Human hair wigs are available in a huge number of styles and can look incredibly natural. Some are custom-made for the perfect fit however these do come at a higher cost. Cheaper human hair wigs are bought 'off the shelf'.
Many prefer human hair wigs to synthetic wigs as they tend to be longer lasting.
They also offer greater styling options than synthetic wigs but involve a greater degree of maintenance.
Human hair wigs are available in a number of different caps/foundations. You can read about the different types here.
Supplex and Dermalite Wigs
These special types of wigs can only be worn by people with total loss of hair from the scalp (alopecia totalis or universalis).
Instead of the textile rim which other wigs have, the rim of these wigs is made out of a very thin, stretchy and transparent material which clings to the head. The great advantage is that the parting looks extremely natural. A disadvantage might be that the rim material does not breath and it can get very hot under the wig. Dermalite wigs are expensive, as they are made to measure (a mould is taken of the head to ensure an exact fit for the client); their rim is thinner and also more durable. Supplex is cheaper but the rim can tear more easily and it's broader so there is more of the non-breathable material. Supplex wigs are ready made and come in two sizes.
Vacuum-fit (suction) wigs
Vacuum-fit or suction full scalp wigs are made from a plaster mould taken of the client’s head to ensure accuracy of fit. The client must have NO hair or must be willing to keep their scalp shaved in order to achieve a near perfect fit and also to maintain a good seal. A good mould cannot be achieved over hair or by putting a plastic wrap over existing hair.
There are “hard” vacuums and “soft” vacuums on the market. The hard vacuums are made from either an inert hard plastic or fiberglass. These can be useful for those who have suffered burns or an industrial accident to their scalp as well as persons who might want to wear them during sports like rugby or soccer. They have a “helmet-type” feel to them. The “soft” vacuums are generally considered more comfortable as they are flexible and usually made of a medical grade silicone and feel like a real scalp.
While wearing a vacuum-fit prosthesis, one can swim or ride in a convertible or engage in most outdoor activities without fear that the wind or activity will dislodge the vacuum. However, the wearer can take the vacuum off at any time by breaking the seal with their fingers at the nape of the neck.
The vacuum typically lasts two to four years with periodic maintenance which must be done at the factory. The client can care for the vacuum wig in the same way as they would care for their own hair, by washing it once a week with a good salon shampoo and using a good conditioner. It can be permed or highlighted as the hair has not been pre-processed and is strong and healthy to start. It can be blow-dried and styled as usual. You should not sleep in a vacuum as turning your head back and forth on the pillow will eventually break the hair off at the root. Costs for vacuum type wigs is usually in the range of £3,000 depending on the length of hair desired.
Human hair - the cost
Human hair wigs start from about £300. Some human hair wigs cost £1,000 and over. The higher cost of these wigs is mainly caused by three things: the wigs might have very refined & realistic looking wig bases; the base of the wig is made to measure (i.e. a mould is made of your head which is then used to make the base of the wig); and the main reason is usually that these wigs are made with European hair as opposed to Asian/Indian hair.
European hair is finer and might be similar to your own hair, but it is also less durable than Asian/Indian hair, so it is worth finding out which hair is used for the wig you are interested in and to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the different hair types with your wigmaker. One advantage of very expensive wigs is that when the hair on your wig gets sparse you can get hair added. However, this usually takes quite a few days or weeks which means you may need a back-up wig in the meantime. Beware of online retailers selling 'human hair wigs' for extremely cheap prices. These are likely to be either entirely synthetic wigs or have a tiny percentage of human hair (10% or less).
Most wigs are made to a standard size, they then have adjustable straps to ensure the best fit. If your head size is quite a bit smaller or larger than average you will have less choice and might prefer to have a custom-made wig. If you would like advice on your head size then contact your wig supplier who will be able to advise.
Colour and style
Buying a wig means you can choose whatever colour and style you like! You could go for the colour of hair that you used to have or you could decide that you want to try something new. A good wig salon should have a trained hairdresser who will advise you on colour as well as style. If you go for an uncut wig, you can have a real ‘salon experience’ where the hairdresser discusses style and colour with you and then washes, cuts and blow-dries your new hair! Take your time choosing and don’t feel obliged to buy a wig at your first visit.
How does the wig stay on my head?
