This is a horrible thing in any business, but it does happen. I was recently doing a Look Good Feel Better presentation up at Toronto Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre and was half way through my presentation about wigs when a woman asked me to examine hers. I told her that it was machine made, with processed Asian, human hair. She was so upset that she started crying. She had been told by the owner of the salon that the purchase was all hand made, with the finest European human hair to be found. She had paid $2000 for it (it should have retailed for about $700). Since there was nothing on her invoice to indicate this there was no way of proving anything. The person that she purchased it from is well known to me and I have had to clean up after the trauma she has left in her wake before.
This story joins another where a woman was purchasing hair systems for almost $4,000 a piece; being told that they were the very finest available human hair. It was very badly processed Chinese hair and was the reason that it would tangle after 7 months (and then she would buy another one, and another one!)
Because I have had these two stories only in the past 3 months, and they join lots of others, I decided to make this addition to our web page. Because wigs and hair replacements systems are not something that is a common experience for the public there is room for people to be taken advantage of. I hope that these points will help you to protect yourself.
1) Machine Made Versus Hand Made:
This is easy to spot. If you examine the inside of a wig or the underside of a hair system and see lines, then it is machine weft, or machine made. These lines are not there to facilitate airflow! They are an inexpensive manufacturing technique were hair is made into a “weft” (exactly line those inexpensive extensions you see at the beauty supply), or a line of hair, and then sewn onto a cap of elastic ribbon. Some wigs now are hand made on top, these can be called mono tops, and you can see the knots, while the sides and back are machine made. A wig or hair system that is all hand made will have no lines and anywhere you look you will be able to see tiny knots where the hair shaft meets the cap.
In an integration system (a hair system that you are supposed to pull your own hair through) you will see lines but they are so fine that it is easy to tell that they are not a machine made weft.
2) What Type of Hair Is It?
This is more difficult, especially when you are talking about an inexpensive product. Bad quality processed human hair can seem like synthetic, but there are high quality synthetics that do feel like good human hair. The only way to tell sometimes is to take a few strands and burn them (the smell will tell!) but not many salons will allow this and I do not blame them. I suggest that you try to take into account how the hair feels in your deliberations but try to get something that feels right to you.
It is more common now to try to pass off processed hair from Asia and India as European hair. Now some European hair is processed, so it comes out exactly like the hair from India only a little finer. This is mostly done for a small percentage of high end men’s hair systems and is not common.
The best way to ensure you are getting virgin (unprocessed) European hair is to feel for the cuticle. When Asian hair is processed it is dipped in an acid bath to burn off the cuticles (the scales), that are on the shaft. After the processing only the hair’s cortex remains, and therefore is nothing more than a flat shaft. Virgin hair has not had this done so if you take a few strands between your thumb and forefinger and rub, you should see the hair riding up on each other. If the hairs are sliding back and forth then it is processed. Now there are some companies that are leaving some of the cuticle on the hair to make it seem more natural, but then you have to ask yourself if the hair has a natural feel to it. Does it seem dry? Does it look like a bad dye job? Is there a lot of hair in the wig? (since European hair is very expensive you can count on it that we do not pack it in like crazy).
Now a lot of places do not deal in virgin hair and would not know where to get it. It is a specialty item and many that sell human hair systems are very proud of their hair. But ask them if it is virgin hair and they will stare blankly at you (and possibly check for the nearest alarm buzzer). Most human hair wigs and hair systems are processed because they are less expensive and because they (should) not tangle when washed. However, if someone does tell you that a wig they are showing you is made with the finest European human hair available and it does not pass your test, leave the salon. The person does know the difference and thinks that you do not.
Some salons sell wigs that are made with a mixture of synthetic and human hair. Continental Hair does not. I have not seen one that I have liked. This may change in the future but so far it has held. They seem to have way too much hair in them (and if it was high quality hair why would they put so much in the wig?) and the caps are much too big for medical wigs or for women with thinning hair.
3) This is Custom Made Just For You!
A custom made wig or hair system takes six to eight weeks to make. Sometimes even ten weeks if the hair has to be ordered from Europe. Four weeks is the fastest rush job that you can expect. Someone local can do it very fast but expect to pay a huge amount for this. If someone says that they can deliver a custom made wig over the weekend then what they are doing is ordering something out of the inventory of a wholesaler and then (perhaps) adding some highlights or tucking in the cap a bit to make it fit better.
Watch out for amateurish sewing on the inside of the caps, or highlight hair that does not match the quality of the rest of the knotting. If you see hand knotted high lights on machine wefts then you know something isn’t right. Also, most wholesalers will put a purchase order number on the inside of the wig or hair system so they can track it (they have retailers calling them all the time saying that “this unit fell apart after only four months” but with the P.O. number the maker can identify when it was made and delivered, so they can say “no, you have had that for eighteen months). Now when we use our factory directly we have the name of the client and the P.O. number on the inside of the wig or hair system. When we use one particular wholesaler (for our processed hair unit) they make up their own number (it drives us nuts) so just because you do not see your name in there does not mean it was not made for you. However, there should be something in there besides a colour number and style name to say it was not just taken off the shelf.
These three points should help you out in making sure you getting something worth the price. It seems that the studios that do this do this without any regard for what a person is going through and it is very hard to prove anything once you have paid for the wig. Most people in the hair replacement business are decent hard working people that care about their clients, so don’t get paranoid. However, “know your stuff” can be the best watchword. And please note that I am not saying that a machine made wig cannot look good. Or that a processed human hair system cannot look good. They can and most often do. But just make sure that you are not paying too high a price for them because of a sales job.