Wigs for Cancer Patients 101
Breast cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy, may cause hair loss (or thinning) as a side effect.
It can be a great comfort to wear a wig when you are dealing with this difficult side effect. Kamelia Britton, a Mindset & Instagram Business Coach for Freedompreneurs, loved wearing a wig when she started to lose her hair in 2019 when she was diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer. In a way, it made her feel normal and feel better about herself.
“I would put on my wig, some fake eyelashes, and some red lipstick,” Britton said. “No one had a clue I had cancer.”
It's okay if you don't want a wig, but for those who might benefit from one as Britton did, we've got a complete guide to finding the perfect wig for cancer patients, including information on where to purchase wigs, how to care for wigs, fitting tips, and so much more.
Types of Wigs for Cancer Patients
There are four main types of wigs for cancer patients to choose from.
- Human (or Natural) Hair: Hair wigs made of human hair look, feel, and behave like natural hair, however, they are more expensive and require more maintenance and upkeep.
- Synthetic Hair: While synthetic wigs may look and feel like real hair, they are actually constructed from fibers using artificial technology.
- Heat-Friendly Synthetic Hair: Wigs made of synthetic fibers that are heat-friendly are permanent unless they are altered again with heat.When it gets wet, it won't change, like natural wigs do. Heat resistant wigs can be heated with a tool that goes up to 350 degrees.
- Human and Synthetic Blend Hair: As its name suggests, it is a blend of human and synthetic hair.
Every type of wig has pros and cons, so work with a professional wig fitter to decide which one is right for you.We recommend getting a wig that's easy to center and can be styled and heated. Personally, we like heat-friendly synthetic hair wigs because they're more affordable than human hair, easier to clean, and can be styled however you like!
Wigs for cancer patients usually have a built-in cap. It's best if you get a wig with a lighter cap so that it's comfortable and breathable. The wig cap is the shape of your head and works as the base of your wig and is worn underneath the hair, similar to the way a baseball hat is made. If your scalp is sensitive following chemotherapy, you may consider wearing wigs with light caps.
Your hair— natural, synthetic, or a blend— is attached or put on top of the wig cap if the cap is not already attached to your wig. Basic wig caps are also known as capless, wefted, or open-caps, which basically means that wearers get maximum airflow wearing this type of cap because lace strips are sewn together with open spaces in between. The openings make the wig lighter and breathable.
Other types of wig caps are:
- Lace Front Wig Cap: looks like a natural hairline thanks to the sheer lace material. The hair moves more naturally but is more expensive than a basic wig cap.
- Monofilament Wig Cap: gives you a natural-looking scalp and the ability to part your hair differently but requires more care and is more expensive.
- Hand-Tied Wig Cap: provides you with natural looking hair movement and good for sensitive scalps. The cap is not ventilated, however, which makes it less breathable (but warmer if your scalp tends to get cold) and is more expensive than your basic wig cap.
You may wish to consider the Halo wig if you are sensitive to heat and prefer wigs that are cooler. A cap be attached directly to it and it has a hairless center. These types of wigs are ideal for when you just want to wear a wig for a short period of time, for example, if you need to go to the supermarket or simply grab your mail and do not wish to style a wig.
How to Get Fitted for a Wig
Getting professionally fitted for a wig prior to purchasing it is the best way to achieve that perfect fit before you lose your hair. According to Britton, you’ll also be able to better match the color and style by doing this. Start off by purchasing only one wig so that you’ll be ready when you start to lose hair.
“Your wig will fit you differently when you have no hair, so just have the one for now,” Britton said. “You can buy more later.”
Wig measurements are extremely important, especially if you're getting a custom wig. You will need the following measurements:
- Front to nape
- Ear to ear across forehead
- Ear to ear over top
- Temple to temple around the back
- Nape to neck
Try not to cover your ears when doing the fitting, and you’ll ideally be able to get a professional fitter to do these measurements for you.
How to Care for your Wig
Wigs are generally easy to maintain.
“I found it highly convenient not to have to wash my hair or really fix it much,” Britton said.
