The selection of a wig is often the most realistic solution for alopecia patients suffering either temporary or permanent hair loss. Technological advancements have made the modern wig a much more attractive proposition compared to their predecessors.
A basic wig is referred to as machine made, constructed from a series of synthetic hair wefts arranged into rows, or panels. A weft is a length of material onto which human or synthetic hairs are machine sewn. The finished style will be dependant upon the length of the hair stitched to each individual weft panel.
More sophisticated wigs have a monofilament and polyurethane top and frontal area into which individual hairs are hand knotted. Monofilament bases allow the clients underlying scalp to be seen due to the materials transparency. Hand tied top sections provide flexible parting and styling, in contrast to the fixed style restriction of a wefted wig. The inclusion of polyurethane provides greater comfort and serves as an attachment point for double sided medical grade adhesive tape. Adhesive tapes provide extra security for the wig wearer.
For custom made wigs a finer, lightweight membrane is created from a number of materials providing the optimum solution for the clientsneeds. Membranes are typically constructed from one or more of the following materials: lace, polyurethane, monofilament, silicone, polygauze.
For off the peg, one size fits all solutions, the size will be adjustable in the nape area of the wig. Popular adjustment methods are straps, velcro and clips. Different wig ranges will have slight variations in their standard base size. Trying on a number of wigs is the best way to check for a secure and comfortable fit. The closeness of the fit will vary between individuals due to differing scalp shapes.
Typical wig ranges will have a standard fit (52-55cm cap) with adjustable straps for comfort, tightening and loosening. Petite wig ranges, though more restricted in styles and colours, will cater for those with smaller head sizes (50-52cm cap).
For an accurate wig fitting one should be measured from the centre point of the hair line to just above the occipital bone returning to the initial central hairline point.
Custom-made wigs, also referred to as hair systems, will provide a bespoke fit produced by taking a mould of the head. From this template a lightweight membrane is produced creating a vacuum type fit with the scalp, referred to as a second skin.
When purchasing a wig, one should ensure that a competent, wig-trained stylist is available to personalise the wig. The standard off the peg wig will generally be too dense (large number of hairs per square cm) and thus the reduction of volume using the thinning shears and razor is a must to achieve a realistic, natural look.
The stylist is the most important stage of the whole wig selection process. This final stage, carried out professionally, will complete a natural, realistic look.
The quality of premium grade synthetic hair has greatly improved in recent years. Industry led hair fibre research has produced better synthetics that closely mimic human hair. One tone fibre colours have been superseded by natural hair colours including multi-tones, highlights, lowlights and root-growth effect. Synthetic wig ranges are generally more extensive in colours and styles than human hair equivalents. Inexpensive man made synthetics are consistent fibres to work with making large scale production more time and cost effective, compared to human hair.
Synthetic fibre, unlike human hair, has an unchangeable structure. Some wig users find this low maintenance a positive feature since following washing, the fibre will take the identical form to that prior to washing. In contrast to synthetics, human hair requires restyling following each wash since the hair returns to its natural form.
Man made fibres are not compatible with heat, so hairdressing procedures such as straightening, curling and blow drying are forbidden. Hair product usage is restricted to a small selection of hair fibre products. It should be noted that for top grade synthetic fibre, the cost will rise with the length of the hair. The premium paid for extra length is however minimal to that which one would be expected to pay for unprocessed Caucasian hair. Although human hair is rightly considered superior to synthetic options, the very best synthetics, such as kanekalon, will closely mimic human hair providing a good value alternative, at half the price, to processed asian human hair wigs.
Long term alopecia sufferers will often prefer the versatility of human hair, allowing compatibility with all hairstyling appliances and practices. Human hair, though more time consuming in maintenance, will be more rewarding for those prepared to spend additional time on grooming. Depending upon the structure of the donors hair, one may have to spend additional time creating the desired look. When purchasing a wig one should clarify the ethnicity of the human hair being used.
Unless specified as being of European (caucasian) origin, it should safely be assumed that the wig hair will be of asian origin (Indian or Chinese generally). Unprocessed, or virgin, european hair with its fine, soft texture is the most expensive of the different ethnic types.
One should expect to pay a considerable premium for long european, caucasian hair. Recent demand from the human hair extension industry has applied further pressure on prices and market supplies.
Asian hair is far more easily sourced, available at a substantially reduced price compared to European hair. Altering the dark black pigment requires heavy processing (bleaching and re-colouring) to create more traditional caucasian colour tones. Using an acid bath, the hairs pigment is stripped and the cuticle removed for ease of knotting.
Such processing, used to change to the structure of the hair, has a significant negative impact on the longevity of the hairs condition and life expectancy.
Following processing the damaged cuticle is coated with silicon to enhance the finished appearance. Unfortunately, deterioration can occur within 6 weeks with noticeable colour fade and dryness.
The re-colouring of processed asian hair is possible though not advised. Resulting accuracy with colours can be unpredictable and exposure times will be different to that of normal hair.
Hair farming is the term used to describe the process of collecting hair from hair selling donors. Responsible companies within the industry ensure that hair purchasing takes place with reliable sources. Hair is removed from the nape of the neck downwards leaving the donor with a short style. The resultant ponytail is bounded with the hair cuticles all facing in the same direction, towards the end of the shaft. During the knotting process each hair from the ponytail will be hand-tied to the base with the cuticle facing outwards to achieve the same effect as with a natural head of hair. The cuticle, a roof tile-like structure, surrounds the cortex forming the outer layer of the hair shaft, providing the hair with its vitality and lustre. Knotting unprocessed, with cuticle, hair in different directions will cause matting upon wetting. Therefore, extra care, attention and time is required when wig making with virgin European hair, adding to the final cost.
