How to Shop for a Wig, 8 Tips #chemotherapy #chemo #hairloss #cancer #breastcancer #womenshealth

How to Shop for a Wig – Eight Helpful Tips

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One of the biggest worries surrounding chemotherapy is hair loss. While we hear all the time things like, it’s only hair or it’ll grow back, losing your hair is a big deal for many women.

For sure, it was for me.

Once again, I’d like to stress that just as deciding to shave your hair off or not is a personal decision, so is choosing to buy and wear a wig. Many women are comfortable going out in public bald, but many, including me, are not.

If you do decide to purchase a wig, the task of choosing one can feel over-whelming. I hope you find my tips helpful.

Do You Want to Buy a Wig?

1. Don’t wait, shop early on.

While I do not believe it’s necessary to shave your hair off early on, wig shopping is another matter. Once you know your hair will probably soon be a thing of the past, if you choose to buy a wig, the sooner you do it the better.

First of all, the further you get into chemo, the less likely it is you will feel like going out to wig shop, or shop at all for that matter. As fatigue and other side effects kick in, you just might not feel up to the task.

2. The right color makes all the difference.

If you want to shop for a wig style that is similar to your own hairstyle, obviously sooner is better than later. Another piece of advice here though, is don’t worry so much about matching up to your present style. The most important part of wig selection is choosing the right color. The right color can make or break how your wig looks, or rather how you look in the wig.

3. If possible, buy more than one.

My next piece of advice is if you can afford it, buy more than one wig. It’s nice to have two options. If possible, spend a little more on one and then buy another cheaper one for those whenever times.

Some people prefer wigs made from real hair, but they are more expensive, and I’ve been told more difficult to take care of as well. Just think of your own hair, is it really all that easy to take care of? Probably not. So the easiest and most economical way to go is the synthetic route.

There are some amazing wigs available now, take advantage.

4. Trying wigs on is a must.

There are numerous catalogs offering very good choices as well as very good prices. If possible, I would suggest going to a store for at least one wig. Let’s face it; everything looks great on a model in a catalog. You can’t really tell how the wig is going to look on you until you try it on.

I shopped at a Merle Norman Store, and the experience was wonderful. Well, wonderful is a stretch. I mean I was shopping for a wig because I was going to have chemo and lose my hair, but you know what I mean. I tried on a lot of wigs in a lot of colors and the sales person was compassionate and extremely helpful; so much so, I don’t even mind “plugging” them here.

Shopping at a retail store in person was the way to go for me. If you do decide to shop by catalog, be sure to check the return policy over carefully.

5. A second opinion comes in handy here too.

Another suggestion is to take someone along with you when you shop for a wig. This might be your spouse or partner, a good friend, a sister, daughter or whomever. I took Dear Hubby because I knew he’d be brutally honest if need be, and he was. Also, I figured he was going to be the person looking at me the most, so he deserved a say in the matter.

Try to find someone who will actually be helpful to accompany you. You don’t want to take someone who will just nod in agreement with you. This is one time when you need another voiced opinion, so maybe one of your more outspoken friends is the one you might want to take with you. Honesty is always the best policy and in this case, it’s the only policy worth having.

6. What about all those accessories?

When you buy your wig, it’s also a good idea to buy one of those little head caps that fit under it. Strangely enough, I found they did help keep me cooler and minimized itching. Also, be sure to pick up some wig shampoo, a wig hairbrush and a stand on which to dry your wig after you wash it.

As for other head gear, I did buy some bandannas and caps. I never could get the hang of scarves, but they look fabulous if you can figure them out. Caps are great, except for that little hole in the back that seems to scream “bald.” Those fake bang fringes are not really worthwhile.

Another thing to consider is getting something to wear at night. You will be surprised at how much chillier you feel in general with no hair on your head and unless you sleep with the covers pulled up over your head, you may very well feel cold at night. Plus, if you get up at night to use the bathroom, it can be quite startling to face your bald self in the mirror. Purchasing a nice soft cottony sleep cap easily and comfortably takes care of both issues.

7. Covering the cost

If money is tight, and it may well be, your cancer center should be able to direct you to an American Cancer Society contact person who can direct you to someplace to go to get a wig for free. Some hospitals also have donation centers, so check out what they have.

