Chemo Wigs: How to Buy Them During Chemotherapy

31450018-500x682

How to Buy a Wig During Cancer Treatment, TheSilverPen.comOne of my chemo wigs. I named this one “Nataska”. Please don’t ask me why. I was in the middle of chemo!

Shortly after my first round of chemo, I (correctly!) presumed that it was time to figure out how (the f-bomb!) to buy a chemo wig because I knew that being bald-bald-bald was inevitable. As you may recall, hair loss occurs because chemotherapy targets all rapidly dividing cells—healthy cells as well as cancer cells.

Hair follicles are the structures in the skin filled with tiny blood vessels that make hair. They are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body. When not in cancer treatment,  hair follicles divide every 23 to 72 hours. But as the chemo does its work against rapidly dividing and growing cancer cells, it also destroys hair cells. Within a few weeks of starting chemo (in my case 2 weeks), a person may lose some or all of  the hair.

At this point, there really is no known, proven prevention for hair loss due to chemotherapy. Attempts have been made (and continue to be made) to reduce hair loss by using tight bands or ice caps. The tight bands didn’t really work, but there is a great deal of hope around a new type of ice cap. It’s no quite there yet, but my friends at Breastcancer.org tell me that this could really be the real deal (Silver Lining).

In the meantime, (thanks to the request of a reader!) I thought I’d share my process for buying a wig:

  1. Figure out your budget. Wigs range in price anywhere from $50 – thousands! Some insurance companies cover the cost (in part or completely). If not, there are organizations that give them to patients for free (Silver Lining):
  1. Determine what type of hair you want. Generally, there are two types:
    • Synthetic Hair. This type of wig is made from strands that are created from polymers. Generally, synthetic wigs can hold a style through wear and shampoo. You must be careful, though because there are many types of synthetic wigs that can easily melt near heat sources (and you DON’T want to add that to your list of issues!). Kanekalon is a type of synthetic hair that can be styled with a curling iron.
    • Human Hair. These wigs are made from real human hair (or a mix of human and animal – yes, animal – hair) that has been donated or sold to wig makers. These types of wigs can be colored, permed, cut, styled, and blow-dried, just like your own hair. This was the type of wig that I had.
  1. I highly recommend, if at all possible, to shop for your wig before chemotherapy begins. This will allow you some time to get used to the look of your wig and help you to feel more “normal” (go ahead and laugh at the word normal) while wearing it. You will also have more energy for the shopping process and your stylist will be able to get a true feel for your coloring and complexion. But here’s the thing: Don’t actually buy it or have it styled until your hair loss has started because it will definitely affect how it fits you.
  2. When it comes to color, my hairstylist recommended selecting a shade slightly lighter than my own for two reasons: 1) a person’s complexion during chemotherapy tends to be off (my skin often had a beauteous yellowish-green tone) and 2) the less variation between wig color and skin tone, the more flattering the wig will be.
  3. Determine your look. Do you want to look like your “old” self or try a whole new look. I have worn short – very short! – hair for the past few years and decided to try something different in the form of a bob. I kept my same hair color and texture, but went for length. It was kind of fun, actually.  Here’s a funny story: the first night that I wore the wig, I went out to dinner with a girlfriend. Our waiter (whom I know!) said to me, “You look different. Did you get your hair cut?”  I burst out laughing and told him that “No, I grew it 8 inches overnight.” I mean, really. What else was I going to say?
  4. In terms of upkeep (yes, there is upkeep!), plan to shampoo, condition and dry your wig using special wig products. Speaking of which, there are wig specific brushes as well. I was blown away by this industry! Geesh! Also inquire about whether or not it’s ok to use styling devices as you don’t want to have your hair melt. The general rule of thumb is that it’s best to ask your stylist what will be best for your wig.

One very very very important point: not all chemotherapy causes hair loss. So, before you shave your head and buy a wig, please talk with your oncologist about whether hair loss is anticipated. I knew from the get go, that hair loss for me was pretty much a sure thing!

I hope that this helps!  Do you have any tips or helpful hints that you would like to share?

* Photograph of Nataska taken by my friend Elizabeth Messina.

