Back to Basics: what is a hair topper?

My new Back to Basics series will provide help and advice to women who are new to hair loss and alternative hair. In this first video (see below), I will explain what a hair topper actually is!

What is a hair topper?

  • Hair toppers are for anyone with thinning hair, but particularly at the top, crown and sides of their head. I have androgenetic alopecia (also called female pattern baldness) and so my hair has diffuse thinning across the top half of my head. It is particularly thin at the front and parting.
  • You don’t have to have medical hair loss to wear a topper! They can be used to give extra volume, for a glamorous up-do, to cover up grey roots or just to make thin hair look thicker.
  • Toppers are similar to wigs, but they cover less of your head. A wig is generally held onto your head by a band, whereas most types of topper clip into your own hair using pressure-sensitive clips.
  • To wear a topper you must have some of your own hair to attach the topper to. Generally, you will blend the topper together with your own hair. But if you own hair is very fine or straggly, you can buy toppers that are very thick and will cover most of your hair.
  • You can buy human hair toppers, synthetic (plastic) toppers and also a mix of the two. I will provide more information on these options in another video.

7 things to do or ask before buying a wig or topper

1. What size wig or topper do I need?

If you can try on a piece in a physical shop before you commit to buy then you can tell how well it will fit and also the coverage. Obviously, as the time of writing, this is unlikely due to COVID-19 restrictions though many salons will be reopening on 12th April 2021. Many of us are ordering blind from online retailers or having Zoom consultations. The most important thing you can do before making that purchase is to measure your head.

For a topper, it is not about the size of your head, but the extent of your hairloss and how much coverage you need. Toppers can vary from small parting pieces at around 2.5×2.5in, all the way up to large toppers that almost give full coverage at 9x9in and 10x10in. When you clip in a topper it is important that the clips are going into healthy hair and not thinning hair, so you should measure your area of hair loss and then add on 1 inch or so.

When it comes to wigs, the majority of people will need an average cap size, but you can also get petite and large, as well as custom pieces. Note: different brands work out their wig sizes differently, so it is important to check the exact measurements of their petite, average and large cap sizes. There are three key measurements you will need to take to work out your ideal wig size: circumfrance; ear to ear; and front to back.

Check out my post on how to measure your head for a topper or wig, for more detailed information.

2. What density is it?

Each topper or wig has a different density and this can vary from company to company, so 150% at one retailer may be different to 150% at another retailer. Density refers to how much hair is on the piece, rather than the thickness of each individual hair. If it is your first wig or topper, you might want a lighter density piece that sits flat to your head. It can be overwhelming to go from not having much hair to have a full head of thick hair. Or if you are more used to wearing hair or your bio hair used to be thick, you might want to go for a more dense piece. Bear in mind that the more dense and longer the piece, the more it will weigh on your head. You can also get toppers that are thicker at the base and then thinned out at the ends of the hair to blend with your bio hair.

3. Is it human hair or synthetic?

There is a big difference in the two types of wig and topper – the main one is price. Both types have different benefits and drawbacks, so make sure you research which would be best for you. For example, I wear both human hair and synthetic pieces. I prefer shorter synthetics as longer pieces can tangle more easily and get friction from your clothing, which can cause the fibres to get brittle, knotted and tangle at the nape. Human hair looks more natural, but takes more work to style and maintain. They will also need to be protected from sunlight and the elements. Whereas synthetics are already styled for you, so you can throw them on and go. Some people swear by synthetic and others will only wear human hair – it is very much a personal choice.

4. Is the human hair virgin, REMY and where is it from?

Each hair type has a different structure and density. It may also behave differently in heat and humidity. You may find that buying a piece with hair close to your own will look more natural. European hair can be much more expensive than say Brazillian hair. It is a good idea to ask the retailer about the hair type before you buy. You should also ask if it will air dry wavy or straight. Virgin human hair means it has not been processed, so it should be better quality and you should be able to easily dye this hair. REMY human hair means that the hair cuticles all go the same way. This is very important, because if the hair cuticles are facing different ways, when washed, the hair will tangle easily and get matted. Always buy REMY if you can.

5. What is the internal cap or base construction?

These vary greatly from brand to brand. If you have no bio hair then you will need a full wig; if you have thinning bio hair then you could consider a topper. For wigs, think about the size and also comfort: will you need a wig grip? Will the cap itch your head? Will you wear a wig cap? A friend of mine who has no bio hair finds most types of wig itchy – but she swears by a bamboo wig cap.

6. Does the synthetic hair have permatese?

Another element to consider is whether the wig or topper has permatese. This is a bit like marmite: hated by some and loved by others. It is a way of making the hair almost crimped at the bottom and it gives synthetic hair extra lift, volume and body. For some, this can look a bit too much and makes a piece look too wiggy, but for others, this gives them the fabulous ‘big’ hair they’ve always wanted. It tends to be used more on basic cap wigs without a monofilament parting.

