Wig Care 101: How to Wash, Style and More

If you’re experiencing a medical condition like alopecia areata or going through treatment like chemotherapy for cancer, you might be dealing with the loss of your natural hair. And while some people don’t mind rocking the bald look, others decide that a wig is the best move for their comfort and self-esteem.

Long-wearing, high-quality wigs are an investment. Aesthetic specialist Michele Taylor shares tips to help you to choose, style and care for yours.

Index

    What to consider before buying a wig

    Buying a wig is a bit like buying a new outfit: You want to be sure fits right and looks good on you — and more importantly, that you feel great wearing it.  

    “Make sure your new wig will fit well by measuring your head with your hair lying flat against your head,” Taylor advises, “and make sure you know how to adjust the wig’s size, if needed.”

    Of course, you’ll also want to consider the color. You may feel more comfortable wearing a wig that’s close to your natural hair color, or you may want to embrace the opportunity to try out new colors and styles.

    Wigs made from hair vs. synthetic wigs

    As you’re comparing wig quality, you’ll find that there are many different options, including synthetic wigs, human hair wigs and wigs that are a combination of the two. “Each kind of wig has pros and cons and varies in price,” Taylor says. “The most important thing is to find a wig you like that also meets your needs.”

    Here are a few factors to consider:

    • Cost: Natural human hair wigs are more expensive than synthetic wigs.
    • Appearance: Natural human hair wigs don’t come in as many color choices as synthetic wigs. “However, synthetic wigs keep their appearance with almost no fuss,” Taylor notes.
    • Durability: Synthetic wigs are weather-proof, while natural human hair wigs are just as likely to frizz when it’s wet out. In the long run, though, natural wigs last longer than synthetic ones.
    • Versatility: “Natural human wigs can be cut, styled and dyed just like your own hair, while synthetic wigs aren’t as flexible when it comes to styling,” Taylor says.
    • Your lifestyle: If you like trying out different hairstyles and hair colors, you may want more than one wig. Or you may want one wig that can be styled in several different ways.

    How to put on a wig

    “You want to feel comfortable in your wig,” Taylor says, “so knowing how to put it on so that it fits and stays in place will go a long way.”

    Follow these steps to put on your wig: 

    1. If you wear glasses, take them off before you begin.
    2. Check your wig to be sure the label is in the back.
    3. Put on your wig by sliding it from front to back. “It should sit near your natural hairline,” Taylor says.
    4. The newer design of wigs are generally adjustable. You can adjust yours to fit and stay in place by moving the adjustable straps along the inside of the wig.

    Using accessories like wig caps (liners) or wig headbands (wig huggers) can help your wig fit more comfortably. And don’t worry if some hair doesn’t lay in place. “Having a little bit of hair out of place will make your wig look more natural,” Taylor says.

    How to take care of your wig

    Even wigs made from natural hair are not your natural hair, so they need to be handled carefully. It’s important to follow your wig manufacturer’s suggestions for taking care of your wig, but there are some rules of general care that can help keep it in tip-top shape.

    Style your wig using your fingers, when possible, and if you do use a brush and comb, use only those designed for wigs. Use styling products sparingly, as the more hairspray or gel you use, the more often you’ll need to wash your wig (or have it cleaned).

    “If you want to change your wig’s look, consider working with a professional hairstylist,” Taylor advises.

    When and how to wash your wig

    Whether you’ve chosen a natural human hair wig or a synthetic wig, you’ll need to clean it regularly with specially designed shampoo and conditioner.

    “Wash your synthetic wig at least once a month and more frequently if you wear it every day,” Taylor says.

    How to wash a natural human hair wig

    The process of washing a natural human hair wig isn’t actually all that different from the process of washing naturally growing hair. It just doesn’t happen in the shower! 

    1. Prep: Use a wide-tooth comb to smooth the wig hair before washing. Take care not to pull or stretch the hair fibers.
    2. Wet: Hold your wig with one hand and use the other to pour lukewarm water over the hair. The wig hair just needs to be wet, but not soaking wet.
    3. Wash: Put a small amount of shampoo on the wig hair and work the shampoo through the hair. Then rinse the hair clean, being careful not to squeeze or wring the wig.
    4. Condition: Apply a small amount of conditioner on the hair and work it through, letting it sit for a few minutes. Rinse the hair with lukewarm water until the water runs clear.
    5. Dry: The simplest way to dry your wig is to place it on a wig stand and let it air dry, but you can use a blow dryer on natural human hair wigs. Just be sure to keep the heat setting low.

    Once your natural human hair wig is dry, you can style it with a curling iron set on low.

    How to wash a synthetic hair wig

    An important tip before you begin: “Remember that you can’t use heat to dry or style a synthetic hair wig,” Taylor says. “So, if you wear a synthetic hair wig, build in time for it to dry after washing.”

    1. Prep: Use a wide-tooth comb to smooth the wig hair before washing. Take care not to pull or stretch the hair fibers.
    2. Wash: Fill a basin with cool water and add a capful of shampoo designed for washing synthetic wigs. Dunk the wig in the water and let it sit for a few minutes.
    3. Rinse: Swish the wig through the water to remove the shampoo. “Try to keep the flow of the water running with the wig’s hair shape so the hair doesn’t tangle,” Taylor says. Then, take the wig out of the water and refill the basin with clean, cool water. Swish the wig again until all the shampoo is washed out.
    4. Condition: Empty the basin and fill it with fresh water. Add a capful of conditioner to the water and dunk the wig, gently swishing it through the water.
    5. Dry: Blot the wig with a towel and place it on a wig stand or towel to air dry. Don’t use heat on a synthetic wig.

    Once your wig is dry, spray it with a detangler or hair sheen product, combing the product through the fibers. You can style your wig with brush rollers or your fingers while it’s still damp. Sometimes, you can style a synthetic hair wig by gently shaking it, too.

    Coping with hair loss 

    If you’ve lost your hair due to serious illness, you’re likely facing lots of life-altering decisions that might seem much more important than picking out and caring for a wig. But if you have a serious illness, you may sometimes feel as if your life choices are being made by events you can’t control.

    “Being able to choose a wig won’t make up for those lost choices,” Taylor says, “but it’s still a choice that you get to make, which can be meaningful during a time when you can’t control so much of what’s happening to you.”

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