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.

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!

5 lessons I’ve learned about buying wigs and toppers online

I’ve been wearing alternative hair full-time for the past 3.5 years. I’ve bought a lot of pieces – both human hair and synthetic – and I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. Buying hair can be tricky, so here are a few tips and pitfalls to avoid.

1. Just because it looks good on someone else on Instagram, doesn’t mean it will work for you

I have bought a few pieces based on how they looked on someone else and I’ve always been disappointed. For starters, people have different complexions and face shapes, so certain pieces will suit them better. For example, I definitely cannot pull off a centre parting. Also, lots of people filter their photographs, so it is not always a proper representation of what the piece looks like.

If you find a brand or specific piece you like, do your research. Check out lots of different people’s YouTube reviews and find photographs of the piece in different lights. While I have not yet bought a piece from this company, Simply Wigs has a 360-view video of many of its pieces shown on a foam head. This is useful to see how long the piece is and how it looks from all angles.

2. More hair doesn’t equal better… for me

I have learned that too much hair freaks me out. I like pieces that sit flat to my head and give me ‘normal’ looking hair. I’ve never had big and bouncy hair, and I don’t know what to do with it! You probably won’t know how much hair you want/need until you have worn a piece for a while. I am also quite a sweaty person, so having less weight and bulk on my head helps me to feel cool. The pieces that I have bought and then gone on to sell have always been because they are too much hair and have too much volume on top.

3. You get what you pay for

If you buy a £15 headband wig from Amazon, don’t expect it to be amazing quality. I made this mistake: not only did the hair look very fake and shiny, you could see the wefts at the back and it was so tight it gave me a headache. Find a brand you like and once you have researched the piece, look out for discount codes and sales. Don’t impulse buy a piece without finding out as much as you can. I am part of a few hair loss groups on Facebook and I find it useful to ask other wig sisters their views on a piece and for pics of them wearing it. We all have our own budgets and what we view as cheap or expensive is different. However, in my view, if the price seems too good to be true then it probably is. And if you are going to invest in a piece that costs more than a couple of hundred pounds, make sure it is right for you. The most expensive piece I have bought so far was a human hair topper that cost me £500. This was a lot of money for me, but the piece has lasted for a couple of years with daily wear.

4. Don’t be too trusting

There are some bargains to be had when buying wigs or toppers online and you can pick up some great preloved pieces. This year I have bought two preloved toppers from wig sisters in Australia and the UK – I am thrilled with both, which are still in excellent condition and I managed to save a few hundred pounds. However, not everyone is honest. I have heard horror stories of pieces turning up that are in awful condition or not at all what was advertised. If you are transferring money through PayPal, do not use Friends & Family as you will not have any way of getting your money back. If you are buying a piece from an online retailer, check them out first. Are their prices too good to be true? Do they have lots of real reviews of their pieces? Do they have proper contact details and a physical office address? Ask other people if they have bought from a company before and what their customer service is like. Do they charge a high restocking fee if you change your mind and what is their returns policy?

5. Find a hairdresser with wig cutting experience

Once you have got your piece, it is likely that it will need to be modified to make it just right for you (I would say this is more important with toppers than wigs, as they often need to be blended with your bio hair). I tend to have a fringe cut into most of my pieces because I do not have much bio hair at the front to blend in with a topper. Make sure you trust the person who cuts your wig and be clear about what you want. The hair won’t grow back if they cut off too much! I spoke to one lady who took her topper to be trimmed and the stylist cut about 3 inches off the topper so that it matched the length of her bio hair. She was mortified as she wanted to grow out her hair, but had not made this clear to the hairdresser.