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A beginner’s guide to wig maintenance and styling, according to the pros

For years I've opted for heat styling my natural hair instead of learning about wig maintenance and styling and about the difference between synthetic wigs and human hair wigs because I was intimidated by the installation process—and of course, the final look. However, once I saw YouTube influencer AllyiahsFace install one of the realest-looking wigs last spring, I finally caved and bought a few pieces for myself.

I watched hours of YouTube tutorials and consulted my wig-wearing friends for help on my first install. Once I got it down, I was hooked. I've worn curly hairstyles, bob cuts, and mermaid waves, and even threw some fun hair colors into the mix. I went from using a blow-dryer and flatiron daily to having mannequin heads crowd my apartment in just a few weeks.

Whether that sounds familiar—or you're simply curious about the world of wigs—we tapped experts for tips on everything from wig prep and installation to maintenance and styling. Here's what you need to know.

What types of wigs are there?

Before even thinking about wig installation, it pays to know what types of wigs are out there, since prices can range from under $100 for synthetic units to well in the thousands for custom-made designs from human hair. There are many different types of wigs to choose from, with the most “popular wig types being lace-front wigs or lace-closure wigs, headband wigs, ready-to-wear wigs, half-wigs, synthetic wigs, human-hair wigs, U-part wigs, and more,” Brittany Johnson, licensed hairstylist and senior content manager for Mayvenn, tells Glamour.

I wanted to challenge myself, so I decided to try a lace-front wig first—because those require a more detailed installation process as opposed to glueless, capless, and headband wigs. I knew that once I became comfortable with a lace closure, installing any other type of wig would be a breeze. But since I was still a newbie, I opted for a synthetic unit versus a human-hair wig with a lace closure because it's more affordable. (I also knew that down the line I'd consider making the investment, but not for my first wig.)

How to install a wig

Prepping hair for an installation is key to getting the most natural-looking results. “Before installing your wig, make sure that your natural hair is properly cleansed and protected,” says Johnson. “Use a heat protectant or moisturizing leave-in conditioner, and make sure that your hair is completely dry before placing a wig on top, whether you’re wearing a braid-down or slicking your hair back.” Those with thicker hair usually style their hair with a braid-down pattern underneath their wig cap to ensure that their natural hair stays flat and in place underneath. In my case, I wear my hair straight under my wigs (I'm not good at braids!) and slick it back into a low ponytail that I flip and tuck underneath my wig cap.

The next phase of installation requires you to have a few hair tools and styling products on deck. “It’s always handy to have a rattail comb, Got2B Glued Blasting Freeze Spray or similar adhesive—if you’re wearing a wig with lace—and light styling products to make sure your wig is styled the way you’d like,” says Johnson. “Using a wig cap and a WigGrip helps to protect your natural hair and keep the wig in place.” A wig grip removes the need for extra clips, tape, and excessive amounts of glue on your head thanks to the stitched fabric that stops your wig from rolling back.

“While having your wig installed, less is more,” celebrity hairstylist Weezy Thomas tells Glamour. “Simply spray one layer of Got2B Glued Blasting Freeze Spray across your hairline, and then tie it down with a scarf or elastic band for about 10 to 15 minutes and it’ll make your lace look fresher and more natural.”

Once your wig is glued down onto your wig cap, it's time to cut the lace with a small razor. “Make sure to only cut off a little bit of the hairline lace at a time and do it while the wig is on your head,” says Johnson. “That way you can follow the pattern of your natural hairline and ensure that you’re not removing too much lace.” Figuring out how to cut the lace requires a lot of attention to detail as razors can cut through it pretty fast. That's why it's a good idea to work slowly to ensure that you're getting as close to your natural hairline as possible without cutting off any hair from the wig.

I always wondered what I'd look like with long, wavy hair, so I settled on experimenting with the Hanhua Lace-Front Body Wave Wig. I liked that this wig has plucked baby hairs, allowing for a more natural-looking hairline. It's also a lace-front wig, which meant I needed all of the abovementioned tools for installation, along with a small razor for cutting the lace.

Armed with the necessary tips and tools, I slicked my hair back into a small ponytail and threw on my wig cap. Before gluing my wig onto my head, I added a bit of dry shampoo to the wig itself to help get rid of any shine for a more natural vibe. And because not all wig lace is universal, I sprayed tinted spray onto the lace inside the wig to match my scalp's skin tone. I followed up by spraying the Got2B Glued Blasting Freeze Spray onto my wig cap, then using a blow-dryer on the cool setting to help dry the glue (and ensure that my wig cap would stay put). Once my hair was dry, I moved on to the second layer of spray, then laid my wig onto that new layer to secure it in place. Finally, I went in for a third round of spray-and-blow-dry to make sure the lace would completely melt down.

