If you are someone who wears human hair wigs, you may have seen in recent weeks and months both a shortage of stock from suppliers and an increase in price. Events of the past eighteen months have resulted in huge problems in the manufacturing and supply of human hair wigs.

For anyone not understanding why prices have shot up so much, and why supply is so limited on some brands, we thought it might be helpful to do provide some information to explain what has occurred and try to give some tips and advice which might be helpful.

Understanding the manufacturing process

Many human hair wigs are made in China. Factories in China import large quantities of hair from neighbouring Asian countries, namely India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Typically, manufacturing of the wigs (or at least a part of the manufacturing process) has been outsourced by China to North Korea.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic caused many Asian countries to halt production and cut off transportation with China, including the countries (named above) involved in either the supply of hair or the manufacturing process.

Problems from the pandemic

The majority of human hair for wigs comes from India, mostly from temples where many donate their hair as a religious sacrifice. In earlier times, the hair was thrown away. Today, hair is sold for wig manufacturing. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns meant that the temples in India were closed. This meant that the hair donations ceased, contributing to the shortage of human hair wigs. It had a big impact on Chinese wig production lines. Basically, it caused a hiatus on the production process.

In January 2020, all trade between China and North Korea was suspended. Earlier this year North Korea announced that they won’t be returning to wig manufacturing contracts with China as they have shifted young workers to other types of work. As a result China, is needing to train its own workers which takes time and comes at a greater cost.

The ‘perfect storm’ of lack of raw materials, disruption to the manufacturing process and closed borders, not to mention rising fuel costs and import complications as a result of Brexit (e.g. delays at ports) mean that the human hair wig market is facing huge challenges. Raw material prices have surged, along with the cost of labour, meaning the price of wigs has rocketed to unprecedented levels. Given the scale of some of these issues, it is likely to be some time before supply is returned to normal.

What can you do

We recognise the importance of wigs to many people with alopecia. We understand the anxiety and worry that can come with not being able to access the wigs you need. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Consider a synthetic wig

It may be that you have worn human hair wigs for many years and have not felt confident to wear a synthetic wig. It is worth noting that wig technology has progressed a long way in the past few years and synthetic wigs are more natural looking than ever before. Whilst historically, synthetic wigs could not be styled, the introduction of heat-friendly fibres means that some synthetic wigs can be styled. If you haven’t explored the world of synthetic fibre wigs, it is worth looking again.

  1. Care for your current human hair wig

Ensure you care for your current wig and follow the care instructions that come with your specific brand of wig. If you notice your wig has some damage, consider contacting your supplier and enquiring if they offer a repair service. Sometimes further life can be put into old wigs.

  1. Consider contacting your wig supplier earlier to order

To try to combat the delays in the supply of wigs, consider contacting your wig supplier earlier than you would normally do to order your wig.

  1. Enquire about payment plans

If struggling with the affordability of wigs, consider making enquiries with your wig supplier to see if they offer a payment plan to allow you to spread the cost of the wig over a period rather than paying for the full cost upfront.

Wigs and the NHS

It is hard for us to provide definitive advice on what to do regarding provision of human hair wigs via the NHS. Many NHS organisations do not routinely offer human hair wigs on prescriptions. We know that some people with alopecia are accessing human hair wigs via the NHS. If you are concerned about your wig provision, we recommend you speak with your orthotics department, dermatology department or NHS wig supplier for more information.

Aside from the specific problems with human hair wigs, we know that more challenges are arising with NHS wig provision. Alopecia UK is continuing its campaign for fairer wig provision and are keen to ensure that wigs continue to be supported by the NHS. Read more about our work on this here. Since the publication of this update from July we have made further progress and hope to roll out a Best Practice Charter to NHS organisations in early 2022.

Diamond Wig Bank

If you have any wigs, human hair or synthetic fibre, that you no longer wear please consider donating them to Diamond Wig Bank. Owner Lyndsey reconditions old wigs and sells them for a reduced cost and donates 60% of the cost price to Alopecia UK. Since January 2019, she has raised over £5,000 for Alopecia UK. Find out more here

Little Princess Trust

The Little Princess Trust are a charity who provide real hair wigs, free of charge, to children and young people aged 24 and under, who have lost their own hair through cancer treatment and other conditions including alopecia. We know they have been experiencing supply problems but if you are looking for a wig for a child or young person aged 24 or under, you may wish to contact Little Princess Trust to see if they can help you. Details here.

Further reading links:

Chinese wig producers run short of hair as pandemic hits Asian supply line – Global Times 1/6/21

India. The Hair Business – SouthWorld 1/12/20

North Korea Says It Won’t Make Chinese Wigs and False Eyelashes Once Trade Resumes – Radio Free Asia 24/4/21