Wigs: Natural versus Synthetic Hair

Woman just before putting on a wig
Photo: Shutterstock
One of the biggest considerations in choosing a wig is whether you want to go with natural or synthetic hair. The synthetic fibers used in making wigs today look far more realistic than in previous generations, but they can still appear less natural. Below is a comparison of the pros and cons of both synthetic and natural hair:
How to Tell the Difference:
The easiest way to tell if a wig is made with natural or synthetic hair is to pull a strand out of the wig and burn it. Natural hair will burn slowly and give off a distinctive odor, while synthetic hair will usually melt and/or ball up when placed near a flame, depending on the particular composition of the synthetic fiber, or will burn out quickly. In either case, synthetic hair will not give off an odor.
Advantages of Natural Hair Wigs:
•  More realistic appearance than synthetic wigs.
•  Greater durability.
•  The same styling and maintenance requirements as your real hair. It can be custom-colored to suit, and it can tolerate heat from styling appliances.
Disadvantages of Natural Hair Wigs:
•  It reacts to climate the way your real hair does (may frizz or lose curl in humid weather).
•  Hair must be reset/restyled after shampooing, which can be challenging for someone attempting to do so at home.
•  Color will oxidize/fade with exposure to light.
•  Hair will break if mistreated by harsh brushing, back-combing or overuse of heat styling.
•  It can be heavier than synthetic wigs of similar style/length.
•  Recent checks for average retail pricing of natural hair wigs show a range from around $150 to over $1000 and higher, depending on style, length, maker, percentage of human hair, and ethnic origin of the human hair used.
Woman wearing a synthetic wig
Anton Estrada/Canva
Advantages of Synthetic Hair:
•  Technological advances have produced modacrylic synthetics (like kanekalon) which are so similar in look and feel to protein-rich hair fibers that they can even fool some stylists.
•  A great value. Not only are they realistic, but they are less expensive than natural hair. They are also easier to maintain at home. Shampooing with cold water will not change the style, nor will exposure to extreme humidity.
•  Synthetic wigs tend to be made according to current styles with cut, color, and texture already set. They usually only need custom trimming to be ready to wear.
•  Color availability is almost unlimited (from natural to fantasy colors). The cheapest wig styles tend to be more solid in color, while higher-quality synthetics have blended colors for natural-looking hair.
•  Synthetic colors will not fade or oxidize even after long periods in direct sunlight.
•  They tend to be lighter in weight, thus more comfortable to wear.
•  Recent pricing research shows that synthetic wig prices (at retail) range from under $50 to over $400, depending on the style, length, and brand name.
Disadvantages of Synthetic Hair:
•  You must avoid extreme heat such as from hair dryers, hot rollers, flat irons, and curling irons.
•  Traditional hair color will not work with synthetic fibers. Recoloring synthetic wigs is not recommended.
•  Synthetic hair can appear shiny and unnatural. The quality and price can affect how natural the hair looks. Thick synthetic wigs will look unnatural on women with fine hair.
As you can see, there are a number of factors that support and oppose each type of wig. As a consumer, the key is to determine what you are looking for from your wig and choose accordingly.
See also:
Wigs Basics
Quality and Cost of Wigs