getting the colour back was great”. Sandra, 59, who two years after recovery still keeps her hair short because she likes it!
9. “If my hair is long before I lose it, can I cut it into a pony tail and have a wig made?”
In most cases it takes at least 12 weeks for a custom-made wig or hair system to be made into a wearable item and you would need a lot of hair for a good effect. Real hair wigs are made using a combination of different human hair that is individually sown or attached to a wig or hair system. Although it sounds like a plausible idea to have your own hair made into a wig it is technically too complicated and therefore not a service that wig manufacturers offer.
However you can donate hair that will be put into a hair bank and made into a wig for a young person having treatment, or even do a sponsored hair cut to raise money for a cancer charity.
“Sometimes it’s just good to know what can or can’t be done. I spent ages thinking about having my own hair made into a wig because a friend said she was sure that’s what people did! In the end I went for a really nice graduated bob style, nothing like my own hair at all but a bit of fun. I wish I had of thought about donating my hair to charity but I didn’t think about it at the time.” Tina, 41, PR, London.
10. “Will people be able to tell I am wearing a wig?”
If you chose a wig that is similar to your style prior to hair loss and learn how to put it on well many people have told me that no one ever knew they were wearing a wig. But naturally if you allow hair loss to be exposed, or go for a new style, then those people with whom you interact are likely to notice your new look. Having confidence to wear your wig well is about knowing how to put your wig on so it looks good and fits correctly. Additionally it is important to give some thought to who and when you may choose to reveal that you are wearing a wig. As over half a million wigs are sold every year in the UK, it is likely that someone you know must be wearing a wig and you have no idea!
I really recommend standing in front of a mirror and practicing saying out loud a few responses about your wig or new style. It may be something that allows you to discuss your hair without revealing it’s a wig, such as in a work environment - “I decided to go for a change, what do you think?” Or perhaps you want to tell friends and colleagues but wish to keep it short and sweet “I’m starting some treatment and needed to get this wig, I’m okay about it and would prefer to not chat right now.” Whatever your approach have a think in advance about what you wish to say and how you can say it.
"I had been happy to wear a headscarf most days but at a family celebration I knew I would be seeing a lot of extended family members whom I did not want to share my cancer diagnosis and treatment with. So I wore a wig. Although my wig was slightly shorter then my hair before hair loss it was very similar to my original hair. I practiced wearing it around the house and on the day of the celebration no-one knew I was wearing a wig.” Jaya, 61, Stevenage
Next planned review: February 2020