Hair loss and wigs
This page has information about getting a wig to help you cope with hair loss caused by cancer treatment. It includes information about
- About hair loss
- Your feelings about hair loss
- Types of wigs
- Getting a wig on the NHS
- Buying a wig privately
- Fitting your wig
Hair loss is one of the most well known side effects of cancer treatment. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments for cancer. People sometimes have some hair loss with hormone therapy or biological therapies, but it is less common.
Not all chemotherapy treatment causes hair loss. But the drugs that do can cause anything from making your hair get thinner to it falling out completely. Complete hair loss can happen gradually or it may fall out fairly quickly, in clumps. You may also have thinning or loss of your eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair including pubic hair.
If your hair falls out due to chemotherapy treatment, it almost always grows back once your treatment has finished. This may take several months. Your hair will probably grow at the same rate as it grew before your treatment. By 4 to 6 months after chemotherapy it should have grown back fully. Your hair may grow back the same as it was, or may be thicker or thinner. Sometimes it can be a different colour, or be curlier than it was before.
Radiotherapy treatment to the head always causes some hair loss. If you are having treatment to a particular part of your head, the hair will fall out in that area. But you can also lose some hair on the opposite side of the head, where the radiotherapy beams pass through. This area is called the exit site. Click on the links below to take you to much more detailed information about
After radiotherapy it may take more than 6 months for your hair to grow back. Or it may grow back patchily. Although your hair usually grows back completely in time, for some people the hair does not grow back.
You may find that it helps to cut your hair very short before your treatment starts. This can be a way of getting used to seeing yourself with less hair or without hair. Having very short hair means that when it does start to come out, the change is not so dramatic. And you see less hair coming out on the pillow and in the shower.
If all, or some, of your hair has fallen out you may decide to cover your head with a soft hat or scarf. This helps to protect the exposed skin from the sun and keeps your head warm in cold weather. You may need to wear a soft hat in bed to keep your head warm.
Other people prefer to wear a wig until their hair grows back. There are now very natural looking wigs. Most people can’t tell that you are wearing one.
There is detailed information about chemotherapy and hair loss in the chemotherapy section.
Hair loss and hair thinning can be very stressful. Some people find it the hardest part of having cancer and its treatment. This is understandable because our appearance is closely linked to our feelings of self esteem. Trying to accept sudden changes in your looks can be very hard. It’s not unusual for people who have lost their hair to feel angry and depressed. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. And you may think that you are no longer as physically attractive to your partner.
If you’re trying to cope with a change in your appearance social activities can be more of a struggle. If you have children or grandchildren you may worry how they feel about seeing you without hair. And you may worry about how their friends will see you, and how this may affect your children. It’s natural to worry about these things. The important thing to remember is that the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so it is important to tell them how you’re feeling. Talking things through can help you to feel less isolated and more able to cope.
Before you make a decision about buying your wig, it’s important to understand the differences between the types of wigs that are available. Wigs are made from either
You can also get wigs that are made of both.
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.
If all your hair has fallen out you can get sticky (adhesive) pads with your wig to stop it slipping. 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 are not very good with direct heat on them. It can melt the fibres and may even make the hair frizz. This means that you can’t use a hair dryer or curling wand. And 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 can range anywhere from about £200 to about £2000 for a top of the range, custom made wig. Despite the cost some people prefer to have a real hair wig.
Real hair wigs last much longer than synthetic ones – between 3 and 4 years. If you decide to have a real hair wig you need to have a fitting soon after your treatment begins. This is so it will be ready in time for when your hair begins to fall out. Some real hair wigs need to be styled and set by a hairdresser. If your wig needs to be cleaned professionally you may need to buy two, so that you always have one to wear. Your wig stylist can tell you if your wig can be washed at home.
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 Income Support, Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit
- You have an NHS tax credit exemption certificate
- Are named on a valid HC2 certificate (see below)
If you are entitled to a free wig the NHS will provide you with a new one every 6 months if necessary. There is no national limit on the number of wigs the NHS can supply you with. But individual hospitals may set their own limits.
When you have your wig fitted ask the hospital for a receipt that shows that you have paid an NHS charge, and complete an HC5(W) refund claim form. The form tells you what do. It is available on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk/helpwithhealthcosts.
If you are on a low income, but don’t qualify for a free wig, you may still be able to get some help towards the cost. This is explained in the Department of Health leaflet called Are you entitled to help with health costs? (HC11) available at post offices or from your hospital. You apply for this help on form HC1. If you are entitled to help then you will receive either a full help certificate (HC2) or a limited help certificate (HC3).
- Certificate HC2 means that you don’t need to pay for your wig
- Certificate HC3 means that you may get some help with the cost
If you are an outpatient, which means you attend hospital but do not stay in overnight, you will have to pay for your wig (unless you are entitled to a free one as outlined above). Buying an acrylic wig on the NHS costs anywhere between £50 and £200 depending on the type of wig you want. The Department of Health leaflet called Charges and optical voucher values(HC12) has details about how much NHS wigs cost.
