Wigs

One practical way of coping with hair loss is to wear a wig or hairpiece. There are many different styles and colours available.

There are two main types of wig:

  • Human-hair wigs – these are not usually available on the NHS and can be expensive.
  • Synthetic wigs – these are cheaper than human-hair wigs and are available on the NHS.

Things to consider when choosing a wig:

  • Get a wig fitted before you lose your hair, so you can get used to it.
  • Match the volume and colour of your hair.
  • You may want to try a different style to your current one.

There are different options for paying for your wig:

  • Synthetic wigs are free on prescription for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • In England, you can qualify for a free NHS wig if you meet certain criteria.
  • You may be able to get a grant to help pay for a wig.

You may want to buy a wig privately. You should not have to pay VAT on your wig if your hair loss is caused by cancer treatment.

Types of wigs

Wigs can be synthetic or made of human hair.

Synthetic wigs

Wigs can be man-made (synthetic). The way these wigs are made has improved over the last few years.

  • These wigs are cheaper than real-hair wigs, and are light and easier to look after. They can cost anything from 50 to several hundred pounds. But they may be free on prescription. See our information below on paying for a wig.
  • The style is heat-sealed into the hair, so that they can be hand-washed with shampoo, left to dry overnight and are then ready to wear the next day. They can be combed or brushed through gently.
  • They usually last for around 4 to 8 months.
  • All wigs come with instructions on how to look after them and you should follow these carefully.

Human-hair wigs

These wigs may be made from different hair types, which are often bleached and then dyed.

  • Human-hair wigs can cost from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. They are not usually available on the NHS.
  • They may need regular cleaning and styling by a professional, which can be expensive.
  • Some human-hair wigs can be shampooed and styled at home on a specially-designed wig 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.

Due to the high demand for real hair, human hair can be mixed with synthetic hair. The synthetic hairs will stretch and frizz when a hairdryer or hair straighteners are used. Ask your hair supplier for more information about this.

Using your own hair

Many people wonder whether they can have their own hair cut off and made into a wig. This may only be possible if your natural hair is long and in good condition. Even if it is, you may not have enough hair to make a full wig. This is a specialised technique, so it will be expensive (around £2,500 or more) and will usually take at least 10 weeks to make.

I’ve got a few wigs: short, mid and longer length, and I enjoy wearing them. I view them as an advantage, as I can change my appearance when I like.

Gina


Choosing a wig

Staff at the hospital will advise you on where to go to choose a wig or suggest organisations for you to use. It is a good idea to take a family member or friend with you to help you choose.

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 sooner than expected, you will be prepared. It also gives you a chance to get used to the wig before you really need it.

If your hair has not fallen out yet, the wig may feel quite tight. Some wigs can adjust to any head size.

There is no pressure on you to choose a wig straight away. You can wait until you feel ready. If you have a hairdresser you trust, you may find it useful to speak to them first.

Wigs if you are black or from an ethnic minority group

You may need to contact a specialist wig supplier to find a suitable wig. There are companies that work with the NHS to do this. Speak to your cancer nurse or doctor for more information. You can also contact Cancer Black Care for support and advice.

Tips for choosing a wig to match your current style

  • Choose the same volume of hair as you had before. Too much hair can make it look obvious that you are 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 a 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. Changing to a lighter colour is usually less noticeable.
  • Try to get a wig that adjusts to any head size. As your hair falls out, you will need a smaller size.
  • If you have a good hairdresser, they could help you choose your wig or hairpiece. They can also cut and style it for you. Wig specialists may also be able to cut and style a wig when you have it fitted. It is best to choose a hairdresser who is specially trained to cut wigs.
  • Take someone with you who will give you an honest opinion on the wig.
  • If you have any questions about your wig or how to look after it, check with the wig fitter, manufacturer or your hairdresser.

Some people choose to try different looks. Wigs are available in various colours and styles, so you may want to experiment with a different look.

Watch our hair loss video playlist

In these videos, people with experience of cancer and hair loss share their stories. You can also watch tutorials on wigs, headwear and eye make up.

Watch our hair loss video playlist

In these videos, people with experience of cancer and hair loss share their stories. You can also watch tutorials on wigs, headwear and eye make up.


Wigs for people with hair loss

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. They can be natural-looking and comfortable to wear.

Choosing a wig before your hair falls out means you can match the style and colour to your own hair and get used to wearing it. This means you will also have a wig ready, in case your hair falls out sooner than you expected. There is less choice for men as it is difficult to make a men’s short-hair wig look natural around the hairline. Slightly longer hair styles can work better.

Benefits of wearing a wig

  • You look and feel more like yourself, which can make you feel more confident.
  • You are more in control of how you look and only need to tell people if you want to.
  • You can experiment with different colours and styles.
  • Some wigs need very little styling.

I got a prescription for an NHS wig. Unfortunately, there are not many suppliers for black and Asian patients. But the supplier I went to customised my wig.

Lurline


Fitting your wig

This can be an emotional time, as it may make losing your hair feel real for the first time. The wig specialists will understand your feelings and will do all they can to make you feel comfortable 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.


Paying for your wig

In the NHS and Health Service

Synthetic wigs are free on prescription for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are special arrangements for patients who are registered with GPs in Wales but have treatment in England

You can also qualify for a free NHS wig in England if:

  • you are under 16, or under 19 and in full-time education
  • you are a hospital inpatient
  • your weekly income is low
  • you claim any of the following benefits: 
    • Income Support 
    • the guarantee element of Pension Credit 
    • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance 
    • income-related Employment and Support Allowance 
    • Universal Credit
  • you have a valid NHS tax exemption certificate
  • you are named on a valid ‘help with health costs’ (HC2) certificate

If you are entitled to a free wig, you will need to tell the person who fits it that you can get it free of charge. You will need to show proof that you qualify, for example the letter showing which benefits you receive.

If you do not qualify for a free wig, you may be able to reclaim the value added tax (VAT) on these items.

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. This is available from your local Jobcentre or the staff at the hospital. You can also request a form by calling the NHS Help with health costs number on 0300 123 0849. 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. But local NHS organisations (individual hospitals) may set their own limits.

Human-hair wigs cannot be prescribed on the NHS, unless you are allergic to synthetic wigs or have a skin condition that may be made worse by a synthetic wig.

If you do not qualify for a free wig based on the conditions we mention here, some hospitals may still provide you with a free wig, or one at a discounted 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 to help pay for a wig. We give one-off grants to help 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.

Call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 to find out more about Macmillan Grants. You can also find out what other benefits you might be entitled to.


Children and young people

The Little Princess Trust is an organisation that offers free, human-hair wigs to children and young people up to the age of 24.


Wig banks

A charity called Wig Bank collects wigs that people no longer need, cleans them and sells them at a discounted rate. There are Wig Bank services available in different parts of the UK. Visit the WigBank website to find out more and shop online.


Buying a wig or hairpiece privately

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.

If you want to buy a wig or hairpiece privately, you can get them from the following places:

  • Wig sections in department stores. Remember that not all wig departments have a private area where you can try on a wig. You may want to check this before going to the store.
  • A wig manufacturer.
  • A specialist wig shop.

You should not have to pay VAT on wigs or hairpieces when your hair loss is caused by cancer treatment. But not all wig suppliers 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 give you when you buy the wig. The tax cannot be claimed back at a later date. For more information, contact HMRC on 0300 200 3700 or visit read more about VAT exemptions on the Gov.uk website

Back to Dealing with hair loss

Tips for wearing your wig

Lots of people worry about wearing a wig. There are ways to make sure the wig stays in place and to keep you comfortable.