If you have some friends who want to help, this is a good opportunity for them. Ask them to donate some dollars to help you buy a wig. They might jump at the chance to do something meaningful.

And remember if you do have insurance, they might cover the cost of a wig, at least up to a set amount. Ask. If they do not cover the expense, be sure to complain and complain loudly. Remember if your insurance does cover the cost of a wig, you will need a doctor’s prescription for one. They generally refer to a wig as a cranial prosthetic, a label that frankly, I found condescending and somehow silly and over the top, but…

8. How long will you need a wig? (If you choose to wear one)

Finally, I must admit I didn’t wear my wigs all that much, but when I wanted to they sure were nice to have. I had a wedding the summer I was bald and a couple of other events to attend. It was just easier less stressful for me to go wearing a wig.

Also, remember you will still be bald for a while after chemo ends, and it might be some time before you have hair you feel comfortable with. Some people don’t give a hoot about going out in public bald or with only some peach fuzz up there, but if you do, wigs come in quite handy.

Ultimately, wigs are uncomfortable, hot and itchy; they are wigs after all. If you buy one that fits right, you might be able to stand wearing it for a few hours at a time for those occasions when and if you feel the need.

Remember, you do not ever have to buy or wear a wig to please someone else. I cannot emphasize this enough. If someone is uncomfortable with your baldness, that’s their problem not yours. 

Wearing a wig or not is entirely up to you.

Have you ever purchased a wig for any reason?

What are your tips for buying or wearing a wig?

Do you prefer wigs made of real hair or do you prefer synthetic wigs?


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How to shop for a wig - eight tips #cancer #hairloss #chemotherapy #chemo #womenshealth #wigs


Get lots more tips on preparing for chemotherapy in my book, Getting  Past the Fear:  A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy.

Getting Past the Fear:  A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy #chemo #hairloss #cancerbooks #breastcancer


35 thoughts to “How to Shop for a Wig – Eight Helpful Tips”

  1. Hi Nancy,
    This post triggers memories. I remember when my oncologist’s chemo nurse advised me to shop early for a wig, and I did. My sister-in-law accompanied me, which helped a lot, and it was almost fun. Well, not really…

    1. Elaine, I hated shopping for a wig, so it’s nice to hear at least you had a bit of fun shopping for yours. There are always lots of memories aren’t there? Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. I determined to buy the blondest, sexiest wig I could find. I know many women wear their wigs every day throughout their treatment, but I decided to keep mine for special occasions– it was like an alter ego.
    It was wineter time and cold so I wore a fake fur hat and the effect was very Julie Christie in Dr Zhivago (well so I told myself) After a few embarrassing mishaps, I learned the subtle art of removing a hat without taking the hair underneath with it.I can’t imagine wearing a wig in the summer months though because wigs are so incredibly hot, a fact I discovered in the over heated shops when I often had to pop to the bathroom exchanging my wig for a scarf. Overall I found the wig too itchy and uncomfortable and was happy wearing scarves.

    1. Marie, Thanks for sharing your “wig stories.” Aahh, yes, the Dr. Zhivago look, that’s funny. I tried on a long and shaggy one in Raquel Welch’s line which I would have loved to have bought to wear for fun. I couldn’t afford another one though, so I didn’t. I did buy two which was nice. I found wigs to be pretty hot and itchy too, but the little cap i wore underneath did help with that somewhat. I actually liked the style of my wigs. Wish I could get my own hair to look as good…

  3. You’re bang-on with the hair colour tip. That’s essential. While I didn’t wear my wig during chemo . . . I still tried on a ton and finally bought one. Once we nailed the hair colour, it was such a relief. Appreciate how often you say “if you choose to wear one” in this post. Ultimately I decided (even after shelling out money for a wig) to go wig-free, and just either be bald or with a small cap. I think you never know how you’ll feel till you’re in the situation, so getting prepared for all moods in advance is a really good idea.

    1. Catherine, I agree that it’s good to be prepared before hand if possible. I think many of us decide to wear wigs as little as possible or not at all after we get into the thick of chemo or any hair loss situation. It’s always about choice, or should be. Thanks for commenting.

