Human Hair 101 (aka: How to avoid shenanigans!)

 
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This post was originally published on September 09, 2015 by Heather Hershey

I was on FaceBook the other day chatting with some wig friends (Trish, Linda – this is a shout-out to you!), when I encountered a really interesting and, frankly, sad conversation thread about all the counterfeit human hair shenanigans going on online, on eBay more specifically.

I hear horror stories about this ALL THE TIME.

You find an ahhhhmazing deal on a virgin, Remy, Blonde European hair wig on eBay for only $400…and when it arrives it’s a big bushy mess of frizzy Indian hair that was bleached into oblivion and looks like an unraveled basket on your head.

That’s right. You have become a “basket case”. 

Some people think this is due to the dye. This is only partially true. I actually blame the hair itself, as well as folks having unrealistic expectations of what we can do with it.

People demand impossible things and manufacturers do their best to oblige, often with mixed results. This is also true of biohair  – and hairstylists friends will confirm that the struggle is real! I mean, think of the people who want Beyoncé hair on a Best Cuts budget, for example. Great Clips can only do so much and some things just don’t come cheap. 
So let me break this down for you a bit.

The dye used on most human hair wigs is not the same that you would use on your own hair, but is instead the EXACT same pigmentation used on the synthetic wigs made by whichever company you buy it from. The synthetics are a textile, so in that case it makes sense. In human hair, though, it’s a bit more complicated.

Though it may not result in additional damage to the hair (because honestly, the nitty gritty chemical processing is virtually the same between human hair dye from Sally’s and those textile dyes except vat processed on a much larger scale), it certainly results in watered down colors that aren’t as vibrant as hair dye that is made for human hair. I am under the impression that the principle reasons they use textile dyes are twofold: 1) Convenience because those materials are already on hand and 2) they hold better than human hair colors, which is a good thing for folks who don’t want to have to recolor their wigs. The rub there, though, is that human hair dyed with textile dye still fades, just not as quickly.

A bigger problem in my mind is actually that no one in “the biz” clearly articulates what the processing limitations of the hair are. The biggest problems come in when folks expect light brown or even blonde Asian, Brazilian, or Indian sourced human hair to be tangle and damage free. This is an unrealistic expectation.

I feel like it’s my job to set people straight (because it is). So, let’s just get deep with it: that kind of hair is usually a 1B naturally, which is very, very dark. It is also generally quite resistant to color processing.

Let that sink in for a minute.

That’s right. It’s a paradox. The most common hair types used for human hair wigs – and the kinds most likely to need color processing – are RESISTANT to color processing. 

These kinds of natural hairs don’t take well to intense lightening and almost always frizz out as part of the process. It doesn’t matter what kind of dye it is – the damage results from the “lifting” process that removes the melanin from the hair shaft. You can sometimes circumvent that by processing with low volume developer over a long period of time, but if you’ve ever tried that yourself you probably know that the hair still comes out kind of fuzzy and brittle, at least compared to what it was when virgin.

A lot of manufacturers get around this by dousing the hair with silicone, which slicks the scales on the hair shaft back into place…until the next wash. So, as soon as you get it home and wash it, they seem like they just kind of frizz out and fall apart.

So why do manufacturers use these kinds of hairs on virtually all human hair wigs?

That’s an easy question to answer…even though the answers may be genuinely difficult to hear.

The main reason is because of its availability. There is quite a bit of color and texture homogeneity among folks of those ethnic types (Brazilian, Indian, and Asian). The hair is almost always straight and almost always a 1B. (The only exception is that Brazilian hair is almost always wavy or even curly, but is still usually a 1B.) This makes it possible to take hair from multiple individuals to create a single wig. (Side note: this also means that wigs made from these kinds of hairs are almost always thicker than wigs made of European hair, which can only come from one person’s head per wig.)

A secondary reason is that it is relatively predicable and easy to process, at least in terms of the entire wig making process, not necessarily color processing.
The tertiary and infinitely more depressing reason why most human hair wigs are made from these kinds of hairs is the general scarcity of naturally lighter (IE: European) hair. Part of the scarcity of European hair is due to the diversity among individuals in the gene pool. The hair tends to vary greatly from one person to the next and this makes mass production and harvesting quite difficult because you can’t mix the hair from two or more individuals together to make a wig. This makes European hair wigs more delicate, more precious, a little thinner than Asian hair wigs, and definitely more expensive even before taking into considering the cost of the cap construction.

