If you’re affected by hair loss due to chemotherapy, you may choose to cover your head at least some of the time. The most usual ways of doing this are either with a wig or with a scarf. You can also get hairpieces that can be worn under a hat or scarf to give the impression of a full head of hair. We’ll look at some aspects of wigs and scarves in this short post and suggest sources of more information.

Many people like to wear a wig because it more closely resembles their previous appearance and can help to maintain privacy by avoiding questions about their hair loss. As we mentioned in our first post in this series, it’s helpful to have your wig fitted before you start chemotherapy to help the wig specialist or hairdresser style it similarly to your usual style or to another style of your choice. When trying on wigs, you can ask whether there’s a private room available for you to use if you’d feel more comfortable. Adjustable wigs are available which can be made tighter as the hair thins. A well-fitting wig will usually stay in place on its own, but you may feel more confident, especially at first, if you secure it to the hair underneath with clips or attach it to your scalp with sticky pads or tape. Special tape is available that’s less likely to cause an allergic reaction if your scalp is sensitive from the chemotherapy. On windy days, you may like to wear a hat or scarf over the wig.

Wigs can be made from human hair, synthetic hair or a mixture of both. Synthetic hair wigs are available at no charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in England you can apply for a contribution to the cost through the NHS or get a synthetic wig for free if you meet certain financial criteria. You won’t usually be able to get a human hair wig on the NHS unless you need one for medical reasons. You can find more information about the costs of wigs and help with buying them on the NHS website.

You can also buy your own wig or hairpiece privately, if you have the means to do so. You can find a list of wig and other headwear suppliers here.

Synthetic wigs are ready-styled and so can be washed at home and don’t need styling afterwards. They also tend to be lighter and so may be more comfortable in warm weather. Human hair wigs are generally more expensive than synthetic ones, and need to be styled, in some cases professionally. If they can be cared for at home, you will need to style them after washing. Whether you’re wearing a synthetic or human-hair wig, it’s important to keep it away from heat sources and flames such as when cooking, as synthetic wigs can melt and human-hair wigs can frizz. If the wig is irritating your skin, you can wear a soft wig liner to protect your scalp. If you find that you’re getting too hot when wearing the wig, you can try leaving it off for a while during the day, if possible, and using a wet cloth or spray to refresh your scalp.

For more information on wigs, visit the Cancer Research UK website.

If you’re not wearing a wig and want to cover your head, you can wear a hat, scarf or turban. There is a video about these different head coverings on the Cancer Research UK website. There are a variety of different ways to tie a scarf, perhaps with a decorative band or incorporating a hairpiece at the front and/or back. Some ways of tying the scarf are designed to give the impression of hair in a bun underneath. Your hospital may have specialist staff to advise on different types of head covering, or your local Maggie’s or other cancer help centre may run workshops on tying scarves. Some suggested ways to tie a scarf can be found on the Macmillan website and on the Suburban Turban websiteYou can find a list of headwear suppliers here.

Whether you’re wearing a wig, other head covering or not covering your head at all, you may feel that people are looking at your head and focusing on your hair loss. If you’re new to covering your head and feel nervous about it, you can take it one step at a time, for example by wearing your wig or scarf around the house, then leaving the house perhaps for a short journey with a close friend or family member, and gradually going out in it more as you feel more confident. The charity Look Good Feel Better runs workshops and has online tutorials on skincare, make-up and other ways to manage your appearance during cancer treatment.

If you have any tips on wigs and scarves that other members might find helpful, or would like to share your experience of using head coverings, please leave a comment.

Below are some useful websites if you would like to read more about this:

Macmillan Cancer Support

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Hair Care

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