1. What to wear after hair loss
Many people wear wigs, headscarves, hats or other headwear until their hair grows back. There are many different reasons such as keeping warm, for cultural or religious reasons, personal preference or concern about what other people might say.
Different people prefer to wear different things so choose what you feel comfortable with at the time.
Many people choose to wear a wig because it’s important to them to have as little change to their appearance as possible. Modern wigs are natural looking and comfortable, and are available in many different colours and styles for both men and women.
Some people prefer to wear headscarves or hats or wear nothing on their head. Often men with breast cancer decide not to wear a wig despite experiencing hair loss from treatment.
It might help to talk to others who have experienced hair loss.
2. Can I get an NHS wig?
Synthetic wigs are available on the NHS. They are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England, you’ll usually have to pay a charge for an NHS wig. Or you may qualify for a free wig if:
- You are an inpatient when the wig is supplied
- Your weekly income is low
- You or your partner are receiving Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit and meet the criteria
- You have an NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificate
- You are named on a help with health costs (HC2) certificate
If you are entitled to a free wig through the NHS, you can get this from your hospital or a wig shop in your local area.
You may be entitled to a new wig on the NHS every 6 months if necessary. Your team or breast care nurse should be able to advise you on how to go about getting your replacement wig.
Some hospitals may give you a free synthetic wig even if you are not eligible for help towards the cost. To find out if you’re entitled to a free wig, talk to your treatment team.
If you aren’t entitled to a free wig you can still get one through the NHS at a subsidised rate if you have a low income. To apply for this you’ll need an HC1 form, which you may be able to get from your hospital or from the NHS Business Services Authority.
If you’re having treatment as a private patient the cost of a wig may be covered in your policy. Otherwise you’ll need to pay for one.
Only wigs made of synthetic hair are available on the NHS, although real hair wigs can be supplied if you are allergic to acrylic wigs. If you prefer to buy a wig made of real hair, you’ll need to pay for it. Real hair wigs are usually more expensive. Find out more about choosing a synthetic or real hair wig in section 4 of this page.
People whose hair loss is caused by cancer treatment do not have to pay VAT on wigs bought from a shop or other supplier.
To claim back the VAT you’ll need to complete and post a VAT form. Most stores will provide this form at the time of purchase.
The tax can’t be claimed back at a later date.
You may be able to get financial help towards the cost of a wig from Macmillan Cancer Support. Your treatment team, GP or social worker will need to apply for you.
3. Where can I be fitted for a wig?
Headwear, wig and eyelash suppliers
Many hospitals have an appliance officer or specialist wig fitter who may be able to fit you with a wig or advise you about other wig suppliers. Ask your breast care nurse or chemotherapy nurse what’s available in your area.
Your hospital may have a limited range. If you cannot find a suitable wig at your hospital, your treatment team may be able to recommend another wig supplier in your local area. If you’re paying for your wig yourself you may prefer to go to a hairdresser, department store or wig retailer. This is usually more expensive.
What to expect at your wig fitting appointment
Choosing and being fitted with a wig can be a time when you have to face the reality of losing your hair, and it can be upsetting. Experienced wig specialists understand this and will do their best to make you feel at ease.
Most wig fitters have a private room where you can be fitted and try on wigs, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask for one.
You may find it helpful to take a relative or friend with you for support and to help you choose.
Some wig fitters may offer telephone or video appointments where they are able to offer a wig fitting service.
If it’s important to you to match your wig to your hair colour and style, you may want to choose one before your hair falls out. Or you may decide to have a complete change.
If you haven’t yet lost your hair the wig should be quite tight when fitted so that it gives a good fit later on. This can be adjusted later if needed.
Wigs for black and ethnic minority groups
If your hospital wig fitting service or local wig supplier is unable to offer you a wig that matches your hair type and texture you may need to find a specialist wig fitter.
Your breast care nurse or treatment team may be able to offer information on what is in your area.
For further support and advice you can contact Cancer Hair Care.
4. Synthetic or real hair wig
Wigs can be made from real or synthetic hair, or a mixture of both.
Synthetic wigs are light and easy to care for. They’re often pre-styled and can be washed and left to drip dry. They’re also cheaper than real hair wigs.
The cost of a real hair wig will depend on the length and style you choose.
The average costs:
- Synthetic wigs cost between £50 and £200
- Wigs made from real hair cost between £200 and £2,000
Wigs made from real hair can last longer but they need to be handled more carefully. They may need professional cleaning and restyling. If you’re not feeling well during treatment, you may find this more difficult.
