Wig Tips: Must Know Info for Buying and Wearing a Wig

Hair maestro Martino Cartier shares his advice for looking natural and feeling confident when wearing a wig.

Paige Herman-Axel has more than two decades of experience writing about beauty, skincare and wellness. A former editor for a variety of publications, Paige is now a freelance writer and consultant for skincare companies big and small, dermatologists and plastic surgeons, as well as a regular contributor to various websites. In the rare time spent away from her computer, Paige can be found on a tennis court, shuttling her 13-year-old son to and from basketball practice, or playing fetch with her Havanese, Nugget.

As if owning a 50-chair New Jersey mega-salon and creating an extensive line of hair care products and tools wasn’t enough, Martino Cartier is also the founder of Wigs & Wishes, a non-profit that provides more than 25,000 wigs every year to women who are battling cancer — and fulfills the wishes of children with cancer. 

Stage is thrilled to be partnering with Cartier and Wigs & Wishes not only to raise awareness for this philanthropic effort but also to help breast-cancer patients faced with chemotherapy-related hair loss find the ideal wig — and these wig tips will help you wear it with confidence.

Stage: A breast-cancer diagnosis, subsequent surgeries, ongoing treatment and a never-ending stream of doctors’ appointments are more than enough for a woman to deal with. Adding wig-shopping to the equation can be downright overwhelming. What are the basics to know to help make the process easier?

Martino Cartier: For hair that looks great 24/7, you need a synthetic, heat-friendly wig. When you love the way it looks after being styled, it will stay beautiful even on a humid day or if you get caught in a drizzle. Once it air-dries, it goes right back to looking the way it did when you got it. I do not recommend human-hair wigs for most clients because even if you spend $5,000, $6,000 or even $10,000 they are a lot of work — and when you’re going through chemo you don’t want hair that requires a lot of effort. 

The key to a good wig that doesn’t look like a wig is a lace cap — which makes it see-through. Just like yellow and blue will always make green, a lace-front wig will always look real. Lace construction also allows you to take your glasses on and off or tuck your hair behind your ears while keeping the hairline undetectable. Another advantage of a lace cap is that it lets your natural scalp color show through. Lace also eliminates the need to wear a wig cap, which makes wigs much cooler and much lighter in weight. 

Just like yellow and blue will always make green, a lace-front wig will always look real.

Stage: What is your advice for the woman who is preparing for chemotherapy?

MC: Nine times out of ten, women who come to me say their oncologist, nurse, friend or family member said, “Cut your hair short before you lose it. It will be less traumatic.” This is as false as a $3 bill. Many women want to keep their cancer diagnosis under wraps — and a great wig can help. You may not want your co-workers to know. If you’re a teacher, for example, you may not want your students to know.

After doing this every day for more than a decade, my advice is: Don't wait until your hair starts to fall out. Once you know that chemotherapy is going to be part of your journey, find a wig that looks exactly how you want to look on a good hair day and have it ready to go. Then, shave your head before hair loss becomes noticeable to yourself and those around you. There is something empowering about deciding when you lose your hair — and not leaving it up to the cancer or chemo. 

Stage: What are your best tips for caring for a wig?

M.C.: I tell my wig clients, “Wear it all the time!” But when you do take it off, place it on something that prevents it from being squished. I can’t tell you how many women walk in with a wig in a bag or a box, or rolled up into a ball. If you hang it up when you’re not wearing it, it will always look great. If you take it off and throw it on the floor, it’s going to get wrinkles and never look good again.

I don’t like head forms because they can stretch the wig. I much rather something that allows the wig to breathe, such as the Gabor wig stand or even just a vase.

Brush it a lot, and don’t baby it when you brush it! If you brush through it like you’re angry, it will always look brand-new. In terms of washing, soak it in cold water — there’s no need to scrub or aggressively wash it. Then rinse and brush it with a wet brush. Allow it to air-dry on your stand — or you can even use a broom handle and put the part where your face would be against the wall. Once it’s thoroughly dry, brush it and you have a brand-new wig again.

Stage: What are your best tips for styling a wig?

M.C.: Even if a wig is heat-friendly, you have to think about what’s actually happening when you curl it. To do this, imagine that the hair is a plastic index card, and how it would bend if you held it over a candle. Once you take it away from the candle and give it a chance to cool, it has a new shape. If you don’t know how to curl your hair and achieve the look you’re after, leave the styling to a professional. However, flat-ironing is very simple — just make sure you don’t go any higher than 350°. Regardless of how you style your synthetic wig, it will stay that way until you apply heat to it again.

Stage: What are your tips for optimal fit and security?

M.C.: If your wig is popping off your head, it’s too tight. A properly-fitted wig with small silicone strips that stick to the skin eliminates the need to wear anything underneath. 

When your hair begins to grow back, a wig may not stay in place as well. But this is part of the process and at this point, most patients are beyond happy that they are cancer-free. If you want to keep sporting your wig, you can try wearing a stocking cap underneath. However, you just might want to go through the process as hair grows back, and the average rate is a half-inch per month. Once our clients’ hair begins to grow back, we trim around the ears and at the nape of the neck until the rest catches up. From there, many women are ready to rock a cool, short cut since they are proud to be cancer-free. It’s all part of the journey.

Stage: How did Wigs & Wishes come to be, and what is the mission?

M.C.: I started Wigs & Wishes in 2011 to provide wigs and grant wishes to those who are battling cancer. To do this, I created a network of salons, stylists and global corporate sponsorships that allow us to provide complimentary services and give cancer patients a moment to forget about their fight. Our partnership with Hair U Wear allows us to provide women who are battling cancer with wigs at no cost.

Stage: Why are you excited about this partnership with Stage?

M.C.: I’m excited to introduce Wigs & Wishes to women who might not be familiar with the help we’re able to offer. With this partnership, I hope to further our mission to help women get their dignity back, and be able to walk around without anyone knowing they have cancer unless they choose to tell them. 

Just like yellow and blue will always make green, a lace-front wig will always look real.

- Martino Cartier


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