The depressing part of the scarcity issue is one of the darkest not-so-secret secrets of the wig biz: exploitation. Women in Western developed countries do not feel the same economic pressure to sell their hair for money that women in other, less wealthy cultures do. Almost all of the European hair in the world for wigs comes from just a handful of Eastern European countries and regions in Russia where the poverty is absolute and not relative…and even in those places, women adhere to Western standards of beauty and are highly reluctant to sell their hair.

In summary, regarding human hair:

– I recommend Brazilian, Indian, or Asian sourced hair for folks who like dark colors or dark colors with limited highlights. These kinds of hairs really seem to hold up nicely to minor color processing that does not require intense lightening. (Brazilian holds red nicely, as a side note.)

– For anyone who wants lighter colors, I recommend European hair (from a reputable, vetted source since the stuff’s so expensive and there are so many counterfeits on the web). European hair is basically the only kind of human hair fiber you can get that does not need to be color treated in order to achieve blondes and light browns…but those colors are more rare and are often more expensive because of it. (Edit: I wanted to add that if this hair doesn’t set you back a few grand, minimum, it is most likely counterfeit. Virgin European hair is quite scarce and precious, for reasons which I have explained above. The entire process of harvesting and supplying hair for these wigs is more expensive as a result, so the retail cost is also substantially higher.)

– If you can’t afford a Remy, virgin, European hair wig from a reputable source, then make peace with darker hair colors OR stick to synthetics. Your life will become much less frustrating that way. 😉

– Or, conversely, make peace with the fact that severely color processed (IE: lightened) Asian, Indian, and Brazilian human hair will be frizzier, but can be treated with moisturizers and silicones in order to achieve a manageable, albeit less than perfect, texture. I HIGHLY recommend purchasing complementary care products  with your wig, such as argan oil serums, conditioners, shine sprays, and perhaps even a silicone sealer. This hair will be damaged as a result of color treatment (IE: lightening to anything lighter than a dark brown) and will need lots of care to keep it looking as good as it does out of the box. Also, while you should NEVER put shampoo or astringent chemical cleansers directly on your wigs, this is EXTRA super duper true of these wigs! All it takes is one shampoo wash directly applied to the hair and – BOOM – it can turn into a frizzy, unsalvageable, hopelessly tangled mess.

– If something seems too good to be true online (especially on Alibaba or eBay), it probably is. For example, if you buy a “virgin” Brazilian, Asian, or Indian hair wig in ANY color other than a 1B…that is most likely NOT a virgin wig. These will almost always be a 1B, a 1, or a 2. They will always be very, very dark.

– Have realistic expectations of the material your wig is made of. Each kind of fiber (synth, human hair, HF/HD Synth, etc.) has its own best uses and limitations of what kind of styling and coloration it can handle…and this REALLY trips people up a lot!

  • Synthetic hair (modacrylic, Kanekalon fiber) cannot be color processed because it is a textile. The dye is literally injected into the hair as it is created. This hair can be styled with steam or other forms of wet heat. It is generally considered shake-and-go as it is pre-styled at the factory to be ready to wear, more or less, right out of the box. This is the easiest kind of hair to wear, in my opinion, and is generally what I recommend for new wig buyers. Synthetic wigs are relatively inexpensive (at least compared to human hair) and come in a wide variety of styles, colors, textures, and cap constructions.
  • Heat-friendly synthetic (Futura fiber, HD fiber, True2Life fiber, etc.) has similar color processing to the above. I consider this stuff best suited for styles cut ABOVE the collar line…and paradoxically, you’re most likely to find it used for really long wigs. This is a big pet peeve of mine and fairly blatant example of how the wig industry kind of takes advantage of naïve new clients who are by and large more likely to seek out this material. This hair is very elastic, which accommodates the styling, but also causes issues with friction, static build-up, and tangling. Heat-friendly fiber is more prone to being pulled and distorted due to this elasticity, and its propensity to tangle means these wigs have a shorter general wearable life than their traditional synthetic counterparts. So, another paradox: heat-friendly wigs are generally bought by people new to wigs who think they are a less expensive alternative to human hair. They want the versatility of being able to style their hair…but the more they style the hair, the faster it clumps and tangles! These kinds of wigs are actually best for folks who want an occasional change of pace – and not for daily wear and/or styling – unless the cut is above the collar. 
  • Exception: I really like heat-friendly synthetic/human hair blends. Adding human hair to a heat-friendly synthetic blend cuts down on the elasticity and static build-up issues, resulting in an overall more durable wig. I consider these worth the additional cost if you are considering a heat-friendly synthetic wig. It’s amazing what adding some human hair to the mix can do!
  • Human hair wigs are generally a blank canvas in terms of style. They will most likely need to be washed (make sure you heed my notes above) and perhaps even cut before they can truly be wearable. This is because, unlike a synthetic wig, most of these do not come pre-styled, and they generally don’t hold the style even if they are. (The only exception being the handful of pre-permed or naturally curly wigs on this site.) This hair comes in a lot of variations of color, texture, length, and quality. I hope I have cleared some of that up during the course of this blog post.
  • Regardless of the material, cut back on washing and styling (including combing) as much as you can. Be sure to moisturize the dickens out of your human hair with high quality (as in, not from Walmart or Rite Aid) care products. These are the absolute most important things you can do to prolong the life of your wigs!

