guidance, treatment

Wigging Out

I’ve been wearing wigs recently. After I stopped treatment on Votrient because it made my liver enzymes bounce on a trampoline, my natural color started growing in again. It was really uncomfortable. I haven’t had this color hair since I was 17, and it’s been growing in with new patterns and textures. So I made the decision at the end of last year to explore wigs.

When thinking about wearing wigs, I was overwhelmed. I was already two and a half years into my cancer experience, and I didn’t know where to turn. Even googling it felt like admitting something I wasn’t ready to yet.

Instead of google, I reached out to my friend Liz who wears wigs due to a chronic medical condition. She met me over zoom and walked me through everything from products she liked, to when to look for good sales, and how to take care of the wigs I purchase. After sharing my new look on instagram, my friend Sara who shares my diagnosis reached out and offered to send me a human hair wig and offer suggestions on how to rock it. Without these two incredibly generous women, I would likely be wearing a wig with half confidence and wondering if I was doing it right. 

When I put on my first properly styled wig, everything changed. There was a bit more confidence in my step. I wanted to take my dog on a walk around the corner, where I’d previously just taken her into the yard with a knit hat on, hoping a neighbor wouldn’t shout hello from across the street.

To wear a wig is a personal choice, but for me, it was a choice that gave me back some power in a situation where so much else had been taken from my control. Some women choose to rock a bald head, or wear beautiful scarves, but for me, I felt empowered by having hair that felt like me. And so, I want to pass on the information I learned from Liz and Sara in the hopes that it helps you, too. 

Wig Purchasing

There are two major groups of wig types: synthetic and human hair. 

Synthetic wigs are cheaper and come in a variety of styles and colors. If there were ever a time to try a new color or cut, now’s the moment to get a fun look with minimal commitment. (I have a friend who prefers to wear a great, purple bob for fun occasions!) Some synthetics are called lace front wigs. This means that when it arrives out of the box, there will be an inch or so of mesh “lace” into which the synthetic hair is sown. I prefer to take a pair of sharp, tiny scissors and cut away at that until it comes just up to, but doesn’t remove, the hairs forming the hairline. Synthetic wigs however have a few limitations. Because synthetic strands of hair are a lot like a fabric, they don’t last as long while keeping the same quality. Think of getting a sweater made from synthetic fabrics and how it “pills” after a while. Synthetic hair also keeps shape, so if you pin some sections of hair back, it’s likely to keep that mark from where the pin was once it’s removed. Synthetic wigs also can’t be styled the way you would human hair with heat tools like a curling iron, so some consider them less versatile. 

Human hair wigs are a preferred by many people, because they can look and feel just like your own hair. You can treat it just like you would the hair on your scalp: braid it, curl it, straighten it, even wash it in the shower. But this luxury comes with a big price tag, to the tune of several hundred dollars. If you have a handful of long-haired relatives who are generous and have hair of the same color, they can donate their hair and then have it made into a wig for you, but the cost for the wigmaker is still high. While this isn’t an option for everyone, it’s definitely an investment that will last you a long time.

Wig Care

Whether you have a synthetic or human hair wig, it takes a good bit of daily and weekly care to keep your investment looking new. I recommend purchasing a few things along with your wig: a wig head or form, wide tooth comb, and a detangling product designed for your type of hair. Additionally, you may want to purchase a felt “headband” that you put on prior to the wig to help keep it in shape.

Here are the basic steps I follow to caring for my wig:

  1. Use your fingers to separate any large tangles. With your wig on the wig form, use your fingers to carefully detangle any knots that may have formed, paying attention to areas like the nape of the neck. With all wig detangling, you’ll want to work from the bottom up. 
  2. After that, you can take your detangling product and spray it on your wig, paying special attention with a synthetic wig not to drench the wig with the product. Then you can use your wide-tooth comb to get out additional knots and snags. Like before, be sure to work from the bottom up.
  3. After your wig is detangled, it’s probably looking better already! I like to take a product, either the same detangler from before or a finishing spray, to spritz lightly around the wig and smooth any remaining frizz. 
  4. Then the tough part – don’t touch it! Let the wig rest to absorb any product you’ve used. For this reason, it can be helpful to do this at night so it’s ready to go the next morning. 

When you’re ready to wear your wig, first put on the felt wig headband according to the directions on the label or the package. Your wig will likely have an adjustable back to keep it tight, with a plastic hook and different fabric loops. I recommend starting with the hook on the biggest setting, so you can tighten as your wig gets worn in and more loose. After your wig is adjusted, then flip both your wig and head upside down, being careful to align it at the front first. Once you flip your head back up, you can do any other minor adjustments like making sure your felt headband can’t be seen, moving pieces forward or back, or tucking strangs behind your ear. After a few times, you’ll have the process down to about 30 seconds – in case you’re running late for that FaceTime or Zoom call.

Just as everyone’s response to losing their hair is different, everyone’s experience with wigs is unique. Remember that you’re in control, and this is just one way to express yourself during treatment or after. Regardless of what you choose, I hope your wig helps you feel beautiful.