As a total newbie, I was surprised to find the installation process fairly seamless to follow. True, there are a ton of steps, but with patience and attention to detail, it's totally possible to nail your first wig installation.

Wig styling & maintenance

There are tons of ways to style a wig, but you'll want to be mindful of the type of wig you're working with. Synthetic units can melt under too-hot temps, so it's best to play around with heatless styling options for those—think combs or braids. Human-hair wigs take better to heat styling, though experts advise applying a protectant spray beforehand and, if possible, styling with a hot tool that allows for precise temperature control so you don't mistakenly ruin the hair.

“While having your wig installed you can always apply a light clear serum,” says Thomas. “My favorite is Cantù hair gloss, especially if the hair has been colored or chemically processed in any way. Adding a serum to the hair rejuvenates the strands and makes the hair soft and hydrated.”

Depending on the type of wig I have on, I like to cut off small pieces in the front to slick down as baby hairs and make the wig's hairline appear even more natural. And to flatten out any bumps on straight-haired styles, I use the flat edge of a hot comb right along the top. Curly wigs, in my experience, require less maintenance and no heat styling.

The curly number I have on in the picture below is a capless and lace-free unit, so it's pretty easy to install thanks to the built-in combs that secure onto my head. I just have to add a little Got2B spray near the hairline for extra security, and it's the perfect wig for days when I'm in a rush.

As far as maintenance and longevity go, that depends on the type of wig you're working with—as well as your upkeep habits. “Human-hair wigs last longer than synthetic wigs,” says Johnson. “A good quality wig can last for months, or even years, with the right maintenance schedule.” When it's well taken care of, a human-hair wig can last over a year, and synthetic wigs can last for up to six months.

And while you can shampoo and condition your wigs to keep them looking and feeling fresh, Johnson also recommends following tips directly from the wig manufacturer, to make sure they have the longest lifespan. “It’s important to use products that the manufacturer recommends,” she advises. “Some synthetic wigs can't be washed at all, while some require special cleansing products.” Human wigs should be washed every 7 to 10 wears, while synthetic wigs should be washed every 15 to 20 wears. I shampoo and condition both my human-hair wigs and synthetic wigs accordingly, but I'm careful not to overwash since it can ruin the quality of the hair and decrease the wig's lifespan.

Proper upkeep also relates to how long you keep your wig on, especially at night. “If you can take your wig off while you’re sleeping, please do so,” says Johnson. “This gives your natural hair time to breathe, maintains the longevity of the wig, and cuts down on styling time. It’ll be ready to go for the next morning without a ton of touch-up time.” This means that as long as you stay on top of your wig's care, you can wear styles for weeks at a time before having to switch up to something new.

Of course, a lot of people do sleep with their wigs on at night—myself included, on days when I'm feeling ~particularly~ lazy. When that happens, I like to tie down the front of the wig with an edge scarf and place a silk bonnet on top to help keep everything in place.

Wig removal & storage

No matter how good a wig looks, you can't keep it on forever. Luckily, wig removal is a fairly quick process, though it needs to be done with care and safety in mind. (Trust, the last thing you want to do is rip it off and yank strands from your natural hairline.)

“If glue or lace tape was used, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the adhesive remover that they recommend,” says Johnson. However, for wigs that aren't glued down, she recommends using a bit of diluted rubbing alcohol to remove any product from your forehead if necessary.

If you're storing your wig for a long time instead of just leaving it overnight on a mannequin, it's best to wash it before. “Deep-clean your wig with a clarifying shampoo, like Paul Mitchell’s Tea Tree Shampoo, for breaking up any old and leftover products that may be trapped in the wig,” says Thomas. “After shampooing, you always want to deep-condition the wig.” His go-to is Silicon Mix by Avanti, and he suggests leaving it on the wig for about 15 minutes, followed by rinsing and air-drying. You can air-dry your wig on a wig stand or wall hook if you don't have one.

Last but not least: Tend to your natural hair. I always deep-clean and -condition my own hair right after a wig removal so there's no glue, hairspray, or styling residue in sight. Then I'm ready for my next one.

This article was originally published on Glamour US.

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