Hair Loss:
Wigs and Headwears
Hair loss will usually begin gradually within two or three weeks of starting chemotherapy. For some people, it may be sooner and more sudden. Your scalp might feel tender as the hair thins and falls out.

The first signs that you are losing your hair may be finding hair on the pillow in the morning or extra hair in your hairbrush.

This can still be a shock and very distressing even when you’re prepared for it to happen. Wearing a soft hat or turban in bed to collect loose hairs might help.


Looking after your scalp if you experience hair loss is important as this area may feel tender and the skin may be sensitive.

If your scalp is dry, flaky or itchy you can use a small amount of unperfumed moisturizer or natural oils such as coconut or almond to help with this. Some people use aromatherapy oils, but it is best to consult a trained aromatherapist as the oils can be very strong.

If you are having radiotherapy to treat breast cancer that has spread to the brain, your treatment team may discuss what skincare products you can use on your scalp.

It’s important to protect your scalp from the sun. Cover your head when in the sun or use a high protection factor sun cream at all times, as the scalp is particularly sensitive.

We lose a lot of heat from our heads so cover your scalp in colder weather.

Continue to wash your scalp regularly. If you are wearing a wig, head scarf or hat, wash these regularly to keep them clean and avoid irritation to your scalp.

What to wear

Many people wear wigs, headscarves, hats or other headwear until their hair grows back. There are many different reasons such as keeping warm, for cultural or religious reasons, personal preference or concern about what other people might say.

Different people prefer to wear different things so choose what you feel comfortable with at the time. You may want to wear
a wig when going out or on special occasions, but feel more comfortable wearing a hat or headscarf around the house. Or you might prefer not to wear anything on your head.


Modern wigs are natural looking and comfortable. They can be made from real or synthetic hair or a mixture of both, and are available in many different colors and styles for both men and women.

Where Can Cancer Patients Get Wigs?

The first option for someone looking for a wig is to purchase one from a wig shop that offers the widest variety and choices.  Synthetic wigs are affordable and have come a long way in quality and style choices.  In fact, high-quality synthetic wigs are incredibly realistic; It is often difficult to tell the difference between a synthetic wig and real natural hair.  Because synthetic wigs are low maintenance and so easy to care for, we recommend them over human hair wigs for those going through chemo treatments.  Finding an online retailer can often save you up to 50% off of the prices of a brick-and-mortar wig shop.  Many insurance companies will assist with part or all of the expense of your wig purchase. Check with your insurance company and see if they offer this benefit.

While some patients are able to purchase a women's wig with help from insurance, or through their own financial means, other cancer patients need more support and look for free wigs. 

Free Wigs for Cancer Patients

The American Cancer Society is one great resource that provides free wigs for adult women who financially qualify and are suffering from hair loss due to cancer treatments. While many of the wigs offered are donated items, some local American Cancer Society chapters purchase their wigs through online stores.

The American Cancer Society is one of the most well-known cancer awareness organizations. They are volunteer and donation based, working to provide support to cancer patients, as well as to create awareness and support cancer research.

The American Cancer Society has offices and “Gift Closets” located throughout the United States. A “Gift Closet” is a location that is stocked by American Cancer Society donations with free cancer treatment-related supplies for patients in need. These locations facilitate the American Cancer Society's free wig program.

How to Get a Free American Cancer Society Wig

Each local ACS location differs slightly in how they handle their free wig program. For example, some locations require an appointment to be fitted for a free wig, while others will take walk-ins. You can search for this information on the American Cancer Society's website at under “Find Support Programs and Services in Your Area” and type in your zip code or city and state.

This search will yield contact information for your local program, where to go to receive your free wig, and what your local program's specific program requirements are. Some locations require patients to be in active treatment, while others will have limits as to how many wigs one person can acquire per calendar year. The selection of available wig colors and styles will vary by location, as they are dependent on what wig donations are received.

In some cases, even hair salons participate in the American Cancer Society's program. Certain hair salons nationwide will fit cancer patients for a wig, facilitate the recipient receiving their donated wig, as well as trim and style the wig. When searching for free wig locations in your area on the American Cancer Society's website, these salons will be listed.

You can find more information about all of the services that the American Cancer Society provides, including their free wig program, at or by calling 1-800-ACS-2345.
Your wig-fitting appointment

Many hospitals have an appliance officer or specialist wig fitter who can give you advice and fit you with a suitable wig. Ask your breast care nurse or chemotherapy nurse what’s available in your area.

Your hospital may have a limited range. If you cannot find a suitable wig at your hospital, your treatment team may be able to recommend another wig supplier in your local area.

If you’re paying for your wig yourself you may prefer to go to a hairdresser, department store or wig retailer. This is usually more expensive.

Being fitted with a wig can be a time when you have to face the reality of losing your hair, and it can be upsetting. Experienced wig specialists understand this and will do their best to make you feel at ease. Most wig fitters have a private room where you can be fitted and try on wigs, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask for one.

You may find it helpful to take a relative or friend with you for support and to help you choose. Some wig fitters may offer telephone or video appointments where they are able to offer a wig fitting service.

Choosing a wig style

Some people want to match their wig to their hair type, colour and style. It can be easier to do this by choosing one before your hair falls out. Some people decide to have a complete change.

