How to Choose a Wig

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Many cancer patients face hair loss as the result of their treatment, and many decide to wear a wig until their hair starts to grow back.

Choosing the right wig can be a difficult decision. If you choose to wear a wig, the best one for you will:

  • Appear natural-looking.
  • Feel comfortable and fits well.
  • Fit your budget.

Learn more about hair loss and choosing a wig from Dana-Farber's Friends' Place.

It is important to go to a store that offers privacy and individual attention, such as a shop specializing in wigs with a sales staff that has experience dealing with women with cancer or hair loss. When you shop for a wig, be sure to ask three questions:

What kind of hair is the wig made of?

Wigs are made out of either a synthetic fiber, human hair, or a combination of these two.

Synthetic fiber wigs are the most popular type of hair prosthesis for women experiencing temporary hair loss because they are lightweight, easy to adjust for fit, moderately priced, and comfortable.

Human hair (full custom hairpieces) are costly and difficult to maintain. Hair stylists recommend synthetic wigs.

How is the wig made?

Wigs are constructed in two major ways: machine-made and hand-tied (pre-custom and full-custom). Machine-made wigs are often thought of as being made for people with hair, but this is not always the case. In fact, many women find these wigs to be comfortable as well as economical. These ready-made wigs are chosen by hairstyle, hair color, and head size (ranging from petite to large). Since heads don't come in uniform sizes, machine-made wigs can be easily altered for a near-custom fit.

How do you attach the wig to the scalp?

A well-fitted wig doesn't usually require aids for attachment, but some people like to have the feeling of additional security. The foundation, the material to which the hair is attached, should feel like a second scalp, and not be uncomfortably hot or heavy. In general, all wigs are warm, but some have special ventilation features.

When hair falls out, the scalp may feel tender or sensitive. Some wigs can be irritating to the scalp. It is often helpful to place a small cotton scarf or cotton skullcap between the scalp and the wig. Not only does the scarf or cap provide a protective barrier, but it also absorbs some of the perspiration that develops on the scalp.

The staff at the wig store can help you if you have trouble securing the wig in place.

Washing Directions

Generally, a wig should be washed after 14-18 wearings. If you're especially active, you should wash your wig at least once a week to remove the perspiration and dirt.

When it is time to wash your wig, brush it to remove all teasing, tangles, and hair spray. We recommend that you use a gentle cleansing, wig, scalp and hair shampoo, and conditioner as it leaves your wig soft, pretty, and easy to manage.

Gently swirl your wig in a mixture of cold water and a small amount of shampoo. Let it soak for a few minutes, then rinse it in cold water. You can wrap the wig in a towel to remove excess water, but DO NOT wring it out or brush it while it is wet. Drape your wig over a slender bottle or a wig stand, and let it dry overnight. When your wig is completely dry, give it a quick shake and brush it back into style.

If you have a hair stylist, you may talk with them about the care of your wig. Your hair stylist may have experience working with wigs and can also give you tips about the care of your wig.

Wig Care Dos

  • Use water-soluble hair spray. Lacquer sprays will coat the wig and create a white-colored build-up.
  • Use a plastic, wire, or natural bristle brush. Light, short strokes give the best styling results. Heavy brushing tends to "pack" the fiber instead of creating the "airy" look that fiber is meant to have.

Wig Care Don'ts

  • Do not use standard hairbrushes because they can create excessive tension, over stretching the hair and damaging it.
  • Do not brush wig while your wig is wet.
  • Do not use heat to style - no curling irons or hairdryers.
  • Do not try to dye or tint your wig.
  • Do not wear your wig while cooking or near open oven or gas stove, as your wig could catch on fire. Extreme heat will cause the wig to frizz. You might consider wearing a turban while cooking to avoid singeing your wig.

Additional Resources


Choosing a Wig

Boston's WCVB TV Channel 5 reporter Kelley Tuthill shares tips for selecting a wig and wearing it with confidence.


Tips for Tying a Headscarf

Watch WCVB TV reporter Kelley Tuthill, a breast cancer survivor treated at Dana-Farber, demonstrate three different ways to tie a headscarf.