Wigs for Hair Loss (Alopecia)
Many cancer treatments can cause your hair to fall out or thin. The timing of this during treatment depends on the type of treatment you are having, but usually, it starts in the first couple of weeks. It may fall out overnight. It may thin and fall out more slowly. Each person's experience is different.
For some, losing hair is a regular reminder of their cancer diagnosis and treatment and can be very hard. You may want to shave your hair off or cut it short before it falls out. This gives you some control over the experience of losing your hair.
It is okay to lean into your feelings about losing your hair, what your hair means to you, and what you might want to do to cover your head when you have lost some or all of your hair.
- Do you want a wig? You don’t have to wear one. It is up to you.
- Wigs are often not covered by insurance. It doesn’t hurt to call your plan to ask if it may be covered. You will need a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis” from your provider.
- Take friends or family with you when shopping for your wig. Have you always wanted to have a different style or color of hair? Now could be a good time to try something new.
Types of Wigs
There are different types of wigs available.
- Synthetic hair wigs: Usually lighter and less expensive.
- Human hair wigs: Can feel heavier on your head and can be expensive.
It’s important to go to a wig shop or boutique to talk about different options and to have a wig fitted to your scalp to avoid irritation. A good wig-fitting can also boost your confidence, as your wig may look more natural and feel more comfortable.
Ask your care team for referrals to shops that are familiar with working with cancer patients. Your treatment center may have one onsite. You can also contact the American Cancer Society, 800-ACS-2345 for help finding a local wig shop.
After you pick out a wig, you can take it to a stylist to help “cut it in.” A wig is "off-the-rack"; think of buying a nice dress or suit off the rack. Having a tailor take it in to fit you specifically makes it fit just right. A wig is no different; just a little trimming and shaping can make a big difference.
If you haven’t lost all of your hair, you can try smaller “wiglets” that might cover thin or bald spots. A partial wig can be weaved into your remaining hair to add fullness.
Taking Care of Your Wig
Just like we wash, condition, and brush our hair, our wigs need regular care too. How you care for your wig will depend on its type. Be sure to ask at the wig shop or boutique about wig care instructions for your type of wig. You may also want to buy a wig stand to store your wig when you aren’t wearing it so that it holds its shape. The shop can also recommend conditioning and styling products to help you maintain your wig and help you feel your best.
Caring for Your Scalp
Losing your hair isn't all cosmetic. Your scalp can become sore or itchy. Your scalp also needs protection from the sun and cold weather. Good scalp care includes:
- Keeping your scalp moisturized: Use a hydrating body wash instead of shampoo or soap. Apply moisturizing lotions or balms, which can be specially formulated to treat and prevent itching and irritation.
- A wig cap or liner can prevent your wig from irritating your scalp.
- A sleep cap can keep your head warm at night.
- Not going out in the sun without a head covering; you can also use scarves, hats, or turbans to protect your scalp and skin.
Want to learn more about hair, skin, and nail care during cancer treatment? Watch this panel discussion about this important topic!
Other Wig Resources
Cancer Care Wig Clinic (services NY/NJ/CT) 800.813.HOPE (4673)
TLC (Tender Loving Care)-American Cancer Society
EBeauty Community-Offers a wig donation and exchange program
Ezemma, O., Devjani, S., Lee, A., Kelley, K. J., Anderson, L., Friedland, N., & Senna, M. (2023). Patterns of insurance coverage for wigs in patients with alopecia areata: a cross-sectional survey. International Journal of Women's Dermatology, 9(1), e075.
Kocan, S., Aktug, C., & Gursoy, A. (2023). “Who am I?” A qualitative meta-synthesis of Chemotherapy‐induced alopecia and body image perception in breast cancer patients. Supportive Care in Cancer, 31(4), 237.