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A guide to buying your first wig when you’re having chemotherapy

TextSian De Jong

One writer explores her experiences of finding her first hair piece after being diagnosed with cancer

When I was diagnosed with cancer last November, I had to face up to the possibility of hair loss. I didn’t have much knowledge of the treatment process, just the stigma that went along with being a cancer patient and the very visible physical side effects. Like anyone would be, I was in complete shock trying to make sense of the news and struggling with accepting this as my new reality while feeling anxious of the unknown ahead of me. 

One month into chemotherapy, my hair started to thin and fall out intermittently. I was nervous about what the next stage would be, whether my hair would come out in patches or continue shedding. I couldn’t bear to watch my hair fall out every day, so I decided to embrace the situation and shave my hair down to a grade four. I had a friend do the honours in the privacy of my home, to create a pixie haircut look that would be a temporary solution to my problems. It was admittedly a drastic change but well worth it for the temporary ease and low maintenance results.

“I began to consider a wig, but quickly learned that it wasn’t so straightforward. I was completely oblivious, trawling through the deep web, struggling to find anything other than party wigs and international websites”

To ensure that I was well prepared for further hair loss, I knew I wanted accessories to cover my head – beanie hats, head wraps, anything – most of which can be solved by bulk online shopping. I began to consider a wig, but quickly learned that it wasn’t so straightforward. I was completely oblivious, trawling through the deep web, struggling to find anything other than (terrible) party wigs and international websites. 

As I later learned, there are important factors when making your choice such as the construction of the cap, the material within the cap, how the hair is tied, the parting type and the choice of human or synthetic hair. A monofilament layer cap has a fine layer of transparent micro-mesh which is lightweight and breathable, whereas a double monofilament layer cap has two layers of silk which means it’s very comfortable but heavier and sweatier. Wefted wigs are the most common of wig caps made by using strips of material to machine sew the hair onto while hand tied wigs are more luxurious with a realistic appearance.

In other words, I was clueless, but the advice I got from the hospital, Macmillan, and internet research revealed that the leading wig companies accesible to me in London were Daniel Galvin, Mandeville London, Raoul, Wig Innovation, Trendco, and London Virgin Hair

The Daniel Galvin salon in Selfridges includes services such as bespoke wigs, human hair wigs, synthetic wigs, and hair pieces ranging from £120-£2500. The salon offers private booths to assist customers and their families from initial consultation, repeat appointments, shaving, fitting, styling, and after care services. The company is well known for its bespoke, custom-made human hair wigs starting from £1500, created from a hard cast of the scalp, taking around three months to complete tying each individual hair by hand to ensure the correct direction of hair, density, and texture. Despite offering incredible bespoke services, the average person – myself included – usually doesn’t have a spare couple of thousand saved for a rainy day wig.  

In search of my first hair piece, I visited wig wonderland Trendco, situated in central London. I met with manager Louise Wright, who offered me a one-to-one consultation with the choice of a private room. At this stage of my chemotherapy treatment, I was not comfortable removing my beanie hat in public and revealing my balding head, so appreciated the option of privacy.

Louise had prepared a selection of wigs according to my preference that we had previously discussed before my appointment. I was searching for a medium-long length brunette wig that came in a small cap size. Choosing a wig is definitely trial and error, it comes down to style, fit, budget, maintenance, and your individual lifestyle. The choice between human or synthetic hair comes down to finance and maintenance. Human hair is more expensive, higher maintenance and has the option to be dyed and heat styled. Synthetic hair comes in a larger range of colours, is much cheaper and lower maintenance however it cannot be dyed or heat styled.

While some people choose to go for shorter wigs to easily transition when their hair grows out again, others want to go for fashionable longer length wigs which are currently its bestsellers. The wig I chose was ‘Tatum’ from the Amore Collection in toasted brown colour code, it was the perfect medium-length wig for my lifestyle as it was easy to maintain and the colouring suited my eyebrows. They say that blondes have more fun, I feel more comfortable as a brunette. 

Putting on the wig is easier than it seems, placing the thumb onto the front parting of the wig, and diving into it like a swimming cap. The wig should sit four fingers above your brow bone and will secure into place with the ear tabs that are on each side of the wig to evenly position and secure into place. 

In England, most people can get a free synthetic wig on the NHS, and in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, some wigs are free on prescription. There’s also Little Princess Trust – a company that arranges a meeting with an approved salon closest to you to provide a free human hair wig for those ages 24 and under. The salon will reach out to you for your preferences, measurements and style to begin the process. 

There is no set time on hair loss, chemotherapy treatment can react to each person on a different time scale. Stylists advise those that are coming to terms with hair loss to make an initial appointment at a salon to receive the correct information rather than becoming overwhelmed online. Visiting the salon before you start treatment is an easier way to match the wig to your own hair colour and style. If you choose to have a bespoke or human hair wig, it will also ensure that the salon has the maximum possible time to create the piece. 

Now armed with my very first wig – courtesy of Trendco – I have the luxury of choice when I want to feel comfortable leaving the house, or if I need a confidence boost. The relief of having the wig as a supportive aid has had such a positive impact on my mental wellbeing. My friends and family were really supportive in encouraging me to have fun with the wigs and wear them whenever I wanted. Despite that, I still did have moments of feeling self-conscious when out in public, worrying if the wig was sitting correctly, if it suited my face shape, and if strangers could tell what was going on underneath it.

“I’ve realised that my hair is such an important part of my appearance and identity to express my personality. Wearing a wig took some time getting used to, as it was a type of extension of myself and body, even though it allowed me the chance to feel like my regular self”

Hair loss can occur for many reasons and it can be a difficult and stressful experience. I’ve realised that my hair is such an important part of my appearance and identity to express my personality. Wearing a wig took some time getting used to, as it was a type of extension of myself and body, even though it allowed me the chance to feel like my regular self. 

If you find yourself in the same situation as me, it’s understandable to be feeling a rollercoaster mix of emotions and uncertain of which way to turn while being overloaded with information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, you’ll realise there are more people than you realise around you that are willing and ready to help with specialised advice or support. What I have learned is that the focus needs to be on your health and mental attitude; your hair will grow back and resolve itself in time. Your health will last you a lifetime and your loss of hair will be a short interlude to reflect back on. 

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