I wrote this initially because as soon as I knew my hair would be falling out I started searching for advice for young people having chemotherapy and I couldn’t find anything out there so I decided to write this guide. These are things that worked for me. This is my guide for how to deal with your hair falling out on a budget and still being punk.
I am someone who has had an invisible illness for 10 years. I am used to being able to hide my symptoms and treatment from all but my good friends. I have also been sick for a long time and I know that I always feel happier when I am in control. Losing your hair makes you feel like you have lost control. I got some very good advice when I first got sick from my brother who had been ill for 15 years with the same thing. He gave me several pep talks, the basic gist of which were “look after yourself and damn what everybody else thinks, in general people are stupid and don’t let what they say or do upset you.”
This might sound quite a harsh assessment of the human population but I think probably everyone who has some sort of serious condition for a long enough needs to hear this every now and again to preserve their sanity. I think knowing this is quite freeing. It can be quite easy to get tangled up in worrying about how you come across as a sick person. I found this advice quite helpful in this latest phase of my illness. My doctors decided I should try having a bone marrow transplant to halt my Crohns disease. This involved having two rounds of Cyclophosphamide (chemotherapy) in a strong dose enough to make my hair fall out.
I have been waiting for about 2 years for this procedure so I had plenty of time to think about what would happen when my hair fell out. You would have thought I would have come up with a plan but I didn’t. I mainly hoarded hats and googled celebrities with short hair. Having such a long time to think about it meant I wasn’t upset when it started falling out. Everyone else was though which was the part I found difficult. Everyone was too upset to give me any practical advice. My mum particularly was horrified and very upset about my hair falling out. In hospital I am quite independent and I think doctors and nurses assumed I would know what to do but I didn’t.
And here comes my first piece of advice:
- Buy some £10 hair clippers with adjustable lengths before you have the chemotherapy
When my hair started falling out, I was in hospital and the nurses couldn’t find the hair clippers they kept on the ward. Luckily I had some scissors with me and a very good friend came to hospital and helped me cut my hair off. It looked quite bad, all different lengths. It would take me several weeks to come to conclusion that I should get some hair clippers and make it even myself. It looked much better evened out and I wished it had been like that from the start.
A week or so later, I was free to go home. I still had to have some more chemotherapy but that wasn’t for a couple of weeks. I remember walking out of the hospital and there was a gang of teenage girls sat on a bench and they went silent as I walked past them with no hair. I decided then that I wasn’t going to go out with no hair or hat. Unhelpfully it was the height of summer so wearing a woolly hat seemed like a bad option, when I had worn one in hospital everyone took the mickey out of me (why are you wearing a woolly hat in summer? etc). My mum wasn’t being very helpful at the time and she kept telling me how awful I looked when I tried to just wear a hat.
At this point I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I felt like I couldn’t leave the house because I had no way to go out in which I looked acceptable. In hindsight this an occasion where my brother advice should have come in: people are stupid don’t let what they say upset you. Hats on their own look totally fine! I was just hyper sensitive and I was taking everything people said too seriously.
A nurse told me about a wig shop in Brixton called Catwalk. I told my mum about it and I wanted to go in on the way home from the hospital. My mum is a bit of a maverick and she went in on her own and managed to come out with a black wig (my natural hair colour is blonde). I asked her to take it back.
On the way home from the hospital we went to Catwalk. I think this took quite a lot of bravery on my part as I had no hair at all but the shop assistant was unfazed. I tried lots of different ones and I ended up buying one’s that were not my natural colour. I bought four wigs. A blonde one, like my natural hair, two brightly coloured bobs and a long red one and I only spent £80. In hindsight this was a very smart move. I had tired looking for wig shops near where I live and they all seemed so formal and expensive. The cancer charities websites although are probably very well intentioned intimidated me. Lots of making appointments and travelling. I don’t have a car and the nearest one they suggested was an hour away and the wigs were over £100 each. In south London particularly there are hundreds of afro-Caribbean hair shops which sell wigs. They are mostly really cheap, the styles are up to date and don’t need cutting. They are better quality than fancy dress wigs but not intimidating so.
This leads me to my next pieces of advice:
- Afro-carribean hair shops are your friend
I like Catwalk because of the staff. They are slightly indifferent which I like (I am British I don’t like being helped). Try not to be intimidated by trying things on and trust your instincts. If you don’t like the wig then you probably won’t wear it so don’t get talked into anything by the shop assistant. The blonde one I bought was a bit cheap looking round the hairline so I always wore it with a hat which worked quite well. Think about how you might style your wig if that helps you choose.
- Synthetic is your cheapest option.