If you haven’t yet lost your hair the wig should be quite tight when fitted so that it gives a good fit later on. This can be adjusted later if needed.

Wigs for black and ethnic minority groups

If your hospital wig fitting service or local wig supplier is unable to offer you a wig that matches your hair type and texture, you may need to find a specialist wig fitter. Your breast care nurse or treatment team may be able to offer information on what is in your area. 

Synthetic and real hair wigs

Synthetic wigs are light and easy to care for. They’re often pre-styled and can be washed and left to drip dry. They’re also cheaper than real hair wigs. The cost of a real hair wig will depend on the length and style you choose.

Wigs made from real hair can last longer but they need to be handled more carefully. They may need professional cleaning and restyling. If you’re not feeling well during treatment, you may find this more difficult.

The average costs:
• Synthetic wigs cost between £50 and £200
• Wigs made from real hair cost between £200 and £2,000

Getting your wig professionally styled

Wigs can be cut and styled to make them look more natural and feel more personal. The hair in some wigs is packed very densely, which can give them a slightly unnatural look. This can be thinned out by trained hair professionals to make the wig look like your own hair. It’s a good idea to check that your hairdresser or wig specialist has experience of cutting wigs. You can find a directory of wig-cutting salons in your area at

Tips on wearing a wig

- Your wig should fit snugly and shouldn’t move around your head
- If you’re worried about it falling off, secure it with hypoallergenic double-sided tape (available from wig suppliers)
- If it feels hot and itchy, you can wear a thin cotton lining or skullcap under your wig
- Avoid excessive heat or steam if you have a synthetic wig as it can damage the wig
- Don’t get too close to flames as this can melt synthetic hair or damage real hair

If you have an ‘off-the-shelf’ wig and wear it every day it will last about three to four months. After that, the elastic gets looser and this affects the fit, although it may be possible to replace the elastic.

Donating your wig

Once you no longer need your wig you may consider donating it.

Donations of new wigs with tags attached are accepted by many American Cancer Society offices in order to help provide free wigs to women who are experiencing hair loss and may not be able to afford a wig. These donations help keep their free wig program up and running. If you are looking to donate a new wig, you can call 1-800-ACS-2345 to find a local office that will accept your donation.


Some people choose not to wear a wig. Some women prefer to wear hats or scarves instead of wigs. 

Whether or not you wear a wig, there may be times when you want to cover your head. Hats, headscarves, and turbans can be found in a wide variety of styles and colors and can help you feel more confident about the way you look. They can also keep you warm in winter and protect your head from the sun in summer.

Specialty hats and scarves are designed for women with hair loss and not only fashionable, more comfortable and beautiful but they can also be a cost-effective solution or compliment to a wig. Many women find them much cooler and easier to work with as well.

For tips on how to select the right wig, this wig buying guide contains a wealth of information.
Headscarves and Bandanas
Headscarves and bandanas (a triangular or square piece of cloth) can be worn in many different ways to create a variety of looks. Choose different colors, patterns and textures to suit your mood and coordinate your headwear with your outfit.

The most comfortable headscarves are made from a natural fabric that is gentle on the scalp and allows it to breathe. Soft cotton is probably best, as satin and silk materials can slide off the head more easily.

For a basic headwrap, you will need a scarf at least 75cm x 75cm. For more elaborate styles it needs to be 100cm x 100cm.

To give more height and a better head shape you can:
• Scrunch or pleat the long edge of the headscarf
• Roll the edge of the headscarf around a 25cm long
foam tube (such as a finger bandage) before putting it
on your head
• Place a foam shoulder pad on the crown of your head
under the headscarf. You can attach it with double-sided tape available from wig shops

You may find it helps to twist one end at a time and secure it with a hairgrip, paperclip or elastic band while you twist the other one. You can vary this by twisting in the colored cord, beads or a contrasting headscarf to match what you’re wearing.

When looking for a hat, you may want to choose a style that can be pulled down to cover your hairline. As well as specialist hat shops and department stores, wig and headwear suppliers often stock suitable hats. You can also buy hats and caps with detachable hair pieces.


Cotton or jersey turbans are light, comfortable and easy to wash. They can be bought from online wig and headwear suppliers, or in some stores, pharmacies and hospital shops.


If you are experiencing hair thinning or have patches of hair loss, wearing a wide headband may cover the area that is thinning. Wide headbands can be bought online, in some department stores and from wig and headwear suppliers.


If you normally have a fringe, you may feel that you still don’t look right no matter what headwear you choose. Worn under a headscarf or hat, a fringe hairpiece on a Velcro band may work for you. Fringes can be trimmed and shaped and are available from wig suppliers.
You can also buy hairpieces that you can fix under the back of a hat. They give the appearance of hair and, like the fringes, can be styled to suit you.
Changing the emphasis

Some people feel more confident if attention is directed away from their hair and their head. There are a number of ways of doing this, such as with jewelry, makeup or clothing.
tlc (Tender Loving Care) is an American Cancer Society publication which offer products for women coping with breast cancer or any cancer treatment that causes hair loss as well as advice on how to use these products. Products include wigs, hairpieces, headwear, and mastectomy products.

The tlc mission is to help women facing cancer treatment cope with the appearance-related side effects of cancer by making these hard-to-find products affordable and readily available for purchase from the privacy of their own homes. To order products or catalogs call 1-800-850-9445, or visit tlc online at