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that most stores aren’t going to emphasize the limitations because they make money off the glamor and fantasy. They just tell people what they want to hear so they buy, buy, BUY. Telling people the truth is a buzz kill. (I think you might be shocked by how many random emails I get from people who are angry that I list potential wearable life expiration dates on my product listings! It’s a real downer to some people, I guess.)

I hope this post has been informative and helps folks avoid wasting money on counterfeits and other bad hair on the interwebs…because to me, throwing money down the drain on a lie is way more of a buzz kill than spending a little more – more appropriately – on the real deal. 🙂

– Heather @ Cysterwigs

(Sorry for the essay. I’m known to be super long winded about hair! LOL)

Human Hair Wig Care Do’s & Don’ts

 
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Originally Posted on June 22, 2014 by Heather Hershey

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Human Hair wigs can last a lot longer than synthetics, but that’s only If you take proper care of them. View them as a long term investment and caring for them will become part of your routine.

EDIT #1: A lot of folks have been asking what kind of shampoo & conditioner to use on their human hair wigs. I really like Jon Reanu’s Argan Luxury line of products. The shampoo & conditioner can both be found on CysterWigs, in addition to supplementary products if you feel you need more moisturizing power!

EDIT #2: While you can use your synthetic safe shampoo on your human hair wigs without it causing any issues, you should definitely use a conditioning treatment (or two) that is made specifically for human hair wigs. They need much more intensive moisturizing than a synthetic wig.

EDIT #3: We recommend using synthetic-safe washing & styling products on your human hair / heat-friendly synthetic blend wigs since the synthetic fiber is generally about 66% (or more) of the overall composition of the blend.

Now on with the show! 🙂

 

DO: Wash your new human hair wig before your wear it.

Do NOT: Plop it on your head and wear it for weeks before washing. These wigs have had a lot of chemical processing and most of those chemicals can be absorbed through the scalp. Please wash them first!

 

DO: Purchase with the knowledge that these wigs will need to be professionally styled before they can be worn. They do not come pre-styled like synthetics do, even though most are pre-permed to attain a specific hair texture.

Do NOT: Become discouraged by how it looks out of the box. Again, it will need to be styled before it is ready to wear.

 

DO: Understand that moisture (IE: OIL) retention is the #1 goal of long-term human hair wig care.

Do NOT: Assume human hair can be treated like your biohair or synthetic hair. Biohair is not dyed with industrial textile chemicals and has generally not been treated to look like European hair. It also gets the benefit of natural oils when brushed, whereas wigs don’t. Synthetics, on the other hand, are made of Modacrylic and have much more in common with the carpet in your house than your natural hair.

 

DO: Try to buy a shade darker than what you’re looking for if you are unsure about a color. The colors on human hair wigs tend to be slightly lighter than their synthetic counterparts.

Do NOT: Buy a light shade assuming you can dye it if you don’t like it. Most human hair wigs CANNOT be re-dyed due to the heavy processing that goes into making Asian hair look Caucasian. (Sounds brutal when you say it that way, but that’s what the process is for non-European hair wigs, folks.) However, for those brands and product lines that CAN be re-dyed, it is easier to take them a little lighter than to try to make them darker. Dark dyed colors on wigs just fade too darn fast.

 

DO: Use ceramic plated heat tools to curl and straighten your hair.

Do NOT: Try to perm or relax the hair. In most cases, it has already been permed to give it it’s texture. Further chemical processing could ruin the wig.

