A Wig Wizard

When chemo takes your hair, you need a pro to fit and style your wig so it doesn’t look like you are wearing a hair hat!wig

You need a wig wizard, a professional who can make selecting that first ever wig less uncomfortable and confusing at a time when you are feeling most vulnerable.

You want a professional who can talk you through what you want in a wig…something that is almost an exact replica of how you usually wear your hair or an entirely different look that can be passed off as “something new.”

Although I’ve had breast cancer twice, I didn’t require chemo for either cancer but that didn’t prevent me from needing a wig. I am one of a small group of women whose hair thins out on hormonal therapy. Six months into tamoxifen I no longer felt comfortable wearing my own hair. While I  didn’t have any bald spots, my entire head of hair thinned out to the point you could see through it. Hair extensions were not the answer, I needed a wig, especially since I would be on Tamoxifen  for another 4+ years.

Living in NYC, I thought I would have a number of options to choose from, places where I could sit, in privacy, trying on wigs at a prices I could afford, with the help of a understanding professional. I assumed that a professional would cut and shape the wig to look natural and feel comfortable on my head. I worked long hours and needed not only to look my best, I needed to feel my best. I couldn’t manage a hot, heavy wig. I was already facing the challenge of trying to stay cool during the hot flashes of Tamoxifen, I didn’t need an extra source of heat!

Several wigs and a lot of frustration later, I found my wig wizard, Cecelia Knight. I was walking along 23rd Street in Manhattan with a dear friend when she pointed to an awning for a full-service hair salon that included wigs  and said, ” I bet that’s one you haven’t tried yet.”  Reluctantly, I agreed to check it out with her. From that day to this, I have never had a bad hair day.

I invited Cecelia to share about picking out and learning to care for a wig. Cecelia is a licensed cosmetologist and hair stylist with over twelve years experience in fitting and styling wigs.  A cancer survivor herself, she knows first hand what a woman feels when facing hair loss and the need to wear a wig.

As Cecelia describes it, “Buying and wearing a wig for the first time can be a daunting experience. Most of us have never seen ourselves bald and we really don’t want to.  Unfortunately, many chemo drugs take a woman’s hair and being bald for six months or more becomes a reality that needs to be dealt with until new hair grows in after treatment ends.

When a woman first calls for an appointment, because she has started or is about to start chemo, I suggest that she come with a friend.  Most women are confused, overwhelmed and unsure when they come for a wig . A trusted friend can not only offer support during wig selection but can offer an objective viewpoint on what does and doesn’t look good.

I begin each session in a private room, away from the rest of my salon. The room is full of long and short hair wigs, both curly and straight. First I ask if the woman wants to get something that closely resembles her own hair or a new look entirely.The goal is to make each woman feel as comfortable with the idea of wearing a wig, as well as insuring a good wig fit.

If the woman has begun to lose her hair, I will suggest that she cut it off as the wig will fit better. Fitting and wearing a wig over a head of existing hair is difficult. Wigs fit much better on a natural head.

We  begin by trying on samples I have in stock to determine, size, style, shape and comfortable fit. We also review catalogs from wig manufacturers.  Once the style, shape and fit are determined, we then discuss the pros and cons of  human and/or synthetic hair. Synthetic and human hair wigs are equally durable. Either type can be matched to your hair color and desired style. Some of the things I ask a woman to consider are:

  • Synthetic wigs are less expensive than human hair wigs and easier to maintain. Synthetic wigs hold their set longer, dry faster after washing, and are virtually “wash and wear”.
  • Human hair wigs have more styling versatility and a more natural feel. A human hair wig can be styled just like “real hair”  using curling irons, blow dryers, and hot curlers – heat that would melt a synthetic wig. Top quality (Grade A) human hair wigs can even be re-dyed or permed. Human hair wigs require more maintenance and regular professional styling and resetting is recommended.

Another consideration, which adds to the natural look of a wig, is the wearing a wig that is a monofilament (or mono-top) wig that is made with a special, very fine lace material that takes on the color of the wearer’s scalp. Each individual strand of fiber is hand tied into the monofilament material. In most regular wigs, fibers are sewn onto a lace fabric. As a result, a monofilament wig is much more natural looking than a regular wig because the fiber can be parted and the scalp area looks natural and realistic.

Most women choose synthetic wigs for the reasons already mentioned and because they don’t want to make a major financial investment in a wig that they feel they will only need for six months or so.Very good synthetic wigs run between $200 and $300 dollars, while human hair wigs are considerably more. Many insurance companies will cover all or part of  the cost of a wig for hair loss due to medical treatments. Call your insurance company and find out before shopping for a wig. If you insurance does not cover a wig, this expense is tax deductible.

Once a woman has made the choice of material, it is time to look at swatches of what colors the wig material can he made up in and to choose a color. The order is placed with the wig manufacturer. Waiting time can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks in the case of wigs that are monofilament and take longer to make. Custom wigs will taken even longer.

When the wig comes in, the woman needs to try it on and accept the wig before it is cut and shaped exactly for her. Most wigs need some styling, shaping and cutting. This process is included in the initial cost of the wig.  Once the wig is cut and styled the a wig company will not accept it as a return.

Every wig company includes care instructions with the wig. Synthetics are easy; just wash, shake, let dry and wear. Human hair requires a professional’s touch to look as it did when you purchased it.

I tell each woman that there is no need to be afraid of you wig. Play with it. Comb it and brush it until you are comfortable with how it looks. Be patient; it will take time to get used to wearing a wig, but if properly fitted and styled, you will not look like you are wearing a wig.

For more about navigating breast cancer, visit www.noboobsaboutit.org

 

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