When you’ve lost your hair due to chemotherapy or other cancer treatment, wigs can open up a whole new world of style, image and confidence for you.
One practical way of coping with hair loss is to wear a wig. There are many different styles and colours to choose from. They can be natural-looking and comfortable to wear.
From fitting and maintenance to styles and accessories, we’re looking at how to find the best wigs for cancer patients:
Benefits of wearing a wig
- You look and feel more like yourself, which can make you feel more confident.
- Most people who wear one agree that when they look good it helps them to feel better.
- You can experiment: Whilst you can often replicate your normal hairstyle, you can also have fun with trying different looks and styles.
- Time saver: Some wigs need very little styling.
- You are more in control of how you look and only need to tell people if you want to.
What type of wig is best?
Before you make a decision about a wig, it might help to understand the differences between the types of wigs that are available.
Synthetic wigs for cancer patients:
Synthetic hair is a man-made fibre which is produced to look and feel like real hair. But unlike real hair, you cannot use a hairdryer (or any heated appliance) or it will melt the wig.
Synthetic wigs are a lot cheaper than real hair wigs. They can cost anything from £50 to several hundred pounds. But they may be free on prescription in the UK.
Most synthetic wigs come ready to wear in a wide variety of styles, lengths and colours and you can usually get your wig quite quickly after having your fitting.
The styles and textures are designed to be washed with a special shampoo and conditioner (a bit like a fabric wash and softener). You then simply place on a wig stand or mannequin head and allow to dry naturally. These wigs usually last between 4 and 9 months.
Human hair wigs for cancer patients:
The majority of hair in human hair wigs is collected from Asia and South America. The hair is then treated and dyed into a range of colours.
Real hair wigs are much more expensive than synthetic ones. The exact cost depends on where you buy the wig and its style and length. Prices range anywhere from £200 to £2000 for a top of the range, custom made wig.
Real hair wigs last between 3 and 4 years. Despite the cost, some people prefer to have a real hair wig. They think it gives them a more natural look and they can be easier to style than synthetic wigs.
Because the hair is natural it means that it can be coloured, permed and enhanced as real hair is. This also means that a real hair wig needs more care than synthetic hair, as each time it is washed (just like your own hair) it normally needs blow-drying and styling to look good. Wig suppliers often offer a “cleaning” service whereby real hair wigs can be cleaned and restyled. You might need to buy two wigs so that you always have one to wear if your wig needs to be professionally cleaned. Your wig stylist can tell you if your wig can be washed at home.
Affordable wigs for cancer patients
Free wigs: In the UK, synthetic wigs are free on prescription for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are special arrangements for patients who are registered with GPs in Wales but have treatment in England.
You can also qualify for a free NHS wig in England if:
- You are under 16, or under 19 and in full-time education
- You are a hospital inpatient
- Your weekly income is low you claim any of the following benefits: Income Support, the guarantee element of Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance Universal Credit.
- You have a valid NHS tax exemption certificate
- You are named on a valid ‘help with health costs’ (HC2) certificate
Human hair wigs are not usually free on the NHS in England unless one of the following applies to you:
- You are allergic to synthetic wigs
- You have a skin condition that will be made worse by a synthetic wig
In America, the American Cancer Society provides free wigs to cancer patients who can not afford them. You must contact your closest centre to make an appointment to get a wig through the American Cancer Society wig bank.
You can qualify for a free wig from the American Cancer Society if:
- You are without insurance
- You have inadequate insurance to cover the cost of purchasing a wig
Cheap wigs: UK charity Wig Bank collects donated wigs and sells them on at a discounted rate. The process is pretty simple: people donate their unwanted wigs, Wig Bank washes, conditions and disinfect them and then sells them for £20, donating £5 from each sale to charity. There are Wig Bank services available in different parts of the UK.
VAT exemption on wigs
In the UK, if you pay privately for a wig (and are not using your NHS prescription) then you should check to see if your supplier has deducted the VAT charge. You will be exempt from paying VAT on a wig that is necessary for medical reasons as a result of treatment. However, not all wig shops offer this service.
Fitting your wig
The nurses will organise a wig fitter to come and visit you on the ward if you are an inpatient and you are getting a wig on the NHS. Many hospitals will organise a wig fitter if you are an outpatient, but it may not happen everywhere. You should ask about wig services in your hospital.
Thinking about getting a wig can be an emotional time, as it may make losing your hair feel real for the first time. The wig specialists will understand your feelings and will do all they can to make you feel comfortable during your fitting.
Choosing a wig isn’t just like choosing another fashion accessory. The type of wig you wear speaks volumes so the process of choosing the best wig for a cancer patient is an extremely intricate one.
There are hundreds of wigs to choose from in a range of styles, colours and textures. Most wig suppliers hold a stock of wigs for you to look at and try on and also have catalogues to order from. A good wig fitter will ensure that your wig colour and style suits your face shape and skin complexion and sits snugly and firmly in place.
You might want to choose your wig before your hair begins to fall out. This way, it’s much easier for the wig specialist to match your real hairstyle and colour. It also gives you a bit of time to get used to the idea of wearing it.
If you’re not comfortable being out in the open, some specialist will have private rooms, so don’t be shy to ask for one. Many people find it helps to bring along a relative or good friend to their wig fitting. They can support you through this tough time as well as help you choose a wig that suits you best. You’ll appreciate their honest feedback!
Afro and curly wigs for black cancer patients
If you’re a black or minority ethnic patient with hair loss, you may need to find a wig that suits you from a specialist wig store. All NHS recommended suppliers should be able to offer you an extensive range of wig colours and textures.
You should be able to find braided wigs, curly wigs, afro wigs and afros that have been relaxed that have the look and feel of hair that is natural to women of colour. The feel of these wigs differs from other wigs as they have a more coarse texture and offer a wider range of darker colours to choose from. Equally Asian hair types are very well catered for.
For those with darker skin tones, you must also check the ‘scalp’ colour of your wig. The inside of a wig is commonly a weft of fabric that is a similar colour to the hair on the wig. However, some wigs have a so-called ‘natural scalp’ attached. It is true to say that this ‘natural scalp’ is normally white and therefore suited to paler skin types or people with a naturally pale scalp. There is no reason why you should not wear one of these wigs with a white ‘natural scalp’, but you may feel the scalp colour doesn’t look natural on you.
Keeping your wig in place
If all your hair has fallen out and the wig is slipping, you can get sticky pads to hold it in place. Some pads are hypoallergenic, which means they are less likely to cause a skin reaction.
Wearing a wig liner or wig cap under your wig will help absorb sweat while also holding your wig in place. Wig liners can also help protect the scalp which can often become itchy and sensitive from your treatment.
Other ways to cover your head