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Hair Replacement Systems

The term “hair replacement systems” is used differently and loosely depending on where you look or who you ask. Hair replacement systems can mean anything from a wig to a medicine to surgery or any combination of these things. In general though, the term “hair replacement systems” generally refers to a hairpiece of some sort. The term has been adopted in an attempt to distinguish it from “wig,” “toupee,” “hairpiece,” or some other name with a bad connotation. In some cases this distinction is deserved. The newer, more expensive hair replacement systems are markedly improved over some earlier versions and even cheaper, current versions. It should be mentioned though that the name used to describe a hairpiece can vary widely and does not always mean the same thing to different people. Regardless of whether the hairpiece is called a hair replacement system or a wig, there are certain qualities that should be considered before purchasing one.

Ideal hair replacement systems

Hair replacement systems

It is not difficult to name the qualities that a hair replacement system should possess. Ideally, the hair of the hairpiece should look natural. The human eye can generally detect whether synthetic hair was used in the hairpiece or a human’s hair. However, newer synthetic hair can look very realistic. It should also move naturally. The direction that the hairs are oriented in the hairpiece base should come very close to the way that natural hair grows from the scalp.

Also the density of the hair should be thick, but not unnaturally thick. Older toupees covered up imperfections in the base of the hairpiece by packing the individual hairs very closely or densely. This packing process earned some toupees the moniker of “rug.”

The base of the hairpiece, that is, the soft material that comes into contact with the scalp directly, should match the color of your scalp as much as possible. Since you want a natural looking density of hair in the hairpiece, there will be places where the scalp is visible, just like a natural scalp. If you look at someone’s scalp at a part in the hair or when it blows around, you will see scalp between the hair. The base of the hair replacement system should look just like scalp, ideally, so that the base is undetectable.

Feeling secure – securing Hair Replacement Systems to the scalp

The hairpiece can be held in place in a number of ways and each method has some advantages and disadvantages. In truth, though, none of the attachment methods are ideal. Some hair replacement systems, especially older ones, are held in place with a friction fit. Think of an elastic band on a shower cap but better fitting all around. Friction fit toupees are easy to place and easy to remove. Unfortunately friction fit hairpieces may be too easy to remove and may come off accidently or inadvertently.

If you have natural hair remaining, metal clips can be used the secure the hairpiece to the surrounding hair. The metal clips should be large enough or plentiful enough to secure the hairpiece. On the other hand the clips should be discreet enough that they cannot be seen by the casual observer.

For people that have natural hair, another option to secure a hairpiece to the head is a weave. A weave is a hair replacement system that “weaves” the hairpiece hair with the person’s natural hair. Newer weaves done by expert stylists are very difficult to detect.

Many hair replacement systems are secured to the head with an adhesive. This can be glue that is applied directly to the scalp and to the hairpiece. Some of these adhesives can attach the hairpiece very securely. Also, clear adhesives, or at least adhesives that dry to clear/transparent state, are not noticeable under the hairpiece base.

The glues that are used to affix the hairpiece directly to the scalp are often called semi-permanent hair replacement systems because the adhesive is so strong and durable that it can be left in place for days or weeks. An example of a temporary adhesive, for contrast, is double sided tape. A hairpiece attached with double sided tape can be removed rather easily compared to the semi-permanent glue adhesive.

The more permanent adhesives work very well, but at the expense of the health of hair and skin. The adhesives used may accelerate hair loss because of their effect on hair follicles. Also, when the scalp is covered in this way, the normal processes that skin goes through are interrupted or prevented. Skin cells migrate from deep within the skin towards the surface. Once of the surface, cells break away and slough off. Also pores release various oils that migrate towards the surface as well. When a hairpiece is tightly secured with an adhesive, these cellular processes can function properly, hair and oils are trapped, and the underside of the hairpiece can be prone to infection. Even with a semi-permanent hair replacement system, the piece should be removed periodically (once or twice a week) and the scalp thoroughly cleaned. The adhesives often leave behind residue that should be removed completely. Also, the underside of the hairpiece itself should be gently cleaned according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Back to bases – Two choices for the base of Hair Replacement Systems

There are two main choices of materials for the base of the hairpiece, each with advantages and disadvantages. The first type of base material resembles a fabric and forms a mesh. It is synthetic, usually made of nylon or polyester. Fabric hairpieces are lightweight and comfortable to wear since air can circulate through the base. The other option is a polymer plastic base, like polyurethane or silicone. These hair replacement systems are easy to attach since adhesives bond very well to the plastic base.

Mesh fabric hairpieces generally look more natural at the hairline and at the scalp than polymer pieces. Some polymer bases have “lace” designs which can provide a more natural look, but they generally fall short of mesh bases cosmetically. Since those who are seeking hair replacement are a cosmetically minded bunch, the improved cosmetic appeal of fabric bases comes at a cost—fabric hairpieces are more expensive than the polymer types.

Despite being more expensive, fabric bases are less durable than their polymer counterparts. The mesh tends to react with the oils and acids in hair and the scalp, which degrades the material. Therefore mesh fabric hair replacement systems need to be replaced more frequently.

Where did you get that hair? – Donor vs. synthetic Hair Replacement Systems

Human hair, the hair used in the more expensive and more natural looking hair replacement systems, is a biological substance. Since it is a natural substance, it is prone to wear and tear more quickly than synthetic materials. All hair replacement systems will need to be repaired and maintained, including synthetic hair; however, the human donor hair will require more frequent maintenance.

The source of the hair actually makes a difference, also. Most people in the industry would agree that the best human hair donors for hairpieces come from European hair donors. In fact, Central and Eastern European donors tend to provide the best donor hair since they are available in a variety of colors and styles. European hair does not need to be treated, colored, or styled in most cases. Asian hair tends to be stronger than European hair though it is almost always available in only one style: straight black. This means that it needs to be colored and styled to meet the preferences of most users. The styling and coloring tends to weaken the hair overall. It can also change the texture and shorten the time that it can be used in the hairpiece. In general hair from Asian donors is less expensive than hair from European women (the primary gender that donates hair).

The cost of Hair Replacement Systems

The cost of hairpieces can vary widely. A cheap costume wig can cost $30 while some of the professional hairpieces can cost as much or more than hair replacement surgery, in the $10,000 range. The most important thing to realize is that the cost of the hair replacement system does not necessarily correspond to quality. This article discussed the various options that are available in hairpieces along with their benefits and limitations. When you are comparing certain features, like which material is used in the construction of the hairpiece base, you can expect one type (fabric) to be more expensive than the other (polymer). So, too, can a comparison be made for the type of donor hair and adhesive type. However, beyond these features, the cost is not always a way to compare quality. If you are comparing two hairpieces with a fabric base containing curly, blond, Eastern European hair that is fastened with semi-permanent adhesive to the scalp, you need to consider if the price difference between them is quite different. You may not be getting more for the money.

Unfortunately hair replacement systems can be a sensitive subject for some people, so it is sometimes difficult to get honest, candid opinions about various manufacturers. Be aware though, that while there are countless retailers of hair replacement systems, there are relatively few manufacturers. As long as the person that you use for a custom fitted device is skilled and professional, products with the same features should be comparable in price.

In general, a reasonably high quality hair piece can cost between $400 to $900 US. The base is usually first chosen at a cost between $300 and $600 and then specific features are added to this cost at a rates of a few hundred dollars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Spako is an M.D. who chose to pursue a medical writing career instead of a doctors practice. I am pleased to have him as the principal writer for this hair replacement / hair restoration site, and look forward to his further contributions. Donald Urquhart, Psychologist, Editor.

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