  4. That’s a nice informative post. Thanks for the tips. I’m going to visit a store that was recommended to me by the hospital. I now have long curly hair. I read somewhere you have to pick a colour that is lighter than your own colour. I love the ones with highlights because I think it looks more natural. I’m not sure about the length yet, but I guess I will find out when trying on several. At first I thought about wearing scarfs.. but I changed my mind. I think I’m more at ease starting chemo I have a wig and a scarf waiting for me.

    1. Ciel, I’m sorry you need to think about this, but I’m glad you have a store where you can go to try on wigs. I think it’s really important to do that if at all possible. You’re so wise to be prepared and have some options ready to go. Thanks so much for taking time to read and comment. I appreciate hearing from you. Good luck with things and please keep me posted.

  5. I took a gay male friend with me for the wig buying process. He has a great sense of flair and style!! I went as soon as I got diagnosed and had recovered from surgery. I rarely wore it because I found it itchy and uncomfortable. I did wear it when I returned to work. I was working in a hospital for children who are burn survivors and many of them missing hair as a result. I decided to keep the wig in my desk drawer since the kids didn’t mind at all that my hair was all weird or not there at all! My boss was another story. She approached me and told me that she thought my baldness made ‘people’ feel uncomfortable!! I looked at her with shock and told her that I felt that maybe I made HER feel uncomfortable! Then I reminded her that I was in a protected status under ADA!! She backed off quickly. The only other time I wore it was for my son’s high school graduation and that was at his request…I was happy to donate it ($400 was what I paid) to my local cancer support center.

    1. Holly, Don’t you just love that about kids? They are so non-judgmental. It’s very interesting that your boss was another story! Wow, and you were even working in a medical environment. Good for you for donating your wig. I still have mine as I may still choose to wear one sometime. My hair has not returned in great form shall I say. Ha. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. I wore my wig for 9 months, often with a hat because I felt it made the wig less obvious. Thankfully it was Autumn Winter and Spring. I hated the thing, itchy, hot and at first very sore (it loosened with wearing). I had taken a decision not to publically bare my baldness and I’m hopeless with scarves so wig-wearing was a commitment.
    The tip about obtaining one early is spot-on, chiefly because you still have your own hair and therefore can explore the option of finding a wig which matches it closely.. I was so pleased I had the wig ready and had chosen it before I lost me own hair. What I did regret was not taking more time over it. Trying several, going away and then going back after a day or two for the final choice. I also found the little stockinette cap made it a whole lot more bearable.
    I’ve only just stopped wearing my wig completely having dyed my short regrowth hair purple, because it makes it feel less “Hey look – Chemo regrowth!” and I do feel so much better even though short (and purple) hair is: ‘just not me’.

    1. Lynne, Hats do help don’t they? I was bald in summer and fall, so it was often quite hot. And the wedding I attended was on a very hot and humid summer day of course. I hear you on the taking time aspect. Choosing the proper wig is a pretty big decision. I tried some on and thought about it for a week and then went back to make my final decisions. I was actually pretty happy with how my wigs looked, but still they were uncomfortable to wear and I could only stand it for a few hours at at time. Congrats on being finished with yours! I hear you on the “chemo growth” thing. Hope you’re doing well on all fronts. Thanks so much for sharing. My best.

  7. Nancy,

    These are wonderful, useful tips for those who may be losing their hair from chemo. I can’t imagine how awful that must be to go through.

    Your book will be so helpful to so many people. I wish I had such a resource.

    1. Beth, When I was writing about hair loss, I thought of you. I remembered your chemo did not cause hair loss and how in some ways that was harder. When you don’t look sick, you can’t be sick, right? Wrong. Thanks for all your support, Beth. I’m glad you thought my tips were helpful.

  8. Such a useful post, Nancy! I was very lucky in that I didn’t lose my hair with my chemo regimen. I can’t imagine how horrific it is to lose one’s hair as a result of cancer treatment.

    Thank you for helping so many women who are faced with hair loss.

    1. Beth, Losing my hair was just awful. I did not embrace my baldness at all. I know some women do, but I just couldn’t. I think it must have been hard for you to not lose your hair too during chemo. I’m sure some people didn’t understand why you didn’t look sick… Thanks for reading and for your kind words.

  9. I lost my hair due to severe anemia and lupus. I had a breast lump removed last December and I am now high risk for breast cancer. I guess loosing my hair first was just another lesson to learn! I just wanted to say that each of you is a hero regardless of how you choose to share your beauty with the world. All the best!

