Wigs and hairpieces
One practical way of coping with hair loss is to wear a wig or hairpiece. There are many different styles and colours to choose from, and they are very natural-looking and comfortable to wear.
There is a limited choice of styles for men, so it can be more difficult to find suitable wigs or hairpieces.
Wigs can be made of human or synthetic hair (acrylic).
These may be made from different hair types such as European hair, or Asian hair which is normally bleached and then dyed to European colours. European hair wigs can cost from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds and are not usually available on the NHS. They often look more natural and last longer than synthetic wigs.
Some human hair wigs need regular dry cleaning, setting and blow-drying by a professional, which can be expensive. Other wigs, including some European hair wigs, can be shampooed and styled at home on a specially designed wig head block - your wig maker can advise you about this. It can help to have two wigs so that you can wear one while the other is being cleaned.
Synthetic (acrylic) wigs
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The plus side is that wigs look amazing. No more standing with the hairdryer and straighteners. Scarves can be jazzed up with all manner of things. I was actually so used to not having hair, now it's back I realise what a chore it is.
These are cheaper than real hair wigs, and are light and easier to look after. They can cost anything from fifty to several hundred pounds, but may be free on the NHS.
The style is heat-sealed into the hair so that they can be hand-washed with shampoo, left to drip-dry overnight and are then ready to wear. They can be combed or brushed through gently.
They usually last for around 6-9 months. Hair spray can be used if necessary, but try to avoid using too much as this can make the hair look dull and less natural. All wigs come with instructions on how to look after them and you should follow these carefully.
The nurses on the ward can arrange for a wig fitter to visit you and help you choose a style and colour that suits you. It’s always a good idea to take a relative or friend with you to help you make the decision.
Some people like to choose their wig before their hair falls out so they can match the style and colour to their own hair. The advantage of this is that if you lose your hair more quickly than expected, you will already be prepared. It also gives you a chance to get used to the wig before you really need it.
Before I lost my hair I decided to wear my wig just to get used to wearing it and it was a really good thing that I did because I didn't feel like somebody wearing a wig, I felt like somebody having fun.
If your hair hasn't fallen out yet, the wig should be quite tight so that it gives a good fit later on. Some wigs adjust to any head size.
There is no pressure on you to choose a wig immediately and you can always leave the decision until you feel ready. If you have a hairdresser you trust, you may find it useful to speak to them first.
Most hospitals will supply wigs to people having treatment as outpatients, but this doesn't happen in all hospitals. If they don’t supply a wig they should be able to tell you how to get one fitted.
If you don’t want the wig or hairpiece to change the way you look:
Choose the same volume of hair as you had before. Too much hair can make it look obvious that you’re wearing a wig. If in doubt, choose a wig with slightly less hair than you had before. Remember that the wig can be cut and styled by your hairdresser or the wig consultant.
Choose your own colour or one shade lighter. If the hair is darker than your natural colour, it can look strange to your family and friends, and draws attention to the change. Generally, a change to a lighter colour will be less noticeable.
Remember when choosing a wig or hairpiece that, as your hair falls out, you will need a smaller size. Try to get a wig that adjusts to any head size.
If you have a good hairdresser, they could help you choose your wig or hairpiece and, if necessary, cut and restyle it.
If you have any questions about your wig or how to look after it, check with the wig fitter, manufacturer or your hairdresser.
Another approach is to treat this as a chance to try a completely different style or colour, to have a little fun and to surprise your family, friends and colleagues. Wigs are available in various colours and styles if you fancy being adventurous.
This can be an emotional time as you're forced to face up to the reality of losing your hair. The wig specialists will understand your feelings and will do all they can to make you feel comfortable and at ease during your fitting.
If all your hair has fallen out and the wig is slipping, you can get sticky pads to hold it in place. Some pads are hypoallergenic, which means they are less likely to cause a skin reaction. These can be helpful if your skin is sensitive due to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
In the NHS and Health Service
NHS wigs are free for people in Wales and Scotland. Health Service wigs are free for people in Northern Ireland. In England, you are entitled to a free, acrylic wig on the NHS if you're having, or have had, cancer treatment and you are:
an inpatient in hospital when the wig is supplied
included in an award of: Income Support; the guarantee element of Pension Credit; income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; or are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax exemption certificate
named on an HC2 certificate
under 16 or between 16-19 and in full-time education.
If you are named on a valid HC3 certificate, you may get partial help towards the cost of a wig.
Applying for an NHS wig
To apply for a free wig or partial help towards the cost of a wig, you will need to complete an HC1 form, which is available from your local Jobcentre or the staff at the hospital. You can also request a form by phoning the Health Cost advice line on 0845 850 1166. Your income will be assessed, and if you are entitled to help, you will either be sent an HC2 full help certificate or HC3 partial help certificate.
There are no nationally set limits on the number of wigs a person can have from the NHS. However, local NHS organisations (individual hospitals) may set their own limits. Human hair wigs cannot be prescribed on the NHS unless you are allergic to acrylic wigs or have a skin condition that may be made worse by an acrylic wig.
If you don't qualify for a free wig based on the conditions mentioned here, some hospitals may still provide you with a free wig, or one at a subsidised price. Speak to your healthcare team for more information.
Other financial help
You may be able to apply for grants and benefits from other organisations or charities. We give one-off grants to people with cancer that can be used towards the cost of a wig. You need to apply through a health or social care professional, such as a district nurse, social worker or a Macmillan nurse if you have one.
You can speak to our cancer support specialists to find out more about Macmillan grants, and find out what other benefits you might be entitled to.
Buying a wig or hairpiece privately
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Some people can afford to buy a wig privately. It may then be possible to get one that looks more natural, and it may also suit their hairstyle and texture better.
The wigs on offer on the NHS weren’t right for my ethnicity so I bought my own. I’ve got a collection: short, mid and longer length, and I really enjoy wearing them. I view them as an advantage as I can change my appearance when I like.
If you want to buy a wig or hairpiece privately, you can get them from:
wig departments in department stores, but remember that not all wig departments have a private area where you can try a wig on, so you may want to check this out first
a wig manufacturer
a specialist wig shop.
You shouldn’t have to pay VAT (Value Added Tax) on wigs or hairpieces when your hair loss is caused by cancer treatment. However, not all wig suppliers will offer this service, so check before you buy from them. If they do offer the service, you will need to fill in a VAT exemption form, which the shop should provide at the time you buy the wig. The tax cannot be claimed back at a later date. For more information, contact HM Revenue & Customs.