Chemotherapy’s most famous side effect, hair loss, can be extremely difficult to deal with. Since being told before starting chemo that my chance of hair loss was 100%, I decided to be proactive and get started with wig shopping before it was forced upon me.
Based on my experiences, here are my top tips for wig shopping:
1. Go early
Most people say that hair loss doesn’t start until your second cycle. Mine started coming out in my first. I would thoroughly recommend going wig shopping before you start chemo at all if possible, so you can get used to your wig(s) while you feel more normal, rather than adding it as an extra weird event once you’re already feeling rank. Much better to have a wig a little early than ending up without one and feeling very self-conscious. Also, you can even make it fun if you try really hard!
2. Take a friend
It becomes difficult to decide what you think of all the different styles almost immediately. Taking somebody with you to help advise is extremely helpful – and again, it gives you a better chance of treating it as a fun shopping trip.
3. Faking it?
One of your main decisions will be whether to get real or synthetic hair. There’s no right or wrong answer here, just personal preference. Real hair wigs look more real (duh!), and can be styled as normal hair. However, they are more expensive and need to be washed about once a week. There are various kinds of synthetic hair now, so don’t think fake = cheap party wig. Synthetic wigs are cheaper, only need washing once a month and dry back into their style (though they can’t be heat styled in any other way). I would say though, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean more realistic. It’s all about what suits you.
4. Give them a chance
It takes a while to get used to a new hairstyle at the best of times, and that includes all the time you spend sitting in the hairdresser’s chair (and usually a few days at home too!). So it’s not really surprising that a new ‘do that’s dumped onto your head from one second to the next is going to look a little bit odd. Especially after you’ve wiggled it around a bit to get the alignment right! Give it a chance though. I found it took quite a few minutes before I could really judge what I thought of a wig; I just wasn’t used to it enough until then. This is where a companion also comes in really handy – I would recommend putting a wig on and then ignoring it for a few minutes while you chat/read a magazine/play tiddlywinks. Then go back to the mirror and decide what you think.
5. Shed some natural light on it
Most wigs seem to come in so many different colours that it can be hard to decide which is best. Once you’ve found something you like, try to see what it looks like in natural light as it can make quite a big difference. Going to stand near the shop window with a mirror should do the trick!
6. Think outside the box
Even if you’ve decided that you’re only going to get something that looks exactly like your real hair, I would strongly advise trying on various different styles and colours anyway. Most probably you will conclude that you were right in the first place, but you never know – something might surprise you. Be open minded – some wigs that don’t look that great on the mannequins might really suit you (and vice versa!). I was quite conservative on my first trip, and had a much better time the second time round when I was more confident and tried on loads of different wigs (including a £2,000 one – I don’t recommend doing that for fun, it was waaaaay too nice!).
7. Trim up
Remember that you can get a wig cut by a hairdresser. Some wig shops also offer this service. I haven’t tried this, but think I might get the longer ones trimmed into a shorter style when they start getting a bit ratty. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind though, if there’s a style that’s very close but not quite right.
8. Claim it
Wigs bought for “necessity reasons” (e.g. hair loss due to chemotherapy) are exempt from VAT. Make sure you ask about this discount when you are paying as you’ll need to fill in a VAT exemption form.
I hope these tips are helpful. Please do add comments if there are any other tips you have to share.