You may decide to buy a wig privately instead. 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.
If you are still not sure what you are entitled to, speak to your hospital social worker or clinical nurse specialist. They can make sure that you’re getting all the help you are entitled to.
If you decide to buy your wig privately there are several options. 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 will have a private room where you can have your fitting. But if not, don’t be afraid to ask for one. Some companies will come to your home to do a fitting. The cost of your fitting and styling the wig is usually included in the price of the wig but always check. If you have a wig made especially 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 due to cancer treatment. But you must fill in a VAT form at the time you buy your wig. So be sure to ask the supplier for this form, as you can’t claim the VAT back at a later date. There is a list of places to buy a wig from at the end of this page.
If you’re staying in hospital (an inpatient) and having a wig provided on the NHS, the nurses will organise a wig fitter to come and visit you on the ward. 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 may be the first time that you really have to face the fact that you are going to lose your hair – it can be a very emotional experience. Wig specialists will be very sensitive to this and will try to make the fitting as easy as possible for you.
Don’t feel that you have to choose your wig straight away. Take your time and if you don’t feel ready to make a decision on the day, leave it for another week or two. The most important thing is that you don’t rush things and you get a wig that you feel suits you.
You may want to choose your wig before your hair begins to fall out. That way it is much easier for the wig specialist to match your real hair style and colour. Also it gives you a bit of time to get used to the idea of wearing a wig. If you do this you will need to get a smaller size once you have lost your hair or 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.
For the first few days or weeks it may feel very strange wearing a wig. Some people never get used to wearing one and feel more comfortable without it. Others say that they forget they have their wig on and no one seems to notice the difference between their wig and how their hair used to look.
Whoever supplies your wig should give you instructions about how to wear it and care for it. Follow these instructions carefully. But the following tips may help
- It may help to 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 your needs
- Always check that you have the wig on the right way around – it can be easy to put them on backwards
- Buying an expensive wig doesn’t guarantee it will look more real. Sometimes the less expensive ones can look very real
Some people may feel like going for a wig that is completely different to the colour and style of their own hair. It’s up to you – but have a good think about doing this before you do.
This is really up to you. It can take a bit of time for you to feel confident enough to go out without your wig. But don’t be afraid to stop wearing it before you hair gets back to your pre treatment length. A shorter look may really suit you and give you a new image. Some people say it is a relief to get rid of the wig and feel themselves again. Others may need more time to adjust back to life without a wig. Just 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.
Some people don’t want to wear a wig, or may not want to wear one all of the time.
The video below shows you the different types of hats and scarves you can wear when you have hair loss
View a transcript of the video showing the different types of hats and scarves you can wear when you have hair loss (opens in new window)
There are lots of alternatives including hats, scarves, stretchy tubes and caps. You can buy these in high street shops or on the internet. There is also a list of suppliers below. You can find the stretchy headwear shown in the video at Buffwear.
Below is a list of companies that supply wigs, hats and scarves. This is not a comprehensive list but may help you find a wider variety of wigs, hats and accessories.
Telephone: 01707 852244
Sells a wide range of Buffs also called stretchy tubes.
32 Buchanan Drive
Telephone: 01582 750083
Offers an online shop for comfortable head scarves, hats, turbans and bandanas.
PO Box 1006
Telephone: 01793 632 152
Has a large selection of manmade and human hair wigs.
Europa Industrial Park
Stratton St Margaret
Phone: 01793 831363
Has a large selection of manmade and human hair wigs and accessories such as hair bands.
Hats 4 Heads
PO Box 407
Telephone: 0161 941 6748 Mobile: 07786 521897
Supplies hats and other headwear including stretchy tubes for all seasons of the year for men, women and children.
Little Princess Trust
28 Castle Street
Supplies and fully fund real hair wigs to children suffering hair loss due to cancer treatement.
14 Briarswood Rise
Telephone: 023 8084 8687
Has a selection of scarves, wraps and headbands, as well as transferable fringes
There is a network of wig banks around the UK that offer new and donated wigs for sale and hire. People donate wigs they no longer need. The wigs are washed, conditioned and sold for between £10 and £20. Or you can hire them for £5.
Telephone: 01889 808332
Provides personal service with network of advisors covering various areas of the country. Can provide evening and weekend appointments.
Wigtopia TGC Group
9 St. Johns Street
Telephone: 01206 570976
Supplies around 500 different styles of wigs and hairpieces. Includes human hair wigs.
346a Farnham Road
Slough SL2 1BT
Offers an online shop for hats and scarves for cancer patients.
Rated 4 out of 5 based on 18 votes
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