(**UPDATED, March 2012**)
If you’re here from a search engine of some kind, welcome. I’m going to show how to de-frizz a synthetic wig. And of course, I’m going to be long-winded while I do it, because these typing fingers just can’t be stopped!
As you know, if you happen to read my blog, I wear wigs because I have a disease that made me lose all my hair. When I first lost my hair in 2002 (all of it in a two-day period, yeah ask me if I was freaking out), my only immediate option for a hair prosthetic was an ill-fitting, unflattering wig that I bought at a local hairdresser’s. I bought it because I was desperate (I had to get back to work! and I wasn’t going to go to work bald!) and wore it because I didn’t know there was anything better out there. After some time I discovered a wonderful salon/wig store, and started wearing more flattering wigs. Then we moved back to PEI. There are no wig stores here. I wasn’t really sure what to do when it was time for me to buy some new hair, so I just purchased a human hair wig from eBay.
There is a huge difference between human hair wigs and synthetic wigs. Human hair wigs are great, but they are very difficult to maintain, in my experience. You basically have all the same problems as you’d have with your own hair, only ten times worse; the hair tangles so easily, you have to style it every day, and after a few weeks (or months, if you’re lucky), it’s a mass of split ends. Because this hair doesn’t grow and you don’t get it trimmed on a regular basis, and because it doesn’t have the natural protection of oils from your scalp, you have to be extremely careful with it and replace your wig fairly often. That being said, the wigs I purchased on eBay were fairly cheap, costing approx. $200 each, so that might have magnified the problems I had with them. (**UPDATE** 2012: There are many sites out there now that sell human hair wigs – and human hair differs greatly in quality. You are not going to get a great quality human hair wig for a super-low price. At the very minimum, you need to look for Remy hair if you want a wig that tangles less).
I am hoping to one day purchase a lace wig, which is made with extremely high-quality human hair and as you can see through photos on this site, looks very natural. However with a price tag of up to and above $1000, depending on the length and quality of the hair, and with no hairdressers where I live who are experienced in the application of these wigs, I’m not quite ready to take one on. (**UPDATE 2012** – I now own three synthetic lace front wigs. I have learned to apply them myself. I haven’t moved in to the human-hair lace wig yet, but there are websites out there that will either sell you a “stock” (pre-made) lace wig or custom make one for you. Many of these custom wigs are in the $200 – $300 range (depending on hair length) and will last several months of daily wear if cared for correctly)
In November of 2007, after 2 years of wearing only human-hair wigs, and after having gone back and forth on the subject (mostly inside my own head, I’ve gotta say), I ordered a new synthetic wig from wigs.com. I went with a brand that I’m familiar with. It took over a month for the wig to actually arrive at our place because it was on back-order, but when it got here, I was very happy with it.
Now, I like synthetic wigs. Dolly Parton and I are on the same wavelength: there’s nothing a bit of fake hair can’t fix, in our humble opinion. Synthetic wigs are fairly easy to care for- take your wig, put it on your head, and it’s ready. The style is “locked in”, so you don’t have to mess with it for very long each morning. Every two or three weeks (unless you’re particularly sweaty – I usually go a month to six weeks between washings and you are all grossed out now aren’t you?), you comb it out, wash it, let it dry, shake it, and it’s ready to go. They’re not super-versatile; for example unless you make sure to purchase a wig with a monofilament top you’re basically stuck with the same part in your hair FOREVER. But they’re good, and if you buy a high-quality one, the manufacturers say they will last for anywhere from three to six months of everyday wear. In fact, I have made a wig last over a year in the past. Of course, if you’re only wearing your wig every now and then (and you’re not storing it somewhere where it will get all dusty or tangled), it will last much longer.