7. Are you buying from a reputable provider?

There are so many scam websites these days. They steal other people’s images of wigs, toppers and sometimes models who aren’t even wearing alternative hair. They lure you in with prices that are too good to be true, take your money and then send through an inferior piece that looks nothing like what you ordered. Things to look out for are the returns policy and do they have real customer reviews, proper contact details and a physical address? Do they charge a restocking fee if you want to send the piece back? Ask on Facebook groups if other people have used the supplier before.

How to care for your human hair or synthetic wigs and toppers

While there are some similarities in the way you wash synthetic and human hair, you need completely different products to care for them. In this blog post, I will outline how to wash both human hair and synthetic wigs and toppers and offer advice on the different products you will need – plus things to avoid! 

Human hair care

In general, you should treat human hair pieces the same as the hair on your head. However, I wash my human hair pieces as little as possible. In fact, I only really wash them if they get smelly or have a build-up on hair spray on them.

The follicles that house the hair that grows out of our heads produce oils to keep the hair in good condition. Human hair toppers and wigs obviously do not have follicles and so there is not a regular supply of natural oil. When you wash a human hair wig or topper, you are stripping away the oil on the hair and so it is important to use a gentle shampoo and conditioner. I only use sulphate-free, natural and gentle shampoo brands. I like Faith in Nature products, as they smell nice and are not tested on animals. 

How to wash

  • If you are washing a topper, make sure all of the clips are closed before you begin. 
  • Run the piece under a tap or shower to wet the hair.
  • Get a 2p size blob of your chosen shampoo and gently massage it into the hair. Don’t rub or scrub the hair as that will make it tangle. Don’t worry if you get shampoo on the cap, it won’t damage the knots. 
  • Rinse well in running water. This might take longer than you would normally rinse hair on your head. 
  • I use a conditioning mask rather than a conditioner, but either is fine. The brand I like is called Coco & Eve. The mask is quite pricey, but a little bit goes a long way and it makes the hair feel lovely and soft. The most important thing to note here is that you should only put conditioner on the lengths and ends of the hair – not on the roots. You must keep it away from the knots as it can make them come loose and hair will fall out of your wig or topper. 
  • I leave the mask on the hair for about 10 minutes and then rinse it off under running water. The reason for rinsing this way is to prevent tangling. If you submerge the hair in water and try to wash off the shampoo or conditioner it is much more likely to get tangled. 
  • Never try to dry your piece from soaking wet with a hairdryer. You can pat the hair dry with a towel, but again don’t rub it! I leave my pieces to air dry on a plastic wig stand. If you try to dry your piece on a closed wig head, e.g. polystyrene or canvas, it will take longer to dry and might make the cap and stand a bit smelly and soggy. 
  • I use two different types of plastic stand: a standing one and a hanging one. See photos below. 
  • Do not brush the hair when it is wet, as it will damage the hair. You should be fine to brush it once it is 80-90% dry. Then you can also style it with a hairdryer. Make sure you use heat protection spray whenever you use a heat styling product on your piece. 

Synthetic haircare

You have to buy special hair care products to use on synthetic hair, as the hair is essentially made of plastic. I use a shampoo and conditioner from the T-Range from TrendCo, but there are a few different brands available. The scent is a big thing for me and I like the smell of this range, but I cannot vouch for it being better than other brands.

How to wash

  • Give the hair a gentle brush before you start.
  • Rinse the hair under running water. 
  • Apply a 2p blob of shampoo and massage it into the hair. 
  • Rinse off with running water. Although you don’t have to worry as much about the hair getting tangled. 
  • Here is where things are different from human hair. You will need to fill the sink or a bowl with lukewarm/cold water (make sure the water is not hot!). Add the conditioner to the water and mix it around. Then you soak the whole topper or wig in the bowl of water. 
  • I leave the hair to soak for a few minutes, but check the conditioner bottle and follow the time instructions on there. 
  • Rinse the hair under running water and then leave the piece to air dry. 
  • NOTE: you cannot use heat on synthetics unless they are heat-defiant fibres. 
  • I also have a spray-in conditioner from the T-Range, which I find useful for refreshing synthetic pieces and making the curls a bit bouncier on wavy/curly pieces. 

For more tips and tricks on washing toppers, check out my video!

How to use a topper with a halo wire

What is a halo wire, you ask? If you find topper clips uncomfortable or want added security, a topper with a halo wire could be the answer. It is a small thin piece of wire that sits on your head under the topper (a bit like a halo hair extension) and helps to keep the topper secure. Some ladies like to use this instead of clips or only attach some of the clips. I personally don’t find it that secure without the clips done up as well.

Watch this video to see how I use mine!

All the info on the topper I’m wearing in this video:
Uniwigs 6.5″x6.5″ Claire Mono Top Remy Human Hair Topper with a halo wire
Length: 14″
Color: G-2 Dark Coffee Brown
SKU: PM1902

How to turn a wefted wig into a topper

Have you found the perfect wig, but prefer wearing toppers? If you have a wefted wig – rather than a hand-tied, closed cap wig – then you can quite easily turn it into a large-base topper. Check out my video below to see my first attempt to make a 10×10 inch base topper. I used a cheap Amazon wig to practice on.