How Pro Hairstylists Make Wigs Look More Natural

How Pro Hairstylists Make Wigs Look More Natural
Photo: Getty Images

As a beauty editor, spotting and reporting on red carpet trends is a part of the job; a very fun part of the job. And one of my favorite things to do is guess whether a celebrity is wearing a wig or not, because why not? I’m building a little collection of my own and since I’m relatively new to the world of faux strands, the first thing I want to master is making them look as natural as possible.

A-listers have access to some of the sickest wig makers on the planet and if you need proof, pull up a photo of Zendaya, Lady Gaga or Naomi Campbell and try to locate the lace in their lace front. Spoiler alert: you won’t because the placement is just too good. Another awards season is upon us and I can guarantee hairstylists will be inundated with requests for red-carpet ready hair pieces. And since those of us sitting at home won’t have complete insider access, I reached out to an expert for the lowdown on how he makes a wig look like the real thing.

Sia Wig

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Isaac Davidson is a hairstylist, wig maker and owner of Wigbar who got his start behind the Broadway stage. You’ve probably seen his work on clients such as SIA, Daphne Guinness, Juliette Lewis and Julianna Margulies. He’s also created hair magic for high-end brands Chanel, MCM, Maison Margiela for Barneys New York and MAC Cosmetics. Oh, and he’s collaborated with thee legendary photographer Steven Meisel.

Ahead are three things he says you should always keep in mind if you want to keep them guessing while wearing a wig.

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Fit and style are paramount when donning a wig. If you’re going with a custom design, do not skip a consultation; it will make or break the final look and you certainly don’t want to shell out cash for a mediocre version.

Davidson says that once a style (cut, color, length) is determined, a wig maker will usually take 2-3 weeks to create the wig. This time frame is an average estimate since the process really depends on the materials needed.

On the other hand, if you’re working with a modest budget and plan on getting your wig from the local beauty supply store, there’s one crucial step that makes it a lot easier to ensure that it will look natural.

“If you buy a wig from a store, it is important to take correct measurements of your head before you purchase,” says Davidson. “The cap of wigs comes in many different sizes and materials and you want to get a wig that fits snug to your head, without it being too tight/small or too loose/big for comfortable wearing.”

If the wig is too tight, you risk cutting off circulation to the hair follicles around your hairline, which in turn, inhibit growth and promote damage. And if the wig is too loose, it will look slightly lifted and hardly blend into your natural hairline. If you don’t have measuring tape at home, most beauty supply store employees are equipped with their own so you can do it on the spot.

“You also want to buy the wig that matches the cut & color and style you want.  If you need to have your wig cut or colored, you should search out a professional who has experience coloring and cutting wigs,” says Davidson.

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Color and Hair Type

The reason most professionals recommend buying a custom wig is because you can dictate how each and every strand is distributed over the cap. When Davidson is creating lace front wigs for his celebrity clientele, he’s able to keep onlookers guessing whether it’s real or not by placing “less hair density on top and around the part and more hair density in the back.”

For light blonde and brown-colored human hair lace fronts, he’ll dye the root up to two shades darker than the overall color, like he did for Juliette Lewis in the movie “Hick.”

“This gives the wig a more natural realistic look by adding depth to the base or root.”

And for darker brunette colored human hair lace fronts, he bleaches or lightens the hair around the lace front wig hairline to soften out the base or root to achieve a more natural look.

However, when he’s creating wigs for photo shoots and performers on stage, he prefers to work with synthetic hair since it tends to fair better under heavy lights and sweat. If you’re working with a synthetic wig (which tends to be cheaper than human ones), diminish that shiny, waxy look by covering it with a light dusting of dry shampoo. This is what Davidson does to achieve a more natural look.

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Securing Natural Hair

And finally, how you treat your real hair underneath has just as much an impact on the final look. For short-term wear, Davidson uses wig tape to secure the wig, while he uses wig glue for longer-term wear. The latter will last for a week or up to a month with proper care.

But before he secures the wig with tape or glue, he styles the natural hair underneath. For shorter hair, Davidson will brush the hair back from the face and nape of neck using hair gel or mousse to secure. As for longer strands, he’ll place them into pin curls using bobby pins, “evenly distributing the hair all over the head getting the pin curls as close to scalp as possible and avoiding any lumps or unevenness.”

If you have textured hair, cornrows or twists are another way to keep your natural strands protected. Just be sure not to braid too tight, as that will create unnecessary tension and pain on the scalp. After that, the hair should be placed under a wig cap that is a close match to the base color of the wig.

Are you ready to switch up your look now?