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Wigs and other ways to cover your head

Learn about ways you might cover your head after hair loss.

Wigs

Before you make a decision about buying your wig, you should understand the differences between the types of wigs that are available.

Wigs are made from either:

Synthetic wigs are a lot cheaper than real hair wigs. They can cost anywhere between £50 and £200.

Most synthetic wigs come ready to wear in a wide variety of styles, lengths and colours.

You don’t have to style them and they won’t get damaged in the rain. You can usually get your wig quite quickly after having your fitting.

You can get sticky (adhesive) pads with your wig to stop it slipping if all your hair has fallen out.

Some people say wearing these pads makes the wig feel more secure and helps them feel more confident.

Acrylic wigs can be washed and they usually last between 6 and 9 months. This is usually plenty of time to allow your hair to grow back, although it may not be as long as it was before your treatment.

Synthetic wigs should not be exposed to direct heat. It can melt the fibres and make the hair frizz.

So don’t use a hair dryer or curling wand. You’ll need to wash your wig in cold water.

Real hair wigs are much more expensive than synthetic ones. The exact cost depends on where you buy the wig and its style and length. Prices range anywhere from £200 to £2000 for a top of the range, custom made wig.

Real hair wigs last between 3 and 4 years which is much longer than synthetic ones. Some people prefer to have a real hair wig despite the cost.

You need to have a fitting before, or soon after your treatment begins if you decide to have a real hair wig. It should then be ready when your hair begins to fall out.

Some real hair wigs need to be styled and set by a hairdresser. You might need to buy two wigs so that you always have one to wear if your wig needs to be professionally cleaned.

Your wig stylist can tell you if your wig can be washed at home.

You can also get wigs that are made of both.

Getting a wig on the NHS

Human hair wigs are not prescribed on the NHS unless you are allergic to acrylic wigs or have a skin condition that will be made worse by an acrylic wig.

Wigs are free of charge on the NHS if:

  • you have your treatment as an inpatient (meaning you stay in hospital overnight)
  • you are under 16 years old, or between 16 and 19 years old and in full time education
  • you or your partner are getting Universal Credit, Income Support, Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit
  • you have an NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • you are named on a valid ‘help with health costs’ (HC2) certificate

If you are entitled to a new wig, the NHS will provide you with a new one every 6 months. There is no national limit on the number of wigs the NHS can supply you with. But individual hospitals may set their own limits.

If you are not entitled to a free wig

You may still be able to get some help towards the cost of a wig if you are on a low income but don’t qualify for a free wig.

This is explained in the Department of Health leaflet called 'Are you entitled to help with health costs?' (HC11). The leaflet is available at post offices or from your hospital.

You apply for this help on form HC1. If you are entitled to help, you will receive either:

  • a full help Certificate HC2 (you won’t need to pay for your wig)
  • a limited help certificate HC3 (you may get some help with the cost of a wig)

You will have to pay for a wig if you are an outpatient and don’t otherwise qualify for a free wig. Being an outpatient means you attend hospital but don’t stay in overnight.

Buying an acrylic wig on the NHS costs anywhere between £50 and £200 depending on the type of wig you want.

Speak to your hospital social worker or clinical nurse specialist if you are still not sure what you are entitled to. They can make sure that you’re getting all the help you are entitled to.

The Department of Health leaflet called Charges and optical voucher values (HC12) has details about how much NHS wigs cost.

Buying a wig privately

You might decide to buy your wig privately.

You can buy it:

  • from a wig supplier such as a department store
  • directly from a wig manufacturer
  • from a specialist wig store

Many places have a private room where you can have your fitting. Don’t be afraid to ask for one if there isn’t.

Some companies will come to your home to fit wigs. The fitting and styling cost is usually included in the price of the wig, but it is always best to check.

If you have a wig made for you, this may take longer and need 2 or 3 fittings.

You don’t have to pay VAT (Value Added Tax) on wigs that are bought for hair loss caused by cancer treatment. But you must fill in a VAT form at the time you buy your wig.

Be sure to ask the supplier for this form, because you can’t claim the VAT back later.

Choosing and fitting your wig

The nurses will organise a wig fitter to come and visit you on the ward if you’re staying in hospital and having a wig provided on the NHS.

Many hospitals will also organise this if you are an outpatient, but it may not happen everywhere.

Your wig fitter will help you decide on a style and colour that you are happy with.

Seeing the wig fitter can be upsetting for some people. It might be the first time you think about losing your hair.

Wig specialists will be very sensitive to this and will try to make the fitting as easy as possible for you.

The most important thing is that you don’t rush things and you get a wig that you feel suits you.

You might want to choose your wig before your hair begins to fall out. This way, it is much easier for the wig specialist to match your real hair style and colour. It also gives you a bit of time to get used to the idea of wearing a wig.

If you do this, you’ll need to get a smaller size once you have lost your hair. Or you can choose a wig that adjusts to head size.

Many people find it helps to bring along a relative or good friend to their wig fitting. They can support you through this tough time as well as help you choose a wig that suits you best.

Consider the following when choosing a wig.

  • Choose a wig that is most like your original hair colour and style.
  • Your hairdresser or wig specialist can cut or style a particular wig to suit you.
  • Always check that you have the wig on the right way around as it is easy to put them on backwards.
  • Buying a more expensive wig doesn’t guarantee it will look more real. Some less expensive ones can look very real.

Tips for wearing a wig

For the first few days or weeks it may feel very strange to wear a wig.

Some people never get used to it and feel more comfortable without it. Others say that they forget they have their wig on. You won’t know until you try it.

Whoever supplies your wig should give you instructions about how to wear it and care for it. Follow these instructions carefully.

When can I stop wearing my wig?

This is up to you. It can take a bit of time for you to feel confident enough to go out without your wig.

But you may feel ready to stop wearing it before your hair gets back to your pre treatment length. A shorter look might suit you and give you a new image.

Some people say it is a relief to get rid of the wig and feel like themselves again. Others may need more time.

Be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much. You have been through a lot in the past few months and had to deal with many changes in your life. So go at your own pace.

Other ways to cover your head

Some people don’t want to wear a wig, or may not want to wear one all the time.

You could try:

  • hats
  • scarves
  • beanies
  • turbans
  • stretchy tubes
  • caps

Other body hair

Some treatments cause other body hair to thin or to completely fall out. This includes your eyelashes and eyebrows.

You can use make up to disguise these effects.

Last reviewed: 
28 Mar 2014
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