Most wigs have the adjustable straps to ensure a snug fit. If you still have some of your hair, you can use special hair clips sown into the wig which will keep your wig in place. If you have no hair, you can use special double sided tape which you stick on small plastic-coated parts of your wig (usually one at the front and one at each side). Additionally, some wigs have an elasticated part all around the cap which holds the wig in place. If you use double-sided tape and you want to make extra sure that your wig stays on, clean your head and the plastic coated parts of your wig with soap to ensure that both are absolutely grease free. Wearing a wig should certainly not stop you from doing sports or going outside in windy weather!
How do I care for my wig?
After the purchase most people are really pleased with the wigs they’ve just bought, but then comes the daunting moment, when it’s time for the first wash. To extend the lifespan of your wig, it is worth washing it carefully. Rough handling means that your wig will lose hair more easily, leaving you with bald patches in your wig too! Ideally, you should have the following things when you wash your wig: a largish bowl (like a washing up bowl) or basin, specialized wig shampoo or shampoo for bleached/highlighted hair, lots of specialized conditioner or conditioner for dry hair or bleached/highlighted hair, a wide toothed comb for detangling the wet hair and a wig stand (see section below).
Before you wash your wig, brush it carefully from tip to root to ensure it’s free of knots. Fill the bowl with warm (not hot) water, put some shampoo in the water and place the wig into it. Leave the wig to soak for five minutes or so. This allows any residue to come loose of the hair. Gently take the wig out of the bowl and rinse it under running water. Take care to rinse the hair in the direction from roots to ends to avoid tangling. Put the shampoo into the hair, carefully spreading it all over. It’s not necessary to rub/massage the shampoo into the wig. Rinse it again as before. Then put the conditioner on the hair using two or three times the amount that you would use for hair growing on your head. Leave the conditioner in for five to 10 min. Rinse well making sure no traces of the conditioner are left in the hair. Gently place the wig onto a fresh towel and allow the towel to absorb any excess water.
Place the wig on your wig stand (see section below) and attach it to the stand with pins. Carefully comb the hair with the detangling comb, making sure that you only touch the hair not the base of the wig. Take extra care around the root area as the knots expand when wet. Once the hair has dried a little you can style it with your usual brushes/combs and a hairdryer. The great thing about human hair wigs is that you can style it any way you want and use any hair product you want – no need to get gloomy about all the hair care product ads on telly! If you want to use them, you can use them all. Maybe the easiest way of styling the hair on your wig is to let it dry overnight on big rollers. The rollers give the hair more volume and turn the end of the hair in. All you need to do is to take the rollers out of the dry hair in the morning, brush it through and you’re ready to go.
If the hair on your wig gets lighter with time and maybe gets a slight reddish tinge to it, the hair can be died back to the colour you want. Professional advice is always recommended as the hair has been heavily processed already colouring can be tricky. Normal home dyeing kits can work but a shade lighter than the colour you want to get should be used, as the wig hair is quite dry and absorbs colour much more easily than hair growing from a head. Wigs should never be coloured lighter.
Human Hair wigs need to be washed and conditioned regularly. The average is between seven and 10 days, but some people find that they need to wash it more regularly, especially if they play sports. One advantage of wearing a wig is that you only need to style your hair when you wash it, on the following days you can just take it off the wig stand and you're ready to go!
Incidentally, even if you don’t have any hair on your head, it is important that you wash your scalp with shampoo whenever you have a shower or bath. The scalp produces sebum whether or not there is hair growing on your head. The base of the wig will absorb the sebum and pass it on to the hair on your wig, making your hair look greasy. Keeping your scalp as grease free as possible is well worth it, as it means you have to wash your wig less often.
If you think you will want to/have to wear a wig, it is very well worth investing in a good wig stand/head. Using a wig stand means that the base of your wig as well as the style of your hair will stay in shape. Also, it’s almost impossible to style a wig if it’s not attached to a head! The most popular is a ‘poly head’ for which you can also get a suction cap base that you can attach to any flat clean surface. A more costly but also more durable option is to get a head made out of cork which you can attach to any table or chair.
Just one last thing to point out. If you have Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis, you do not need to pay VAT on your wig which is a substantial saving. You should fill in a form at the wig shop, confirming that you’ve got either of the two conditions, give your name and address and then sign at the bottom of the form. Most wig shops/salons are aware of this so-called ‘zero-rated VAT’, but do always check just in case!