A Guide to Wigs as a Protective Style

Looking to shield your hair from the elements this Autumn and Winter? Aiming to hit some length retention goals in the coming months? Then it’s time to get your protective style on!

I’ve tried out a fair few protective styles since going natural: box braids, Marley twists, Senegalese twists, halo braids, buns and all the rest. Long-term extension styles, I’ve realised, aren’t for me; they take aaaaages to install and I end up taking them out early because I want to see my curls again! Short-term styles, like braids and buns which are worn for a week and re-done every wash day, suit me much better: they’re quick and easy to do, cheaper, and can be taken out whenever I want to give my edges and scalp a break, or when I simply miss my curls.

However, there is one downside: having my hair pulled back and tucked away looks kind of boring. So I’ve been searching for a way to jazz things up a bit, and I’ve found it: wigs!

When done properly, wigs can be the best protective style you’ve ever worn. Your hair will be safe and sound beneath a wig cap or scarf, while on top you wear your dream hair. You can change things up whenever you feel like it, and they cost no more than a box braid installation, but last much longer and are more versatile!

But it can be tough to know where to start if you’re a wig newbie… so here are my top tips:

Finding the Perfect Wig

If you don’t know anything about wigs, then you have no idea what to look for—so here’s a quick list.

  1. What quality is the hair?

Figure out what quality of hair is offered by certain manufacturers. Is it human hair? This can looks more realistic, and can be dyed and heat styled like regular hair. However, it can also be a lot more expensive than synthetic hair, and some textures or types of hair take a lot of effort to care for.

Synthetic hair is often less expensive, but can still be as realistic looking. Some types of synthetic hair can be heat styled at lower temperatures—generally, this is the type you want to look out for, as it offers more versatility.

Various different textures of hair, both real and synthetic, are out there. For example, ‘silky’, which is shiny and smooth with high lustre, ‘yaki’ which has the appearance of straightened natural hair, ‘kinky straight’, which is… well, what it sounds like, kinky hair styled styled straight–it can revert, too. Hair comes in various curl patterns, also. I personally like straight wigs, as they offer a big change from my natural look without the damage. However, I’m currently lusting after a long, curly-coily wig, too, for a more glamorous look.

2. How is the wig cap designed?
The hair on your wig will be attached to a sort of cap, which is what makes it a wig… but I’m guessing you already knew that!What you may not know is that there are various different cap constructions, some better than others. Many wigs have adjustable straps inside, which are great, as they allow you to fit the wig perfectly to your head. Many wigs also have combs or clips to attach the wig to your hair more securely: for example, Free Tress wigs all have a big comb at the back, at the nape of your hair, and three smaller combs around the front of the wig. Some people like these for added security, though I personally don’t use them. A wig without combs may still fit well if it’s the right size for your head, but you can also purchase combs separately and sew them in.You may have heard about ‘lace front’ wigs before. Lace front wigs are wigs where the front section of hair is sewn into a lace netting, the idea being that it creates a more realistic part. These wigs are usually very natural looking, and worth purchasing in my opinion. When new, they will have a strip of bare lace about an inch or two after the hairline at the front. You’ll need to carefully cut this lace away, but DO NOT CUT IT until you are happy with the wig, or you won’t be able to return it! There’ll be more on cutting the lace below.Wigs also come with various partings/closures. One of the key challenges of wearing a wig is having a natural-looking hairline and parting, and I’ll be offering more advice on that later in the list. However, a good rule is to purchase a wig with a parting that is in line with how you plan on parting your hair while it’s up. Some wigs are parted in just one direction, while other wigs can be parted three ways—central, to the right, and to the left.

