If you've lost your hair from chemotherapy, or it’s just starting to grow back, the most important thing during the summer is to protect the skin on your head from the sun. Beyond that, do whatever is most comfortable for you in the heat of summer.
You might decide to wear a scarf, turban, or hat. If so, choose a breathable, washable fabric like cotton to absorb sweat and keep you cool.
If you are most comfortable with nothing on your head, remember that your scalp isn't used to sunlight and can burn easily. If you go outdoors in the daytime with no head covering, be sure to put plenty of sunblock (SPF 45 or higher, zinc-based) on your head, ears, and face.
There are different options available if you decide to wear a wig.
Youval Balistra, a hair stylist at Ralph Manne Salon in Wynnewood, PA, presents both synthetic and human hair wig options to women undergoing chemotherapy. He tries to meet each client before treatment, to evaluate her natural hairstyle, color, and texture. The wig is then ready when she needs it.
"The most important thing in the appearance of a wig is the styling and shaping of the haircut," Balistra says. He shapes both synthetic and human hair wigs to help them look more like real hair.
Synthetic wigs are often recommended. They hold their style, even if they get a bit wet in the pool or ocean. The fibers don't fade or change color in the sun. (But they can melt at high temperatures, like near an open flame, over an oven, grill, or if you use hot hair-styling tools.)
While all wigs tend to be somewhat hot and itchy in the summer, lightweight synthetics are available. Their open-cap construction allows the head to breathe and heat to escape, so they're cooler to wear. Standard synthetics may be worn with a mesh wig liner that's like a fishnet stocking. This type of liner also helps keep your head cool.
Some women prefer the look and feel of wigs made from human hair. Human-hair wigs may match your natural hair more closely than synthetic hair. But they tend to be heavier than standard synthetic wigs and often require full lace caps, which can become hot in the summer.
Also, natural, human-hair wigs may get flat or frizzy in humidity.
Over time, natural hair wigs can lose their luster and become a little dull-looking. This happens because they lack the natural oils that usually sustain human hair when it's growing on your head.
Most wigs of both types have Velcro adjustments in the back to hold them on your head securely, even when you're strolling in an ocean breeze. No matter which type you wear, you'll probably sweat under it. For comfort, try a little cornstarch-based baby powder or a cotton liner.
Ask a specialist at the salon or shop where you purchased the wig whether it's okay to wash the wig yourself. If so, ask for a demonstration. Synthetic wigs may require different washing techniques than natural hair wigs. At the Manne Salon, wigs are shampooed and styled in a private room, usually once a week, and then fitted to the client and blow-dried.
Synthetic wigs are an affordable choice, starting at about $40 in stores or online. If possible, buy two: one to wash and one to wear. You might even want to change color and hairstyles to have fun.
Although more expensive than synthetics (ranging from a few hundred dollars into the thousands), human hair wigs accept style and color changes well.
For more information, see the Breastcancer.org Wigs section.
Ready to say "goodbye" to your wig?
You may have been wearing a wig for the past 6 months, during and after chemotherapy, and you're just not sure if your new hair is long enough to wear on its own.
You may be surprised by how fresh, sexy, and pretty very short hair can be. Try not to stay stuck on your pre-treatment look. Be open to a whole new approach to hair, until you have more hair and more options. Stylish earrings and nice lipstick or lip gloss can make the new look even better.
The hair growth you have may appear much shorter than it really is because a wig can flatten it. Try shampooing your hair and toweling it dry. Use a little gel or mousse for fullness. If you want to color your new hair, be gentle. Try a temporary dye that washes out after multiple shampoos.
If your wig was long and wearing the wig has been a secret, you might be concerned about shocking people when you stop wearing the wig. Consider having the wig cut shorter to ease the transition, or make the change when you return from a vacation.
Many women come out of the breast cancer experience with new courage, boldness, and a "don't sweat the small stuff" approach. This new attitude can lead to a whole new personal look and style.
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