 

DO: Remember that non-Remy human hair is the lowest quality. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means that the hair might have a coarser texture and be more prone to early signs of friction damage. They aren’t as durable, so they’re generally much less expensive. Remy hair is smooth and has cuticles that are in tact and all facing the same direction. This cuts down on friction so the wig feels smoother and lasts longer. Most Remy hair is from Asia or India and can come from multiple people per wig due to the homogeneity of those hair types. European hair wigs are also Remy, but the hair shafts are narrower, making them more lustrous and silky. European hair wigs also come from a single head of hair and are seldom dyed, so the variation of pigments and highlights is the most natural money can buy. Any of these types of hair can make a nice wig. Just know what you’re getting before you buy it.

Do NOT: Forget that with human hair, if the price seems too good to be true it usually is.

 

DO: Read the manufacturer’s recommendations about hair care.

Do NOT: Just assume it will be as easy as taking care of your bio hair – because it’s not.

 

DO: Try to own more than one wig in a similar style and color to alternate. Human hair wigs take longer to dry & style than synthetics, and you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you need hair and can’t wear the only wig you have for some reason. 

Do NOT: Wait until the last minute to wash or style your hair, especially if you can only afford one wig. Having wet bio hair is one thing. A wet wig will feel like a heavy hot basket, regardless of what it’s made of. 😉

 

DO: Use wig-safe shampoos and conditioners that are alcohol & paraben free. Avoid anything containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. These chemicals make soap lather – but they are also very drying and will make the hair brittle. (They’re not that great for your bio hair, either, for the record.)

Do NOT: Use drug store products on your hair without looking at the labels. We recommend avoiding name brands such as Herbal Essences, Pantene, Dove, Organix, or anything else you can buy at Target or Walgreens. You don’t have to wash it very often, so invest in the good stuff so your hair will last longer!

 

DO: Wash your wig every 8 – 14 days, or as needed. Using a dry shampoo can help you go longer between washings when sprayed on the interior of the cap. (We don’t recommend spraying dry shampoo on the outside of human hair wigs.)

Do NOT: Wash every night.

 

DO: Brush out tangles prior to washing. (Or if it’s a curly wig, just finger comb to avoid creating more tangles and frizz.)

Do NOT: Brush out tangles while hair is wet.

 

DO: Wash wig in still water. Fill a small basin with cool water. Add small amount of shampoo to water and disperse. Only apply shampoo directly to areas in need of more intense washing, avoiding the tips of the hair. Submerge wig. Gently swirl and let soak for 5 minutes. Rinse by submerging in basin of cool water and gently swirling it around. Remove from basin, fill it back up with clean cool water, and repeat this rinse one more time. 

Do NOT: Wash your wig in the shower by directly applying shampoo, lathering (remember: a wig friendly shampoo has minimal lather), and rinsing with high-pressure running water.

 

DO: Condition your wig carefully. Once you rinse out the shampoo, apply a wig-safe conditioner directly to the hair. We recommend putting most of it on the longer parts of the strand and the ends, and not so much neat the roots to avoid having super flat hair. Let the conditioner sit on the hair for a minimum of 2 minutes. (You can leave it on overnight for more intense conditioning.) Rinse twice by submerging in a basin with cool water. Wrap gently with a towel to get out excess water.

Do Not: Condition your wig in the shower by directly applying a WalMart conditioner full of parabens or other waxy products that promote build up and rinse with high-pressure running water.

 

DO: Gently wrap damp wig in a towel and pat to remove excess water.

Do NOT: Wring and shake hair to remove excess water.

 

DO: Condition again while damp with a leave-on spray product to lock in moisture. (We recommend light-weight conditioning Argan oil for this latter step, but there are others that work equally well.) Work through with hands.

Do NOT: Forget your leave-in conditioner! Skipping this step accelerates hair dry-out.

 

DO: Place on a wig stand and allow to hair dry thoroughly before combing again. You may apply more leave-in conditioner once dry, if needed.

Do NOT: Place wig in direct sunlight to dry. This will make the color fade faster.

 

Hopefully this is an eye-opener!

 

I know it sounds INTENSE. No worries, though. Wigs get washed so infrequently that it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Plus, add to this the fact that the hair will look and feel more natural AND last up to a year or more…and well, let’s just say it becomes a little easier why some people are willing to trade in the convenience of synthetics to go the human hair route.

 

To each their own. We’ll be there to help either way. 🙂