The wig shown here is FreeTress Channing, which has a three-way part. I don’t like the wig itself–I’ve actually ruined it trying to make it look better, but that’s an entirely different story. I really like the way it’s constructed, though; it fits well thanks to the adjustable straps, and the combs are there if you need them.
The hairline looks good too; the only problem with this for me was the three-way part, which created a pretty unnatural-looking parting. However, my FreeTress Heaven wig has a fixed L-part, and is pretty much perfect.
3. What style do you want?
All of the above is important, but you also need your wig to look the way you want it to look!
You need a style that suits you.
Now if you’re wig shopping atyour local hair supply, that’s not really an issue; you can try the wigs on, bring a couple of friends for extra opinions, take some selfies, all of that good stuff.
If, however, you’re buying your wig online, as many people do, how are you going to know what suits you? I mean, the stock photos are… not good.
These are, allegedly, the same wig. Do not be deceived. This wig is not as horrifyingly bad as it might first appear.
So how do you get past this problem? As always, the internet is your friend. More specifically, Youtube! Hair and beauty bloggers have been posting wig reviews for a while now, so your wig search starts there. I recommend beginning with any of prettypcollins’s amazing reviews, or watching this great video by theheartsandcake90. From that point, I’m sure the wonderful rabbit hole that is the ‘suggested videos’ bar will carry you far and wide.
When watching reviews, try to go for women whose facial features, colouring, or both, are similar to yours. This will help you figure out what styles suit you best and what colours you can get away with! As a general rule, I like to stick to colours and textures that my hair has been in the past, because I already know that that style suits me.Once you know the manufacturer, model, and colour of wig you want, type it into a trusted site like Amazon or Ebay (I use Amazon!) to find a seller in your country. A lot of great wig manufacturers are North American, but they do sell overseas in the UK and other places. And there you have it—your wig is on its way!

Prepare Your Hair

No amount of good intentions will save you from a hair disaster if you don’t protective style properly. Always remember, the whole point of these styles is to protect your hair, not put it under more stress and strain!

To wear your wig, you need to braid your hair up as close to your head as possible. First, cleanse your hair and scalp, thoroughly detangle, and condition and deep condition your hair. You can check out my washday routine here.

When your hair is cleansed and conditioned, gently squeeze out the excess water with a t-shirt to avoid unnecessary frizz and breakage. Section your damp hair into either four or six parts, depending on the length and thickness of your hair: two at the front and two or four at the back.

Your front sections should be parted where the part in your wig will be; this helps your hairline blend better with the wig. The rest of the hair at the back can either be split in half, or into quarters, vertically.

Section by section, apply your chosen products. I usually use a leave-in conditioner (ORS Curls Unleashed Leave-In is my favourite right now), seal with an oil (I’m loving Organix oil sprays, especially their Coconut Water spray), then rake a gel through (I use—surprise!—ECO Styler Gel) before French braiding or flat twisting my sections. I also use Crème of Nature Edge Control and an old toothbrush to lay my edges.


Preparing Your Hair

 Braid/twist your front sections and secure the ends with grips, then repeat in the back. When all are done, use the grips to pin the ends of the braids/twists flat against your head, tucking the very tips into the thicker hair at your roots. If this is done correctly, your locks will be moisturised and your fragile ends tucked away and protected.
Wigs sit better the flatter your hair is. If your hair is short, this won’t be much of a problem, but if your hair is long and/or very thick, you may need to help things along. Tie a silk scarf tightly to your head and leave it for half an hour to flatten. You may want to wear a wig cap, which keeps your hair tucked away tightly, but these give me a headache and also make my own hair kinda frizzy. Instead, I use a small silk scarf to protect my hair from the inside of the wig and keep it flat.

And that’s the preparation dealt with!

I position my scarf a little behind my edges for two reasons.
1. So my hairline is semi-visible along with the wig’s hairline, which makes the two blend and creates a very natural look and
2. So that you can’t see red silk peeking out from under my wig, which creates a very unnatural look.

Fetching, I know

Wearing Your Wig

And that’s the preparation dealt with!

I position my scarf a little behind my edges for two reasons.
1. So my hairline is semi-visible along with the wig’s hairline, which makes the two blend and creates a very natural look and
2. So that you can’t see red silk peeking out from under my wig, which creates a very unnatural look.

So, you have your perfect wig, and your hair is ready to rumble. Now all that’s left is to put it on!
Yeaaaaah, that’s not as simple as it sounds…
Most lace front wigs will arrive with a strip of lace attached past the hairline. Your job is to cut that lace off—WHEN YOU’RE SURE YOU LIKE THE WIG. Because once the lace is cut, that baby is non-returnable.
So, first thing’s first—put the wig on. Fiddle around with your adjustable straps, pull it into place on your head, position the part in line with your own and pull the hairline where you want it. Play around with it; some wigs can look too shiny, stiff or perfect when straight out of the box. Run a wig comb, Denman brush, or your fingers through it very gently.Some wigs, especially synthetic ones, are styled to be very voluminous near the roots, which can look unnatural. Similarly, three-way parted wigs can throw a strop when you attempt to change the part that they came with. For both of these issues, simply place the hair where you want it and then tie it down with a silk scarf for a while. This will flatten it into place without any serious effort or the use of heat.If your wig can be heat styled (the care card it comes with should tell you if it can, and if so at what temperatures) style away. Throw in some curls or loosen the texture a little; use straighteners to make certain pieces frame your face; go wild! Once you’re happy with your wig, it’s time to take it off and cut the lace.