There are a few issues with synthetic wigs: you can’t dye or perm them, because the hair fiber is made with what amounts to plastic or polyester. However, you can pretty much buy a wig in any colour (even with highlights!) and style you like. Also, because of what they’re made with, you have to be very careful around heat. Opening the oven, being too close to a candle or cigarette, even being in a too-warm room, can cause the wig fibers to melt or frizz, I’ve been told over and over and over again. One of the first things drummed into your head when you purchase a synthetic wig is that you must ABSOLUTELY NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES expose the hair to heat or it will melt. You must wash the wig in cold water, with specially formulated wig-care products (which can also cost quite a bit more than your regular store-brand shampoos and conditioners, but are better for your wig than regular store-brand shampoos/conditioners), and make sure to use a special comb or wig brush to remove tangles. (***UPDATE 2012*** Many wigs are now being made with “heat safe” synthetic fibre – check the tag – that are not only safe around ovens, but can also be styled using hot tools. Wig-washing doesn’t necessarily have to be done with specially-formulated wig shampoos; some people use Woolite and fabric softener and it works just as well. It depends on what you’re most comfortable with. I have used dishwashing detergent in a pinch – not ideal, but it worked. Also I don’t use freezing-cold water anymore… hand-warm water seems to work better for me).
Another problem (and this is the one we’re dealing with today) is that if you are wearing a wig that is collar length or longer, well, it rubs against your collar, which tangles the wig ends. I’ve found that wearing a wig during the winter, when, because I live in the Frozen North, heavy coats and scarves are a necessity, tends to speed up the process . After a week or so of this, the ends of my wig were starting to look like a matted mess. I couldn’t run my fingers through the hair anymore, and I was starting to wonder if my over-$300 investment was going to be fit for the trash after less than a month of wear.
Here’s what the ends looked like this morning, after I had combed it :
Rapunzelesque, it was not.
I searched all over the Internet for ways to de-frizz a synthetic wig. I also wrote to wigs.com, where I purchased the wig, asking them what I should do in this case. The Internet yielded the recommendation to dip my wig in boiling water, then stretch each strand of hair individually. Alternately, I could send the wig to a professional for re-conditioning.
No way am I dunking my wig in boiling water, and no way am I sending it off somewhere because I’d be stuck with nothing on my head for who knows how long. Plus I’m cheap and wig reconditioning can cost a pretty penny — almost as much as buying the wig in the first place. I didn’t get any better results via my email to wigs.com– they told me I could take my wig to the hairdresser and have him trim the ends off (the problem is, they’d have had to trim off about four inches in order to get rid of all the frizz. Then I’d have short hair, which is not what I paid for), and OF COURSE, I should buy another wig from them, because wigs only last 2-3 months (no mention that I’d had this one less than one month).
So. I thought and I thought and I thought. Yes, dunking the wig in hot water would possibly wreck it… but what if I used heat in a more controlled manner? I decided that I would just take a chance and try using heat to straighten the frizzed wig fibers, sort of like ironing trousers, if you wore trousers on your head and wanted people to think that the trousers were part of your body.
Trousers-head! Imagine it! Your mind is now blown, isn’t it?
I gathered up my supplies:
- a bunch of hair clips to keep the “done” hair separated from the “not done yet” hair.
- a spray bottle (fine mist) of water
- my leave-in conditioner
- my wig brush, which has very short, stiff, close-together bristles
- my curling iron (HORROR! I KNOW!) ( you can also use a flat-iron, but I don’t own one, so the curling iron it is)
I was very nervous about this. I mean, I might ruin my wig! EVERYONE KNOWS TO KEEP HEAT AWAY FROM YOUR SYNTHETIC WIG! On the other hand, it was looking pretty bad and I wouldn’t be wearing it much longer anyway if it kept deteriorating this way, so I might as well just bite the bullet and go ahead.
First things first. I took my curling iron and turned it to the lowest setting (I like my curling iron. It goes from heat level 1 to heat level 35. Level 1 is still pretty hot to the touch, I mean I wouldn’t want it in my mouth or anything– not that I generally fellate curling irons– but I would assume that it’s nowhere near level 35. I’ve never turned it up to level 35. If anyone has, let me know what THAT’S like for you).
Next, I took a small section of hair, from way underneath in the back so that if I did ruin it it wouldn’t be too noticeable, and brushed through it to remove any tangles. It didn’t look very good after that. See that frizz? DO YOU SEE IT? I didn’t want to be walking around all day with that on my head!
