One of the first questions we ask women when they visit our wig boutique is: “Are you looking for human hair or synthetic?” For first time wig wearers, the answer is often: “I don’t know – What’s the difference?” Understanding the difference in these two types of wigs will help you make the right decision for you.
Something to consider – both human and synthetic fibers wigs are available in different grades or qualities. For our comparison, we will discuss the differences in a top quality synthetic to Grade A Human Hair. Here’s how they compare:
You may assume that a human hair wig will look more natural than a synthetic, but this is not necessarily the case. Most people cannot tell the difference in human and synthetic just from looking at them. In general, synthetic will look a little shinier or more glossy than human hair. The higher quality synthetic wigs are not as shiny and look more natural than cheaper synthetics. Another difference in appearance has to do with movement. Human hair has more natural movement and bounce than synthetic – which tends to be a little stiffer. If you wear a short hair style, or use hairspray, this is usually not an issue. If you wear your hair long and loose, you may prefer the more natural movement of the human hair.
Human hair has a softer, silkier texture than synthetic. The exact texture of the hair will depend on where it’s from – Asian hair is thicker, straighter, and coarser. Indian hair is silky and wavy. European hair is finer, softer and has a very slight wave. The hair may also have been permed to recreate the appearance of Yaki hair.
Synthetic hair is not quite as soft and silky as human hair. The better the quality of the hair, the softer it will be. The texture of the hair is set at the factory and can range from straight to wavy to curly.
Both human and synthetic wigs can be washed. Synthetic hair should only be washed in cold water, with products designed specifically for synthetic fibers, then be allowed to air dry. The wig will retain its style.
Human hair can be washed in warm or cold water, and you can use any products that you can use on your own hair. We recommend using mild shampoo and a moisturizing conditioner. Products designed for color treated hair work well. Washing the wig causes it to lose its style and return to its natural pattern. To re-style, you will need to blow dry or style with heated tools.
Life Span A lot of factors will determine how long your wig will last – how long the hair is, how often you wear it and under what circumstances, and how you care for it. Synthetic hair is prone to friction frizz when it rubs against something.
Longer wigs are particularly susceptible, as they are going to rub against your back, neck, purse, chair, etc. Human hair, when properly cared for, withstands friction, so it will last longer. As a rule of thumb, expect a short synthetic wig to last up to a year, and a long one up to 6 months. A short human hair wig will last up to 2 years, and a long one about a year. So, in general, you can expect a human hair wig to last about twice as long as a synthetic.
Heat Styling One of the biggest advantages of human hair is that it can be styled just like your own hair with heated styling tools such as curling irons, flat irons or hot rollers. Using heated tools on a synthetic will melt the fiber. Synthetic wigs can be altered (curled or straightened) by a steaming method – but this is best left to a professional wig stylist. There are heat-friendly synthetics on the market, that can be styled with traditional styling tools, but these require much more patience and experience to style than human hair.
Coloring Human hair wigs can be colored. For the best results, we recommend choosing a lighter color and adding lowlights rather than lifting color, as bleach can be damaging. Synthetic wigs cannot be colored. However synthetic wigs are available in a much wider range of colors, including highlighted, graduated, rooted, and foiled colors. Human hair typically is available only in basic colors, and you must add highlights or lowlights.
Human Hair can be permed with a chemical solution, just like your own hair. Synthetic should not be treated with chemicals, but curl and wave can be added or removed permanently by a wig stylist with a wig steamer.
A common misconception we hear regarding synthetic wigs is that they can’t be styled. The truth is, although they cannot be styled with heat, they can be cut, trimmed and thinned, as well as combed, brushed and arranged in different ways. Some synthetic wigs have a part that can be changed. Hair can be brushed toward or away from the face, and bangs can be straight or side swept. Wavy synthetic wigs offer the most versatility, as you can “scrunch” them to make them curlier or brush them to make them straighter. Styling products, such as mousse, gel, and hairspray are available for synthetic wigs to achieve a variety of looks. One of the main advantages of synthetic is, once you have it styled the way you want, the hair stays in place – so it is very little maintenance.
As we have discussed, human hair is more versatile, since it can be styled with heated tools. However, the style will fall over time or if it gets wet, requiring more frequent touch-ups. If you are interested in a human hair wig, it is best if you feel comfortable styling hair. If not, you will need to take it to your stylist frequently for re-styling.