Makeup & Beauty

Are Wigs Really Low-Maintenance, or Are We Pretending They Are?

Disruptions in the supply chain caused by the pandemic have made it increasingly difficult for some people to get their hands on wigs — and made them more expensive than ever. “a square foot of sturdy lace can now top $120 a square foot, up about 20 percent,” The New York Times reported in September of last year. Wig suppliers are still battling price surges for components like lace and raw hair, which affect the price of the wig once it hits shelves. 

There is also the issue of what wigs can actually do to your hair if you’re not dutiful about proper maintenance. Take, for example, wig glue, which many people use to make sure their unit is secure. Using glue so close to your hairline “can lead to breakage, and may cause allergic contact dermatitis (rash),” notes Boston and Canton, Massachusetts-based board-certified dermatologist Uchenna Okereke, M.D., FAAD. 

The Wig Risk

Part of proper wig maintenance also includes taking care of your hair underneath, which some folks neglect because, well, it’s under the wig — out of sight, out of mind. “While the use of a wig allows you to have a break from daily manipulation, it does not remove the need to wash your hair regularly,” Dr. Okereke continues. She suggests shampooing your natural hair at minimum every two weeks. Going longer than that between washes can cause all that dirt and oil to accumulate, and may make it harder for your own hair to keep growing underneath. “You may [also] precipitate scalp acne by allowing too much buildup on the scalp,” Dr. Okereke says.

You also need to care for the unit itself. “You can have a wig last over 10 years with the proper maintenance,” says hairstylist and wigologist Daniel Koye. “I still have wigs that I have made and used 14 years ago.” But that, of course, means you have to treat your wig delicately. “When you want to wash your wigs, you can throw it in a tub, [wash], condition, and call it a day.” It sounds easy! But then that means you have several heads of hair to wash. As for me and my house, we will just deal with the one.

Another risk? The all-too-familiar specter of traction alopecia. Amy McMichael, M.D., a Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based board-certified dermatologist, explains the risks of developing the condition in this way. “One thing that can occur is that the edges of the hairline can rub on the inside of the wig, and this can cause traction alopecia,” she says, echoing Okereke’s warning about wig glue. Perspiration from your scalp may also exacerbate issues like dandruff, says Dr. McMichael. “Glue from lace-front wigs can pull the hair and cause traction alopecia as well.” Not only that, but wigs can also contribute to hair breakage if you wear them without a wig cap.

So, Why Are We Bothering With All This Effort?

Between the technique it takes to properly lay a lace-front wig, the rising cost, and the damage that may occur if you’re lax with upkeep (and sometimes, even if you’re not) — yeah, it’s no wonder, at least to me, that folks are feeling as if they’re better off simply attaching a ponytail or getting braids. (Though, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that snatching your ponytail or braids too tightly can also cause some of the issues that both Dr. McMichael and Dr. Okereke mention above.) 

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