Different hair knotting techniques are used to knot hair into the base membrane, providing different performance and aesthetic results. Hair knotting is generally performed in Asia where costs are significantly cheaper for what is a labour intensive hand skill. The quality of the wigmakers workmanship will have a great impact on the finished look.
Single hair, single knots are considered the best method of knotting producing a tiny knot for each individual hand-tied hair. Two or three individual hairs can be single knotted at one time speeding up the process to the detrimental of creating a larger knot with less aesthetically pleasing finish.
Double knots literally involve knotting hair twice to produce a double knot which provides a stronger, more robust knot. The resultant knots are however even more visible under close inspection. This is a particular problem when trying to create a natural hairline and for this reason most front hair lines should be single hair, single knotted on a flesh tone lace material. The term hair injection refers to the method of inserting a series of hairs through a layer of polyurethane before coating the underside of the base with a single layer of liquid form polyurethane. Upon setting (or curing) the inserted hairs remain trapped between the two transparent layers. Hair injection is a relatively new method of hair attachment, becoming increasingly popular due to its natural appearance, free of knots.
A recent development within the wig industry is the use of fine lace to obtain the most realistic, natural hairline. Whilst the fine flesh tone lace will merge with the clients own skin colour, hair knots at the base are visible under close scrutiny prior to bleaching. One should check that the knots are bleached when purchasing a lace constructed wig. Unbleached knots will restrict the wearer?s ability to adopt a brushed back style.
HAIR FADING AND DRYNESS
Hair fading and dryness is a common problem with wigs due to the effects of UV, natural sunlight and oxidants. Purchasing unprocessed hair will slow down this process. Typical processed asian hair is prone to quick deterioration due to the removal of the cuticle. A good maintenance and grooming regime using quality colour protection hair products will minimise the deterioration of the hairs colour. The use of lower grade products will do little to protect hair dryness and colour leakage.
Hair shedding is a problem affecting the useful life of a wig. Over a period of time washing and brushing will gradually pull out the hand tied hair as the knots weaken. Due to the elasticity of human hair, stretching when wet, one should take extreme care if brushing the wig when wet, when the knots are at their most vulnerable. In the event of premature shedding additional hair can be knotted into the wig. Most professional wig suppliers should provide such a wig knotting service and a period of guarantee. Similarly, a guarantee should also exist for any premature discolouring which will include colour corrections.
One should expect to receive a guarantee lasting between 3 and 6 months when purchasing a wig.A guarantee and detailed written instruction on maintenance, grooming and general advice should be included upon purchase. Wearers are advised to follow instructions carefully to maintain condition and prolong the life of the wig. Good maintenance and care along with the use of good products will have a large impact on the long-term condition. Poor treatment will not be noticeable immediately but hair quality deterioration can occur as early as 6 weeks into use.
GROOMING AND MAINTENANCE
Grooming is best carried out using either a vent brush or a wide tooth comb, with the latter preferable for longer hair. These styling tools are gentle on the hair causing less pressure on the hair knots, reducing shedding. When encountering tangling, detangle hair gently, avoiding abrasive brushing. Correct product usage will prolong the hairs life with colour protection products and regular deep conditioning essential. Most importantly, low chemical, colour protection shampoos should be used to keep colour leakage and dryness to a minimum. The detergent chemicals held by many shampoos will further damage hair that is already very porous. The application of a natural oil treatment is recommended with a suitable anti-oxidant and UV protector to protect the hair from long-term damage. This will help prevent dryness and maintain a healthy appearance.
At the lower end of the price scale a poor quality synthetic (e.g. Acrylic), with a machine made all-wefted base, should cost between £60 and £110. A top of the range synthetic, including kanekalon hair fibre with a hand-tied frontal section on a monofilament base, will range from £150-£200. A custom made asian human hair wig will cost £750. For unprocessed, European, caucasian hair one should expect to pay up to £250 more for around 20? length.
CUSTOM MADE WIGS
The production of a custom made wig takes around 6 weeks. A mould is taken of the clients scalp, from which the lightweight membrane is created. Construction of the membrane is followed by the knotting of each individual hair. Upon completion the wig will be cut by an expert wig-stylist to the clients request. Sophisticated non surgical alternatives, more advanced and less extreme than a full wig, such as integrated systems and hair systems, are achieving superior non intrusive, permanent results. One should seek advice from a TTS approved expert when considering possible options.
For more information on permanent Non Surgical Hair Replacement (NSHR)
The author of this article, Graham Wake MSc MTTS, is a Non Surgical Hair Replacement and Wigs supplier
TTS MEMBERS WHO SUPPLY WIGS AND OTHER NON-SURGICAL HAIR REPLACEMENT PRODUCTS
Mr S Levy MTTS, Ms J Levy MTTS, Mr M Burns MTTS
247 Mile End Road, London E1 4BJ
telephone: 0207 790 4567/3996
Cotswold Trichology Centre, Evesham, Worcestershire
Mrs S-A Tarver LTTS
stylish headwear for women with hair loss
020 8874 1099
Bloomsbury Wigs (Mr Graham Wake)
London Studio WC1N