Leave a comment

Comments

  1. chiarina says

    Human hair wigs my son has alopecia totalis and when ln melb the perter mac foundation helped my son we now live in wa rockingham do you know anyone who can help him the wigs had sucktion caps and he could go swimming in it without it sliding off his head is bigger now my contact is 0432516623 thankyou corina

    • silverpen says

      Hi Corina,
      Thank you for your note. I don’t know anyone off the top of my head. My suggestion would be to reach out to the alopecia society to see if they might know.
      Best wishes!
      Hollye

  2. Angela fava says

    Thank you for your advice on purchasing a wig. I know that I will most likely loose my hair. My insurance cover 90percent of the price up to 500 dollars. Do you know if any wig shops will accept insurance.

  3. Sara says

    Just got the news that my chemo will have me hairless in about 3 weeks, so I appreciate your insight on this matter.

    I also appreciate the title of your blog! This is the first post I’ve read but I intend to read more. I’m working very hard to remain positive throughout this process and like that your blog takes that perspective! :-)

    Thank you!
    Sara

  4. says

    Just a note about my ordeal with wigs. Before I started my chemo, I decided that I had to have a human hair wig. It had to look real, right? Well, I have to say that real hair wigs are an awful lot of work. They need to be set or flat ironed after drying and frankly, it got to be too much for me. I moved on to a synthetic wig with a monofilament top and lace front. The mono top looks just like real scalp and can be parted in any direction. The lace front makes it look like a “real” hairline. Synthetic wigs are basically wash, let dry and gently comb once you put them on and the shape and wave pattern has “memory”. I would really recommend these wigs to any of you going through chemo. They tend to be pretty lightweight feeling and I wasn’t overly hot in the warm months. Just don’t put your head right in front of a hot oven as they can get frizzy if you do. Bye the way, I still wear wigs as my hair never came in very well after my chemo. Good luck to all of you! (You can see me in my wig on my website–I am an aesthetician)

    • Caroline Ogiony says

      Diana,
      I am just starting chemo and have been looking at wigs, very confusing. Did you buy online? I have a limited selection where I live, very limited, granny like. I am 49.
      Thanks,
      Caroline

  5. Angie says

    Wow. This is super helpful and good things to know! I’m starting my chemo next week for Hodgkin’s and the chemo I’ll be on will cause me to lose my hair. As I’ve never looked into buying a wig, I’m really unsure about a lot of things. Do you recommend wearing a wig cap under the wig? Did you wear your wig all the time or did your alternate it with hats/wraps/scarves for comfort? Was your scalp real sensitive/painful from the chemo? Just trying to get a better understanding of what I’m in for. Thanks!

    • silverpen says

      Hi Angie,
      I remember feeling unsure as well. Please take a deep breath and know that you WILL be able to handle it.
      I ended up wearing my scarf more than my wig. I had a really good quality one and it still itched like crazy and when the hot flashes came…whooooa. Some people prefer wigs, though. I recommend trying it to see what is best for you.
      Please take good care and stay in touch! Best,
      Hollye

  6. Grayson says

    Have you had any experience with a (human hair) full lace wig? I am concerned about the durability. I have heard that full lace is only appropriate for theatrical performances because they are fragile. Also, I have also heard that full lace wigs are only worn by African American woman and not appropriate or natural looking for caucasian woman. Does anyone have any experience with full lace wigs?

    • silverpen says

      Interesting question, Grayson. I am afraid that I don’t have any experience with them. It was not suggested for me.
      I will look into it, though!
      Best,
      Hollye

  7. Yacira Ledet says

    I am looking for a wig for my best friend in Barranquilla Colombia, she has breast cancer and has started chemotherapy, but can’t afford to buy a wig. She bought a synthetic hair wig and it irritates her scalp, she is using scarfs, but they are to hot to wear. She needs human hair shoulder length wig, black hair. I can afford to pay $200.00 on a used wig.