I sprayed the hair with a bit of water, and a spritz or two of leave-in conditioner, and combed that through.
And then I said the entire Rosary nineteen times, and picked up my curling iron.
I used the curling iron as sort of a flat-iron — the only difference being that I pulled the hair through rather quickly, and used the iron to restore the original curl/wave to the hair.
Then, while the hair was still warm, I used the brush to brush through and smooth out as much of the leftover frizz as I could. I held the hair close to where it was attached to the wig cap, which ensured that I was pulling on the hair pretty firmly.
And lo and behold, it worked pretty well!
Then I left the hair to cool and such all on its own.
My wig isn’t back to absolutely brand-spanking-new, but it’s SO MUCH better than it was when I started. I’m very happy with it and hopefully if anyone else out there is dealing with a wig that’s on its way out, they will find this post and at least be able to try something and see if this works. All in all it took me about an hour to do the entire wig. Make sure you do a little test swatch somewhere inconspicuous before going whole hog. Also, you’re not allowed to sue me if it doesn’t work. I’m not a wig technician or other fake-hair professional; I’m just a bald chick who doesn’t like wasting money.
And, of course, please comment or contact me if you find this useful at all
December 2011: A friend has started a website with photos of real wigs on real people. If you get confused by the photos on the wig websites (I do too – you have to remember that those wigs are often cut and styled before being photographed), this is the place for you.
EDIT December 2008: I have had so many positive comments and emails about this post. I’m so happy that it’s working for you – anything to make that investment last just that much longer. I have had the following question pop up a few times:
“My wig is a curly wig – the bottom is all tangled, will this work for it?”
Again – I’m not a professional. This post was just about my experience. I’ve never owned a curly wig, so I don’t know for sure if this would work, but I wanted to know (when I had hair, it was naturally curly, so I’ve been thinking it might be fun to have a curly wig sometime).
I put this question to some Internet Friends and here is what was suggested: Go through the same process as above, only when the hair is still warm, put curlers in it. When it cools, it should retain that curl. Another suggestion was to use a steamer (like a clothing steamer) on the wig, followed by curlers. Or to put curlers in the hair and then use the steamer on it. Please note that I have never tried either of these, so I can’t be 100% sure how well it would work, but it sounds like a plausible theory.
If you are new to wigs, I would highly recommend joining a site such as wigsupport.com – you will find so much support and helpful information there!
March 2009: Since writing this article, I have also used this method on a Revlon wig and a cheap costume-store wig. It worked equally as well on both of them.
I recently got the following email:
I loved your blog on how to de-frizz a wig. I found it though an engine search
and you answered my question to a tee. Then I realised that my hair
straightener is actually american made and if I plug it in at home I’ll blow it
up. (I live in Australia but work on an American ship, hence the voltage issue.)
So, I’m just wondering if you think I could get the same sort of outcome by
using an iron on a low setting?
I wrote back:
Hi Jayne! I’m absolutely not an expert on this, I just posted about what worked for me – but I think it could work with an iron. It might be a bit awkward, because the iron’s so much bigger than a curling iron or hair straightener. In fact the steam from the iron might make it even better. All I can say is give it a try on a test swatch, and let me know how it works for you!
Louise you are a dead set legend!! I have just spent the last 3-4 hours ironing my 2 wigs (most ironing I?ve done in years I might add) and now have 2 glossy, totally unfrizzy, sensational wigs! Yay. Unfortunately one is supposed to be a bit curly lol, but I don?t care, it looks amazing and I can always curl it a little when I get back to 110volts on the ship. )
So if anyone asks you about irons again, yes it can be done. I started at the minimum heat and just got a bit hotter until it seemed right. Ended up being the notch above the synthetic setting. I also turned off the steam. At that temp the water just ran out of the iron and dampened everything thing, which was not helpful at all.
Thanks to Jayne for her permission to post her emails!
If you’ve tried something that’s worked for you, I’d love to hear about it! Just hit that “contact me” button at the top of the page.