Synthetic hair suited me really well for the time period I have been wearing wigs. I liked that synthetic were cheap so I could have lots of different ones rather than one expensive one. That is just my preference. I have heard human hair wigs can be very expensive and they get tangled more easily. I have never worn or owned a human hair wig so I can’t say how they compare. Most synthetic wigs melt or frizz if you get them hot so that is also something to bear in mind. What type of “cap” style you choose is also important. You can buy wigs called “lace fronts”. The hair at the front is sewn into lace which is cut to suit the wearer. They are more expensive than your standard wig cap, I have never been able to afford one so I have never had one. I don’t think it is necessary to buy a lace front unless you can afford it. I usually buy wigs with fringes which hide the hair line. If you want to know more about different caps, WigginoutBZ has a good youtube tutorial explaining it all here:
- Get and wear a wig cap (or a few)
Wig caps are little pieces of stocking for your head essentially. If you have no hair at all they make wearing a wig 100 times more comfortable.
- Buy a wig brush and wig shampoo .
Don’t stress out too much if you don’t have these, they aren’t essential, but if you are in a wig shop you might as well get them as they are cheap in these shops and expensive to buy outside of London. I used an ordinary brush on my wigs until recently and I used normal shampoo and fabric softener to wash them with no ill effects.
- Wash your synthetic wigs!
I was too scared to wash mine for several weeks and they smelt weird from the shop. When I first washed them it was a revelation! It is actually really easy. You can use ordinary shampoo and fabric softener if you haven’t got any wig shampoo. Only ever use cold water. Fill a sink full of cold water with 2 table spoons of shampoo mixed in. Give the wig a good brush when it is dry to get rid of knots. After you have done this submerge the wig in the water. Don’t scrunch up the hair just gently pat the wig in the water. Leave for a few minutes then gently remove the wig and empty the sink. Rinse the wig under the cold tap. I then repeat this with another sink of cold water with shampoo and then again with fabric softener. Give it a good rinse in cold water. To dry it, wrap the wig in the towel and pat the excess water off then hang the wig away from the heat. Never put it a synthetic wig on a radiator and never brush it when it is wet. Mine only takes a few hours to dry and then you can brush it again.
If you need more advice, there are some great videos on YouTube giving more instructions.
When I got home I spent some time trying on the wigs with different outfits. I decided I actually looked “hotter than I normal” which was really heartening. The blonde wig especially made me look very done up, like a contestant of Take Me Out. It took me a few goes to be comfortable wearing them out. The first time I forgot to wear a wig cap and I had left some plastic combs stitched inside the wig so it was really uncomfortable and I had to take it off. Que next piece of advice:
- Cut out the combs in your wig
No hair + plastic combs = Annoying
- Buying wigs online
I have bought about 5 online and I only ever worn one of them. I bought a few that were “cosplay wigs”, one from China and two from the UK from Ebay. I found the one from China was really bad quality (it was really cheap) and the others were too silly to wear out. I did find it almost impossible to choose a style well online. The only successful one I bought was from Annabel’s wigs. It was a cool colour and it was a bob shape so you can’t really go wrong.
- You don’t have to be precious about wigs
I kept all my wigs in a pile on a chest of drawers, sometimes they would end up on the floor. Just giving it a good brush before I put it on sorted it out. I wouldn’t say this is the BEST way to keep wigs but I think it shows that you don’t have to have a load of fancy wig stands or be too precious about them in the short term. I think a lot of the advice out there makes it seem like you have to be an expert to keep and wear wigs. Maybe in the long term it helps to know what you are doing but if you are only going to be wearing them for a few months then I think you can get away with a basic knowledge to get you through it.
- Dealing with comments.
This is where some of my brothers advice comes in handy. As long as you think you look cool, screw what everyone else thinks. All of my wigs were totally different so everyday practically I looked different. Mostly people wouldn’t realise it was a wig, even the brightly coloured ones. I started having trouble when I saw people I didn’t know well on different occasions and they then realised I was wearing one. Usually with the phrase “That’s a wig!”. I would just smile and nod. It’s no one’s business unless you want it to be so don’t feel obliged to explain yourself to people. If they ask you to take it off then, quite frankly, fuck them. (And to people who might feel like they would ask that, it is the equivalent of me asking you to take your trousers off so don’t do it. It is bad manners.)
- Have fun! Get Inspired!
Do you know that LOTS of celebrities wear wigs ALL THE TIME? Lady Gaga has a fine collection as does Beyonce. If you have never watched RuPaul’s drag race now is the time to watch it. Those men can put on a wig and make up and transform from a dumpy bloke into a goddess and if they can do it so can you. Or if popstars and drag queens don’t inspire you, what about cosplay? Ebay has hundreds of cosplay wigs. Why not go out looking like your favourite anime character for a few months?
Wearing a wig is actually fun. I think lots of people having had chemotherapy are missing out on quite a fun experience by being intimidated by wig-wearing. I have always enjoyed getting dressed up but recently I had kind of stopped. Wearing wigs re-ignited that fun-dress up side of my personality and I had quite a lot of fun wearing the wigs in different ways.
Remember, everyone can see how strong and brave you are no matter what you wear or however you look but you might as well have some fun with it if you can.