For many women, wigs are the answer. One woman became a wig sales specialist after her own experience with breast cancer, mastectomy, and hair loss. “Within four weeks, I lost a major part of my body and all my hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes. I was at my lowest. I know how important a beautiful wig can be,” she said, explaining her career choice.
Tips on getting ready for a wig
- Cut your hair short before you start chemotherapy. It's less traumatic to lose short clumps of hair than long ones —and it's easier to fit a wig over less hair.
- If you get used to short hair, you won't have to wait as long for your hair to grow back to feel like yourself. Shorter is also cooler —an important consideration, because wigs can feel hot in the summer.
- Since a short-haired wig is easier to wear and care for, if your hair is already short, you'll have an easier time living with temporary hair of a similar length.
- Look through salon books and hairstyle magazines to find the becoming cut that's right for you.
- Interview a few hairdressers. You may want to book an appointment just to talk to an expert before the actual cut.
Finding a wig
How do you find a wig? You can take several routes:
- Your hospital's cancer center or your local breast cancer organizations may have a list of wig specialists in the area.
- Your hairdresser may be able to suggest a wig shop. Some wig specialists come to your home to provide additional privacy.
- Ask friends for leads.
- Some beauty salons offer special services for women going through cancer therapy so that after you select your wig, you can have it styled in a variety of ways.
Try to pick out your wig BEFORE your chemotherapy begins. You'll have more energy. Plus, the stylist will be able to see your natural hair color and style. You can get used to wearing the wig in trial sessions, alternating with your own hair.
Wigs come in all styles and colors. A wig made of real hair could cost between $800 and $3,000, or more, and it requires more care than you give your own hair.
Most women choose synthetic wigs. They look and feel good, need very little attention and care, and cost much less ($30 to $500).
Go for the best-quality wig you can afford. You want one that doesn't have an obvious part line, that won't get matted or is difficult to care for, one that doesn't look like a bad toupee. It should fit well on your head, which is why it's important to take your wig with you to the hairdresser even when you don't need it yet.
You also want your wig to be comfortable, not lined with material that's going to feel scratchy against your scalp. (Remember that most wigs are designed for women who have some hair.)
Although you may wear your wig almost every day, most women use a wig for less than a year, so it's not necessary to buy something that will last forever. To keep your wig looking good for as long as possible, give your wig “time off” by using a turban, scarf, or hat. On occasion, have it cleaned and styled by specialty hairdressers.
TIP: You can make your own wig stand with two 64-ounce plastic soda bottles. Cut them in half, discard the tops, face the cut edges of the bottoms together, and force one inside another to get a football-shaped stand.
Caring for your wig
Wigs are formed on an open-weave mesh that allows for ventilation. They're fitted with adjustable tapes along the temple, or with elastic and Velcro around the ears. They wash easily (every two weeks is recommended), and you can set them with sprays or gels. But don't try to dry them with a hair dryer or curling iron. Heat can soften the glue and cause the wig to lose its shape. In addition, be careful when you're cooking. Some women have been known to singe their bangs while taking a pizza out of the oven!
Choosing a wig
Color is probably the most important issue in choosing a wig. Select a somewhat lighter color than your own hair, for two reasons:
- Your skin color may be off during chemotherapy —grayish, greenish, or yellowish. Less contrast is generally more flattering, and won't call attention to your complexion.
- Wig hair is usually thicker than your own hair. So while the shade may be the same as your hair color, the wig will appear darker.
Consider a completely fun wig that will boost your mood when you look in the mirror and tell the world you're doing fine. Try a new color, a new length, a new style.
Covering the cost of a wig
Most health insurance companies cover part or all of the cost of the wig if your doctor writes a prescription. Ask for a prescription for an “extra-cranial prosthesis” (that is, a wig!) to submit to your insurer. Not every company reimburses, but you should try. It is, after all, a remedy for a treatment side effect, just as important as medication you take to treat nausea. If you can't get or don't have coverage, call your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or your cancer center. They may offer free wigs.
“When my hair was about an inch long, my husband told me I looked better with short hair. I kept it that way, but I did try dyeing it. It had been ash blond before and grew back gray with blond streaks. I wanted it brown. I dyed it, and it came out purple. I kept it purple for a while. Life was kind of wild, so why not a wild hair color?”— Annamarie