1. What to wear after hair loss
2. Can I get an NHS wig if I have breast cancer?
3. Where can I be fitted for a wig?
4. Choosing a synthetic or real hair wig
5. How to wear a wig
6. How to tie a headscarf or bandana
7. Hats, turbans and fringes
8. How to camouflage hair loss and hair replacement systems

1. What to wear after hair loss

Many people choose to wear wigs, headscarves, hats or other headwear until their hair grows back. There are many different reasons for this, from keeping warm, for cultural or religious reasons, to concern about what other people might say.

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 choose not to wear a wig and prefer to wear headscarves or hats. Often men with breast cancer decide not to wear a wig despite experiencing hair loss from treatment. You may want to wear a wig on special occasions or when going out, but feel more comfortable wearing a cap around the house. Or you might prefer not to wear anything.

Different people prefer to wear different things so choose what you feel comfortable with at the time. It might help to talk to others who have experienced hair loss.

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2. Can I get an NHS wig if I have breast cancer?

Entitlement to a wig varies across the NHS. You may be entitled to a free synthetic wig on the NHS if:

  • you are an inpatient when the wig is supplied
  • 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 are entitled to or named on an NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificate
  • you are named on an HC2 certificate

Some hospitals may provide you with a free wig whether or not you meet any of the conditions above. To find out if you’re entitled to a free wig, talk to your chemotherapy or breast care nurse.

You may be entitled to a new wig on the NHS every six months if necessary. Your chemotherapy or breast care nurse should be able to advise you on how to go about getting your replacement wig.

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.

VAT

You don’t have to pay VAT (Value Added Tax) on a wig when hair loss is caused by cancer treatments. You will need to complete a VAT exemption form – which most stores will provide at the time of purchase – and send it off. The tax can’t be claimed back at a later date.

Macmillan grants

You may be able to get financial help towards the cost of a wig from Macmillan Cancer Support but your doctor, nurse or social worker will need to apply on your behalf.

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3. Where can I be fitted for a wig?

Some hospitals have specialists who may be able to fit you with a wig or advise you about other wig suppliers. If not, your chemotherapy or breast care nurse will be able to advise you on where to get your wig.

Your hospital may have a limited range, so 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. See our list of wig suppliers.

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.

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.

Take a relative or friend with you for support and to help you choose.

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.

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4. Choosing a 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. As a rough guide, synthetic wigs cost around £60 upwards, while real hair wigs cost can cost from £100 but are often substantially more. They also 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.

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5. How to wear your wig

As long as your wig fits snugly, it shouldn’t move around your head. However, if you’re worried about your wig slipping or falling off, try securing it with hypoallergenic double-sided tape, which is available from wig suppliers. One side of the tape sticks to the inside of the wig while the other side sticks to your scalp. A wig specialist can also talk to you about other ways of securing your wig.

Wigs can sometimes feel hot and itchy. You can try wearing a thin cotton lining or skullcap under your wig. You can buy these from wig suppliers or make your own by cutting up a stocking or pair of tights.

If you have an ‘off-the-shelf’ wig and wear it every day it will last about three to four months. After that the elastic gets looser and this affects the fit, although it may be possible to replace the elastic.

Avoid excessive heat or steam (such as from an oven or iron) if you have a synthetic wig as it can make the hair shrivel. Don’t get too close to flames from cookers or candles, which can melt synthetic hair and frizz real hair.

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 consultant has experience of cutting wigs. You can find a directory of wig cutting salons in your area at mynewhair.org  

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6. 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.

Tips

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

Variations

Ways to wear a headscarf

Tips

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

How make a French hair roll

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7. 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.

Hats

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.

Turbans

Cotton or jersey turbans are light, comfortable and easy to wash. They can be bought in some department stores, chemists, hospital shops and from wig and headwear suppliers.

Fringes

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, you may find that a fringe hairpiece on a Velcro band works 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.

See our list of wig and headwear suppliers.

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8. Camouflaging hair loss and hair replacement systems

Concealers

A concealer is a temporary cosmetic that can be used to disguise thinning hair and camouflage the scalp. They can be bought over the counter as coloured shampoos, mousses, creams, wax pencils, hair fibres or aerosols and should be applied as directed.

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 that might help.

  • jewellery such as earrings, necklaces, rings and brooches can attract attention
  • you could experiment with make-up, using different colours to emphasise your eyes or lips
  • finding an item of clothing that gives you confidence – a jacket, shoes or a bag – can also attract attention

Hair replacement systems

Cosmetic hair restoration is a solution for hair loss in which human hair can be fixed to the scalp. 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, allowing 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.

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Last reviewed: December 2017
Next planned review begins 2020

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