5. How to wear your wig
Tips on wearing a wig:
- Your wig should fit snugly and shouldn’t move around your head
- If you’re worried about it falling off, secure it with hypoallergenic double-sided tape (available from wig suppliers)
- If it feels hot and itchy, you can wear a thin cotton lining or skullcap under your wig
- Avoid excessive heat or steam if you have a synthetic wig as it can damage the wig
- Don’t get too close to flames as this can melt synthetic hair or damage real hair
If you have an ‘off-the-shelf’ wig and wear it every day it will last about 3 to 4 months. After that the elastic gets looser and this affects the fit, although it may be possible to replace the elastic.
Getting your wig professionally styled
Wigs can be cut and styled to make them look more natural and feel more personal.
The hair in some wigs is packed very densely, which can give them a slightly unnatural look. This can be thinned out by trained hair professionals to make the wig look like your own hair.
It’s a good idea to check that your hairdresser or wig specialist has experience of cutting wigs.
You can find a directory of wig cutting salons in your area at mynewhair.org
6. Donating your wig
7. How to tie a headscarf or bandana
Scarves and bandanas (a triangular or square piece of cloth) can be worn in many different ways to create a variety of looks. Choose different colours, patterns and textures to suit your mood and coordinate your headwear with your outfit.
The most comfortable scarves are made from a natural fabric that’s gentle on the scalp and allows it to breathe. Soft cotton is probably best, as satin and silk materials can slide off the head more easily.
How to make a basic headwrap
For a basic headwrap you will need a scarf at least 75cm x 75cm. For more elaborate styles it needs to be 100cm x 100cm.
To give more height and a better head shape you can:
- Scrunch or pleat the long edge of the scarf
- Roll the edge of the scarf around a 25cm long foam tube (like a finger bandage) before putting it on your head
- Place a foam shoulder pad on the crown of your head under the scarf. You can attach it with double-sided tape available from wig shops
You may find it helps to twist one end at a time and secure it with a hairgrip, paperclip or elastic band while you twist the other one.
You can vary this by twisting in coloured cord, beads or a contrasting scarf to match what you’re wearing.
How to make a French hair roll
8. Hats, turbans and fringes
Hats, scarves and turbans can be found in a wide variety of styles and colours and can help you feel more confident about the way you look. They can also keep you warm in winter and protect your head from the sun in summer.
When looking for a hat, you may want to choose a style that can be pulled down to cover your hairline.
As well as specialist hat shops and department stores, wig and headwear suppliers also stock suitable hats.
You can also buy hats and caps with detachable hair pieces.
Cotton or jersey turbans are light, comfortable and easy to wash.
They can be bought from wig and headwear suppliers, or in some stores, pharmacies and hospital shops.
If you normally have a fringe, you may feel that you still don’t look right no matter what headwear you choose.
Worn under a scarf or hat, a fringe hairpiece on a Velcro band may work for you. Fringes can be trimmed and shaped to suit and are available from wig suppliers.
You can also buy hairpieces that you can fix under the back of a hat. They give the appearance of hair and, like the fringes, can be styled to suit you.
Changing the emphasis
Some people feel more confident if attention is directed away from their hair and their head. There are a number of ways of doing this such as with jewellery, makeup or clothing.
9. Camouflaging hair loss
A concealer is a temporary cosmetic that can be used to disguise thinning hair and camouflage the scalp.
Hair concealers can be bought over the counter or online as coloured shampoos, mousses, creams, wax pencils, powders, hair fibres or aerosols and should be applied as directed.
You may need to check if a skin-sensitivity test (patch test) is needed before applying.
Some concealers may not be waterproof so will need to be reapplied regularly.
You can read more about hair concealers on the British Hair and Nail society website.
Micropigmentation can be used on the scalp, eyes and eyebrows to recreate the illusion of hair. Microblading is another technique that can be used to create the illusion of eyebrows.
10. Hair replacement systems
When your hair grows back
Hair replacement systems
Cosmetic hair restoration is a solution for hair loss in which human hair can be fixed to the scalp using a specialist scalp glue or a hair bonding technique. This is usually only an option for people who have permanent hair loss.
The most common type of hair replacement system works by attaching a fine mesh to any remaining hair. This allows hair to be added where needed to give the illusion of a full head of hair.
Making it look like hair is growing from the scalp, the replacement can usually be cut to recreate the hairstyle you had before your hair loss. However, these types of hair replacement can be time consuming and expensive.