  8. says

    Hollye:

    Looked at your website and what you wrote about hair loss. Love to engage and tell you about the charity we established in honor and in memory of my wife Lolly, who passed away in 2012. It is called Lolly's Locks (www.lollyslocks.org). We provide free high quality wigs – human hair and synthetic – to women cancer patients who can't afford them. You know how expensive the human hair wigs are and the vast majority of women cancer patients throughout the country can't afford them. We have already given out our wigs to over 100 women in 32 states – we believe we are the only national charity doing someone like this – custom made wigs to order we provide to patients before their hair falls out. Check the link on our website and/or Facebook page to the Huffington Post article about Lolly's Locks written by one of our recipients Deborah Donatti – it is very powerful. Love to discuss – we want all of America to know we exist so we can continue to help so many women in need (over 800,000 women annually diagnosed with cancer annually – not all need chemo and not all who do lose their hair, but the number is huge). Maybe you can help spread the word as there is synergy between what we do and how you are trying to help.

    Steve Toll

  9. Paula DiPaolo says

    Rule number 1-everyone does cancer their own way BUT i spent too much time worrying about a wig-in fact I never ended up wearing mine! First off it was way too hot and itchy. Second-fresh air and some sun helped hair grow back nicely. As a wise friend put it-everyone can see you are going thru treatment-so a scarf/hat/nothing really doesn't matter-do what's comfy! By the way-I was horrified by the hair loss but ended up feeling confident in "me" with a bald head-go figure!

  10. Katie says

    Thank you, Hollye, for ALL of your helpful insights! It is wonderful to have such a great (insider's) resource. . . and as always, the post is beautifully written.

  11. says

    The best wig advice I got was to forgo the expensive real-hair wig and go for the quality synthetic, at a fraction of the price. Wish I had listened. The fancy real-hair one was higher maintenance, while the synthetic was a breeze to care for — Swish it around in the sink and boom, it dries perfectly back into place. I realize not everyone has the option of experimenting, but if you do, try the synthetic route first and see how you like it. Just , as Hollye points out, don't stand near an open flame. 😉 … And hey – try to have fun with your wig. I went on a rafting trip and wore a hat over my wig. At the end of a challenging rapid I turned the whole thing around backwards. My friends were in on the joke but the poor guide was beside himself. We howled with laughter… Silver Lining Deluxe!

  12. Carolee Groux says

    Hollye, you have listed some important pointers to consider when looking to get a wig. My oncologist had told me from the get-go that I would be losing my hair from one of the chemo drugs for sure. I had a medium length bob going into chemo treatments first of Jan., 2002.
    At the first signs of hair loss I got a scissors and cut my hair off by the fistfuls. Then I asked my husband to buzz it of to the scalp.
    I had been told about the American Cancer Society providing wigs and other accessories free to cancer patients. I went there and got a gal to assist me who was just great. I had a couple of wigs picked out to try on, and she selected a natural hair one that was about my same color and length. But it was thicker, with more body than my own hair, and no more coloring or highlights to maintain it. After putting on her selection I did not try on any more wigs; it was that attractive and comfortable.
    At her suggestion I also got two little decorative nightcaps. Those really came in handy, as I did not like seeing myself bald. I wore those night and day while at home. My husband said I looked good bald, but then he was being kind, and also I was sporting his hairdo. :)
    Otherwise any time I left the house for work, shopping, etc. I always wore my wig. Only those people I chose to tell knew I had cancer. After all it was winter, so I didn't feel hot in it either. I could just shampoo it and shake it out; the style fell right into place.
    I finished my chemo treatments by end of March, did my 6 1/2 weeks of radiation, and by start of Summer, June 1st, I no longer needed the wig. I had grown enough hair for a "pixie". Hurrah!

  13. Cyndy says

    Hollye,
    I am a 11 year stage IV breast cancer survivor (!) who has been on never ending treatments for 9 1/2 years. I read your blog several times a day and have found many silver linings. On the day your quote ' The Voice' was posted, I had just decided to do chemo again and that quote hit home so true as I contemplated my choice.
    Today as I sat down at my computer to look for local wig options, as I will be losing my hair for the 3rd time, I decided to check Silver Pen first and what do I find but this post on buying a wig!
    God works in mysterious ways! Thank you for all your blog does for oh, so many. You are a blessing!

    • says

      Dear Cyndy,
      Thank you so so so much for your note. I can't begin to tell you how much it means to me and am so very happy to hear that it is helpful to you. Best wishes as you begin Chemo again. Please stay in touch and take good care.
      Hollye

Trackbacks