Special Wigs for Cancer Treatment Patients Who Lose Hair




Most women who currently buy wigs are looking for a fashion accessory or they have been losing their hair gradually over time, explains Nina Ragan, owner of Ultimate Image Studio in Sacramento, Calif., who specializes in chemotherapy wigs. Ragan learned the difference between most wig wearers and cancer patients firsthand when helping her mother through chemo twice. “A cancer patient who has just found out she will start chemo is overwhelmed and needs help fast. In fact, I’ve heard that the three most common questions cancer patients have when they find out they have cancer are: Am I going to die? Will I need chemo? Will I lose my hair? A skilled hair loss specialist who works with wigs made especially for chemo sufferers can help make the hair loss aspect less of a primary problem for them. It’s just a different type of wig need entirely.”

PROBLEM: I’m feeling weak and sick. Should I choose synthetic or human hair?

SOLUTION: National technical trainer, educator, cancer survivor and salon owner of The Inspiration Salon in Rockford, Ill., Terri Johnston explains, “If you’re feeling really sick, weak and tired, a synthetic wig might work better for you because it keeps its shape and is wash-and-wear … no styling involved. A human-hair wig will lose its style every time you wash it, requiring holding your hands up to style it, which is painful and tiring when you’re feeling sick. However, long hair looks more natural in human hair and wears better than the synthetic long hair, which can get fuzzy and frizzy. No matter which wig you choose, care for it in cold water, as gently as possible, and keep it away from heat to help it last as long as possible.

PROBLEM: I just found out I start chemo tomorrow — I don’t have time for a custom-made wig.

SOLUTION: “It’s true,” says Ragan, “that a chemo patient will start her chemo right away and lose her hair in the first two to three weeks of the treatment, so she can’t wait for a custom-designed wig to be made, which typically takes six to eight weeks. She needs a wig fast. So we sell and work with a line of specially made chemo wigs called Recover with Confidence to accommodate these and other special needs of chemo sufferers.”

PROBLEM: I feel bad enough, but the wigs I’ve seen on me make me feel even worse.

SOLUTION: “Nobody wants to look obvious when going through cancer and wearing a wig,” Ragan states. Experts advise that you visit a hair loss studio, which will have special chemo wigs, private rooms and experienced wig stylists who will help you choose the right size, color and texture and then re-create your style. “Where fashion wig clients just want a change of style, chemo patients want to look just the way they did before the chemo,” says Ragan, “and that takes a certain amount of skill.” Johnston agrees and offers, “Getting the color and style just right can make you feel so much better about wearing a wig.”

PROBLEM: My scalp is tender from the hair loss, and wigs are so scratchy and uncomfortable.

SOLUTION: A specially made chemo wig has a soft lining everywhere it touches your scalp, to protect against the itchy knots and machine wefts that make traditional wig caps so scratchy and uncomfortable. Since regular fashion wigs are meant to be worn on top of hair or a wig sock, there is less care in the construction, but chemo patients need protection from rough wig construction.

PROBLEM: I’m so weak, and this wig is so heavy on my head.

SOLUTION: “When you are feeling sick, a typical fashion wig that weighs anywhere from 8 to 12 ounces can be a burden on your neck and head,” explains Ragan. A typical chemo wig weighs as little as 4 ounces because it has less hair on it and a thinner monofilament cap for a much more comfortable wear.

PROBLEM: My wig slipped off my bald head.

SOLUTION: Most fashion wigs are not adjustable and don’t have a safeguard to keep the wig on, because they are not meant to be worn on a totally bald, slippery scalp. A chemo wig should be adjustable to specifically fit your particular head size, and a skilled hair loss specialist should measure you for your wig, suggests Johnston. Also, look for a nonslip material tab at the wig’s back and front that holds the wig in place on your scalp to avoid the wig slipping down over your forehead or back on your neck.

PROBLEM: This wig does not look like me.

SOLUTION: “If you can afford just a few hundred dollars more, look for a hand-tied chemo wig, instead of a machine-made wig, for a more natural look,” advises Johnston. “The hand-tied hair is more versatile because the knots have the ability to move in any direction; so you can brush hair forward or back and hair blows naturally in the wind and when you walk, as opposed to the machine-made wigs.” And a well-made chemo wig looks more natural because the monofilament cap material is actually see-through, so no matter which way you part your hair, it looks like your own scalp underneath and around the hairline. “Also, hand-tied wigs are very lightweight, some weighing in at just 2 ounces, which is a relief when you’re feeling sick,” Johnston adds.

PROBLEM: I’m sick, I’m not working and I can’t afford much of a wig.

SOLUTION: Check your insurance company’s benefits for prosthetics in general. If the company covers prosthetics, it may cover a cranial prosthesis, the medical term for a medically necessary wig. Johnston suggests that you “be sure to get a written diagnosis and a prescription for a cranial prosthesis from your doctor and you may be able to get your insurance company to pay for your wig.”