Protective styles should do just that: Protect your natural hair. Whether you’re growing your hair out or just avoiding daily maintenance, protective styles serve as a way to change up your look without damaging your hair. Unfortunately, too many hair styles that are intended for Black women to protect their hair have caused more damage than they were intended to prevent. The biggest culprit: the long-wear lace wig.
Look, you’ve gotta love a good, high quality lace wig. They instantly add length, silky texture, and major glow-up appeal. But the problems that lie in wearing a wig can be catastrophic for your edges, hair follicles, and scalp health, often causing lasting damage and potential hair loss. Here’s what you can do to get the most out of your lace-front or full-lace wig without causing damage or preventing hair growth.
1. How to find a high quality wig
a. A good lace front or full lace wig should be an investment. While there are some available on the cheaper side, lower priced lace wigs can mean lack of hair volume, fragile or loose lace material, and potentially harmful chemicals that can cause irritation or allergic reactions to your scalp. Look for soft, nearly invisible lace that doesn’t feel thick or stiff, and opt for 100% human hair wigs over synthetic hair for long-wear. While synthetic hair can be fun for events, human hair wigs can be heat-treated, color-treated, and cut to fit your unique style.
2. Wash your hairpiece before you wear it
a. Make sure to wash your wig out of the package, and fully dry it to make sure it doesn’t trap moisture (which can cause odor or mildew.) Many wig-wearers trust hairstylists to wash, cut, color, and style before securing a long-wear lace wig.
3. Patch Test your glue/tape
a. If you choose to use glue or tape to secure your wig for long-wear (many wigs are available that secure using clips or elastic instead), make sure it does not irritate your skin before applying to the hairline and scalp. Patch test the glue or tape by applying a tiny amount on an out-of-sight area—like on the scalp like behind the ear or at the back hairline— 24 hours before securing your wig. Additionally, not all hair glues are created equal. Be sure to find a high quality, well-rated adhesive that comes with its own remover to safely dissolve the glue bond on removal.
4. Treat and secure your natural locks
a. Before donning a long-wear wig, make sure to clarify your hair, deep condition, and treat your scalp. Hair should be completely clean and dry under a wig to prevent odor, mildew, or even fungus and mold from growing in your natural hair. Braid or twist the hair flat to the scalp, but make sure not to braid too tightly! While tight braids might feel more secure, tension on hair follicles can lead to hair loss over time. This is also a perfect time to apply a scalp treatment, like Edge Naturale Follicle Enhancer, to condition the scalp, stimulate growth, and prevent itchiness caused by lack of moisture.
b. Once the hair is braided up, put on a silk wig-cap that matches your natural skin color, especially if wearing a full lace piece. The color of the cap may show through the lace when parted, so the closer to your natural skin color, the better.
5. Make sure your placement is perfect before securing
a. a. Especially if using wig glue, patience and attention to detail are KEY in preventing hair damage, specifically damage to your edges. If you are a beginner to wig-wearing, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional stylist to make sure you’re getting the best possible placement and application. Otherwise, take your time and make sure your placement isn’t too high or low, and be careful to leave as little excess of lace along the hairline as possible using sharp scissors and tweezers to style the wig’s baby hair edges.
6. Practice good hair care
a. While it’s not your natural hair, if you plan to wear your wig for more than 4 weeks (never wear a wig for more than 6 weeks!) your wig will need some TLC. Wrap it up in a silk bonnet every night before sleeping and freshen up the style as needed. Your upkeep will be significantly less difficult than usual, but once every 2-3 weeks, give your hair a good deep wash, meaning allowing your own hair to get a good deep cleanse as well. But remember! Your natural hair has to be fully dried in order to prevent odor and potential growth of bacteria, so make sure to sit under a bonnet hair dryer until your hair has fully dried after washing. (Again, this is a great opportunity to see a professional stylist!)
7. Remove gently, NO SNATCHING
a. a. After several weeks of wearing the same wig, nothing sounds more satisfying than pulling that thing off and scratching your scalp, but this is the most dangerous part of wig-wearing! The removal needs to be done carefully and very gently. Pulling at bonded strands along the hairline can permanently damage the follicle, but will certainly cause at least temporary hair damage and loss that can lead to bald-spots and a receding hairline! Use plenty of patience and lots of remover either applied liberally or on a cotton swab to gently dissolve the glue bond. This will also prevent damage to the delicate lace, ensuring easy re-application next time.
b. After the wig and the cap are removed, deep-cleanse and deep condition your natural hair once more, paying close attention to the scalp and the hairline, making sure to apply a scalp treatment or oil (argan oil, peppermint oil, avocado oil, and jojoba oils stimulate the scalp) to treat any areas of dryness or flakiness.
Wigs are a great example of a protective style that you can choose to keep your natural hair healthy as it grows out. Your hair is an expression of who you are (or who you want to be today), and your style should reflect that. Don’t forget to have fun with it. Swing your hair and flip it over your shoulder like the baddie you want to be, or opt for a short or bob wig to reflect you inner Halle. Don’t let your style hurt your tresses. Take good care of your hair and keep it growing full and healthy for decades to come.