  10. Thanks for your blog. It’s very helpful. Can you give advice on tipping salon owners who help with wigs? My sister got a human hair wig that was expensive and required lots of extra services. Another stylist at the salon is doing the cutting while the owners is working with the cap and threading. We’re just at a loss on how much to tip. Thank you!

    1. Wendy, You are quite welcome. I’m glad you are finding my blog helpful. I think tipping is a personal thing. I’d probably go with 15% of whatever the bill is. If you’re really pleased and grateful, more is great if you can afford it. Sometimes a hand-written thank you or small gift is thoughtful and appreciated, too, under these circumstances. So glad you and your sister have found a salon and stylist that you like. That’s not always easy to do. Thank you for reading and commenting. Good luck with everything.

  11. Great tips, Nancy! Would help a lot of people. Always a good idea to have two options. Also, it’s important to read about the maintenance and upkeep of the wigs you purchase.

  12. I like how you suggested buying a head cap to wear under your wig. It was also helpful that you included purchasing wig shampoo, a wig hairbrush, and a stand to allow your wig to dry on. My friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and will be starting her chemotherapy soon. She has been looking into buying a wig for when she loses her hair. It could be useful to her to also consider purchasing other products, such as a wig stand when she buys her wigs.

    1. Brynne, Your friend is certainly going to appreciate your support. She might be interested in reading my book on preparing for chemo. Thank you for sharing. Good luck to you both.

  13. I appreciate your comments on how color is more important than style and that you can always buy more than one to experiment with styles. My sister has alopecia and has decided to shave her head completely, but she still wants to have a wig for some days. I will pass on this advice to her and hopefully, we can find some wigs that she will love.

  14. I found it interesting when you mentioned that you liked to shop for wigs in person, rather than browsing a catalog. I think that finding the right wig requires patience, and it always helps to research various wig sellers. My neighbor is going through chemotherapy, so I’ll suggest that her husband help her locate a store that sells full lace wigs in order to restore some of her confidence.

  15. I originally bought a synthetic wig which I only wore once – the color was off and it just looked fake (I have since donated it). I then bought a human hair wig which was great. Fyi, my oncologist gave me a prescription for the wig with “chemotherapy induced alopecia” as the diagnosis, so my insurance did pay for it in full. I did shop in person, at a place here in San Francisco that specializes in wigs for hair loss due to chemo or alopecia, etc. They were extremely helpful and really know their products and understand their clients’ needs. The one item that I bought which was a complete lifesaver was a baseball cap with a swatch of synthetic hair stitched across the back bottom – I could put that on and just go without having to worry about the wig. I recommend something like this. It was low cost and looked just fine, in fact, many people never even realized it wasn’t real.

    1. Barbara, I guess the way your oncologist put it was slightly better. I couldn’t afford a human hair wig, so it’s good to hear from someone who had one and was pleased with it. It’d be nice if someone could come up with a wig that was truly comfortable. Great tip regarding the cap with the fake hair stitched across the back bottom. Thank you for sharing about your experience with wigs. Hope you’re doing well.

  16. Great tips Nancy! And just to reiterate, wigs ARE uncomfortable, hot and itchy, no matter how much you spend, but they are also nice to have around when you want to have a different look for an event. I also wore mine very little. I was more comfortable in a soft hat. When I did wear my wig I got tons of compliments which was great for my pitiful body image! Here’s my tip, when you go out in your yard to do yardwork, ( in my case mowing!) ,don’t forget to cover your head. I forgot more than once and got a little too much sun pretty quickly. When I was finally finished with my wig I donated it and hope to never see another!

    1. Donna, They are uncomfortable. They just are. But like you said, they do come in handy for “those times”. I wore baseball caps a lot. I still do. Your tip is a good one! So important to protect yourself from too much sun anytime, but especially when you are bald! I guess I’m not surprised you were out there mowing! It’s nice you donated your wig. Good for you. Thank you for sharing about your wig experience and for adding a tip too.

  17. Thanks for the idea to buy more than one wig if you can. My sister-in-law just went through chemotherapy and is still recovering. My brother said we could get her some wigs if we wanted. My wife is a cosmetologist so I’ll have her help pick them out but we’ll get multiple so she has some options.

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