One of the huge barriers to alopecia sufferers is the current state of NHS/government funding for wigs. The situation varies across the country, but in Scotland, where I grew up, the NHS provision is either two acrylic wigs or one real hair wig per year.
I personally feel that this is totally inadequate! Acrylic wigs have lots of negatives, as they often look fake, and cannot take any heat so you aren’t able to blow dry or straighten them or even go too near an oven! Real hair wigs are much better, but in my experience one NHS real hair wig does not last for a whole year, as they become damaged and lose hair after about 6 months time.
The first wig I ever tried was an acrylic, but I got rid of it after a week because I didn’t like the look or feel of it at all! Actually, when I left the hairdresser with it on for the very first time, my confidence was instantly dashed when two girls came up to me in a shop almost immediately afterwards and asked me where I’d got it from!
After that, I was advised to go to a specialist wig provider called A&A Studios in Edinburgh. That was a significant step in the right direction for me, because they were used to catering for clients with alopecia and were able to offer me real hair wigs in various shades, lengths and cuts.
I wore these for three years, and decided to go peroxide blonde when I started university! I chose to go blonde because I thought it looked cool (and because I could!) but actually thinking back on it, it was quite a good move because I was able to start university with a completely fresh new image.
In 2009, one of the hairdressers at A&A introduced me to Freedom wigs, which are the wigs I still wear now. They are based in New Zealand and create wigs with permeable silicone suction caps (as opposed to the mesh interior of most wigs) which are custom made to the shape of your head.
Freedom wigs are made with real European hair that has never been treated or dyed so the quality is incredible! The big advantage is that, as they are fitted to your head, they are secure and comfortable and you can move around, dance, go out in the wind etc. without worrying about them falling off or looking too ‘wiggy’. They look and act like real hair, and there are people I have known for years who never realised I was wearing a wig!
I am now at a stage where I am happy with the wigs that I wear. They are obviously not perfect and there are still disadvantages – you can’t properly swim in them and they do get incredibly hot and sweaty in sunny weather or on the Central line of the tube in summer! But they are the best solution I know of, and they make me feel as ‘normal’ as I can feel in this situation.
However, a custom made Freedom wig is very expensive (over £2,000!) and only lasts one to two years. I am very lucky to have had financial support from my parents to fund my wigs and am now able to afford them myself. But not everyone has that luxury, and many people are unable to afford the best quality wigs on the market.
I think the government needs to start doing more to provide financial support to alopecia sufferers, particularly those from low income backgrounds. Ideally, there would be a ‘voucher’ system where you were given a certain amount of money to go towards whichever wig was most suitable for you, rather than the current provision which is insufficient.
Wigs are not a luxury item, they are a lifeline for sufferers of this traumatic and life-changing disease, and we should recognise them as such.