You want to cut as smoothly and carefully as possible, and as close to the hairline as possible—you do not want your lace to be visible! You also don’t want any jagged edges, because these will hurt and irritate your skin. Use nail scissors, or another kind of scissors as long as they’re small and sharp. Take your time and be precise.

Once your lace is cut, put your wig back on and grab your makeup kit, because now may or may not be time for some cosmetic sorcery. Take a close look at your hairline. If your wig has a full fringe, or heavy side fringe, you’re probably sitting pretty and can move on with your #wiglife. Otherwise, though, it’s time to play around a bit.

First, check out your parting. Does it look natural, or is it unusually dense? Is the thickness of hair around the parting realistic, or overdone? If it’s the latter, you can gently tweeze out some of the individual hairs along the part. Take a good look at the overall effect after every single hair your remove—you do not want to mess this up. Also, you don’t want to pull too hard and tear the lace of your closure, so again, the key word here is gently.

After tweezing your part, or if your part doesn’t require tweezing, you may want to use makeup to blend the hairline around your parting with your skin. Apply concealer along the part, either a match to your skin or one shade lighter, to match your scalp. Then use a powder or pomade product that matches the colour of the wig’s roots to clean up any excess concealer that may have gotten onto the hair of the wig.

Style your baby hairs if necessary, and that’s that—you and your wig are ready to face the world!
(Side note: I have my hand in the wig, and those blue thingies are the veins on my wrist… not some kind of worryingly prominent forehead veins. So. Don’t panic, I suppose.)

Caring for Your Scalp and Edges

The things most at risk with this protective style are the condition of your scalp and the strength of your edges.

Wig caps and silk scarves and wigs and all the rest will, unsurprisingly, make your head hot. Since it’s October, and therefore absolutely Baltic here in merry olde England where I reside, this isn’t much of a problem for me right now—but if you are going to be warm, there is likely to be a lot of sweat involved in your wig adventure. To ensure that your scalp doesn’t suffer, you need to be shampooing once every 7-10 days. If your hair can’t handle such regular cleansing, you can use a sulfate-free shampoo and follow up with an ACV (apple cider vinegar) rinse, compensating with an intensive deep conditioning treatment.

It’s also important not to wear your wig when your hair is wet. I may be slightly paranoid here, but continually damp skin in an enclosed space? That is a recipe for a mouldy-ass scalp, my friends. Or at least some kind of infection. Whatever. Better safe than sorry.

Your edges could also suffer while wearing wigs, due to the fact that your wig will be sitting on or very close to your hairline, potentially rubbing on the fragile hairs there. Wearing a silk scarf combats this somewhat, but I also like to apply some JCBO (Jamaican Black Castor Oil) to my edges every morning and night with a toothbrush. JCBO encourages growth, thickening the hair in sparse areas when used over time, so I’m hoping it will combat any damage that might occur. I also moisturise my hair every morning and night with a mixture of water and oil in a spray bottle.

And That’s It!

Congratulations, you’ve graduated the Naturally Tiss School of Wigs! The name may be terrible, but the diploma you’ll be receiving in the post could open many doors for you.

Now that you’re equipped with basic wig knowledge, you’ll hopefully be in a better position to research and purchase your first wig, giving you a practically effortless, fun and versatile protective style to use all winter long. This is the only protective style I’ve ever tried that I’ve actually been excited about. Finally, I can give my hair a break without pining for it too badly—and when I do miss my fro, I can simply slip off the wig and set it free! So good luck on your wig journey; I hope they work as well for you as they do for me.

(You will not actually be getting a diploma in the post. Sorry)

*NOTE: This post was originally published on the 27th of October 2015 and has since been edited for clarity.*
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2 thoughts on “A Guide to Wigs as a Protective Style

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