Depending on how often you wear it, your wig will need to be washed roughly every three weeks.When the hair gets tangled, rough, and stiff, it's time to wash your wig. Make sure the wig is not tangled before washing it. For a tangle-free wig, start brushing at the bottom and work your way up.
Keep reading for a step by step guide on how to wash your synthetic wig!
- Clean the area where you're washing the wig.
- Fill a sink or bucket with cold water.
- Mix some shampoo (there are synthetic-hair shampoos) with water and let it become soapy.
- Submerge the wig completely under water.
- Move it around, but don't scrub it— just soak it.
- Put your wig in the water slowly and let it soak. The dirt will be visible in the water after about five minutes of letting the wig sit!
- Then, try to rinse as much of the water out of the wig by gently squeezing it into the sink.
- Make sure the sink is clean by draining the dirty water and rinsing it again.
- Once the sink has been cleaned, rinse the wig in cold water until the shampoo has been removed.
- Wash the wig until the water that comes out of it is clear.
- Get the excess water out of the wig, squeeze it, and wrap it in a towel.
- Put a thin layer of leave-in conditioner on the wig's base and squeeze to make sure it's coated.
- Make sure that all the conditioner gets into the wig by shaking it gently.
- Dry the wig by laying it on a towel or by blow-drying it on a very low heat setting.
Last but not least, be sure to properly store your wig to give it longevity by putting it on a Styrofoam, wood, or cloth head form when you are finished wearing it.
How to Style your Wig
In addition to getting your wig professionally fitted, take your wig to your hairdresser and have them cut it to fit your face and shape it to style how you like it.
“This made my wigs look so much more natural,” Britton said.
Where to Purchase a Wig for Cancer Patients
There are three main ways you can purchase a wig— at a store, online, or through a non-profit or charity. One thing to be wary of, however, are return policies. For example, Wig Outlet has a wide variety of wigs for a good price, however, their exchange policy is incredibly strict, so you need to be sure it’s a wig you’ll keep before trying it on and later trying to return it.
Britton really loved and recommended her Jon Renau wigs.
“They don't have a physical store but most wig stores carry them and you can also buy them on Amazon,” Britton said. “I really loved how Amazon has a great return policy, as well.
Covering the Cost of Your Wig
Cancer is an expensive disease, and the cost of a wig shouldn’t be yet another expense that you have to worry about. The good news is, you may be covered for a wig if hair loss is a side effect of your treatment, provided that your doctor issues a prescription for one.
In the end, a wig is just like the medication you take to treat nausea: both are remedies for treatment side effects. When requesting a wig from your provider, be sure to ask for coverage of aCranial Prosthesis— this is the healthcare term for a wig, and they’ll be more likely to cover the cost.
Free Wigs for Cancer Patients
There are a few organizations and nonprofits that provide cancer patients with free wigs. Check them out below!
- Pink Heart Funds: This ministry and outreach organization provides a variety of products and services including wigs. However, you are responsible for shipping costs. Find out more information, here.
- The American Cancer Society: The free wig program at each ACS location differs a little bit. Some locations accept walk-ins and others require appointments. Give them a call at 800-227-2345 to see if a local office near you has wigs that can be donated.
Last but not least, it’s important to try to have fun with your wig. Britton said that she would sometimes change her wigs three times a day to match her hair to outfit and play with fun colors like pink and purple.
“I named them all and had a blast stepping into each of their personalities,” Britton said. “I played with everything from long beachy waves to rainbow bobs. I got the most compliments ever when I wore my pink wig. No one ever had any idea that it wasn't real.”
Check out all of Britton’s favorite wigs that she rocked during her year-long cancer journey, here.
Where to Donate a Wig for Cancer Patients
If you no longer need your wig, you can donate it to someone who does with the help of a few programs. Check them out below!
- The Wig Exchange Program at EBeautyCommunity: Women who no longer need wigs can drop off their wigs at EBeauty locations. We also partner with hospitals and other community-based organizations. Wig donations can also be mailed. Find out more information, here.
- The American Cancer Society: call 1-800-ACS-2345 to find a local office to make your wig donation!
If you loved this article about wigs for cancer patients and found it helpful, please check out a few others that we think will help navigate hair and treatment less stressful.