How To Care For Your Natural Hair Underneath A Wig

Jade Purple Brown
Neon-green waves, inches down to the floor, an Afro reaching toward the sky — that’s the magic of wigs. Snatched is a week-long celebration of wigs, the people who wear them, and their role in Black beauty culture.
Ever look in the mirror at your current hairstyle and get the urge to start from scratch? If the answer is "yes," then you're experiencing a case of hair boredom. You're tired of your look and want to switch it up — maybe go blonde, get a pixie cut, or sport some braids — but the thought of committing to a big change that might permanently damage your hair terrifies you. That's where wigs come in.
Wigs allow you to temporarily transform your look without compromising the health of your natural hair, making them the ultimate protective style. That is, unless you're neglecting your hair. "A wig is a protective hairstyle, so you need to protect the hair underneath it," says Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, Kerry Washington's go-to stylist. "What's the point if you take it down and your hair isn't as healthy — or even healthier — than it was to begin with?"
So, even though a unit takes the day-to-day hassle out of styling, that doesn't mean you can avoid doing your hair altogether. Ahead, we've rounded up expert hair-care tips for wig wearers, along with the pros' favorite products for making sure the hair under your stocking cap is on a luxurious, relaxing vacation and not suffocating in hair hell.
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Wash your hair regularly.

This might seem like a "duh" moment, but experts will tell you the single most important thing you can do for your natural hair — especially while wearing a wig — is to wash it. Simple as that.

Yolanda Lenzy, MD, of Lenzy Dermatology in Massachusetts, says to think of your scalp like your face: Would you go a month without washing it? She highly advises against it. "Product, sweat, and dirt can cause buildup on the scalp. That buildup can worsen dandruff, increase the risk of scalp acne, and cause scalp inflammation," she says. "I recommend going no more than two weeks without cleansing your scalp."

Sturdivant-Drew adds that you should maintain the same cleansing routine you would use if you weren't wearing a wig. "I like to shampoo and condition with something reparative and hydrating, like this Moroccanoil formula," she says.
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Deep condition before you braid your hair down.

If you're braiding the hair underneath your wig and intend to keep them in for days at a time, Koni Bennet, stylist and owner of Vanity Salon, recommends spending some extra time deep conditioning your strands. "Before getting cornrows, you should start with super hydrated hair, so that it doesn't break off when you secure wig clips to them," she says. To make sure your hair is quenched as soon as you leave the shampoo bowl (or shower), Bennet recommends this intense hydrating treatment, which repairs and adds shine to dull, dry hair.
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Make sure your hair is moisturized to avoid breakage.

Hydration doesn't end with a deep conditioner. Even though your hair will be braided under your wig, it's not immune to damage. Larry Sims, go-to stylist to Gabrielle Union, Laverne Cox, and Sanaa Lathan, says that wig clips can cause friction and breakage. So, before braiding your hair, be sure to prepare it with a potent leave-in conditioner.

"Before doing a braid down, I usually spray some of this treatment on clean, wet hair, and then I blowdry," Sims tells Refinery29. "It protects hair from heat and adds just enough shine without making it slippery and hard to braid." If your hair is on the thicker side, you can use a leave-in conditioner that is slightly heavier, like Suave Shea Butter & Coconut Oil Cream, to add slip and control.

Once your hair is braided, Bennet suggests using a serum to lightly coat your braids to further reduce friction and frizz caused by clips and wig caps. "Covering your cornrows with a featherweight oil will act as a barrier between your hair, wig clips, and your stocking cap," she says.
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Treat your scalp.

Once your hair is all braided up, the real work begins. "Even though your hair is braided, you should keep the skin between your braids moisturized," Sims says. "Hydrating your scalp will also help ease tension if your braids or clips are tight — even though you should avoid making them too snug." You can apply an oil, like this one from Gabrielle Union's namesake line, to the roots of your hair every 2-3 days. Though Lenzy stresses — again — to make sure you thoroughly cleanse your scalp every two weeks to remove any oil buildup, which can cause dandruff.

If your scalp gets itchy between washes, you can get temporary relief by using a soothing spray. Sims likes to combine Sea Breeze toner, tea tree oil, and olive oil in a spray bottle and massage it into his clients' scalp. You can also pick up a soothing concoction (like this minty one from The Mane Choice or Head and Shoulders ) to soothe head-slapping itch.
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Cleanse your hairline before bed.

If you're using a strong-hold gel or adhesive to secure your wig, it's important to thoroughly clean your skin and hairline every night. Failure to remove these pasty products can result in breakage and thinning edges. "If you're gluing down lace, you should place it on your skin, not your hair," says Sims. "To safely remove the lace and product residue, like edge control and mousse, I like to apply some alcohol in a spray bottle."

Sims explains that alcohol is ideal for lifting a lace front, because it won't ruin your wig in the process. "Sometimes, oil-based cleansers can seep through the lace and mess up your styled hair," he says. You can also use a gentle clarifying shampoo to remove product buildup along the hairline. We love this one from Kristin Ess, because of its precise nozzle, which allows you to get shampoo right along your edges.
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Avoid sleeping with your wig on.

Taking a snooze with your wig on might seem innocent, but if you can take it off at night you 100% should. According to Lenzy, if a wig is too tight (whether you're sleeping or not), it can cause friction along the hairline, which can result in traction alopecia.

"Your hair follicles are living and active, so you should allow them to breathe — especially at night," Sims adds. He also acknowledges that some people prefer to sew their wigs down, making it impossible to take their wig off before bed. "In that case, make sure you aren't sleeping with your wig sewn on for extended periods of time, so you can still take it off and treat your hair underneath."

If you're taking your wig off daily and want to preserve the quality of braids underneath, Bennet says to sleep with a satin cap on to protect your strands from frizzing while you rest. This one from Grace Eleyae doubles as a hat, so if you need to run errands before putting on your wig, you can be cute and covered.

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