Is Your Wig Causing You Pain?
Late last month, a few weeks after winning her first Grammy for her hit “Hrs & Hrs,” Muni Long took to Twitter to let fans know she’d been sick. It wasn’t COVID, exhaustion, or anything stars usually attribute to being down for a number of days. The cause of her prolonged discomfort, she shared, was her wig.
Long revealed that she’d had an allergic reaction from wearing a certain wig and had been “sick as hell” for three days.
I been sick as hell for the last 3 days. Turns out I was having an allergic reaction to my FOOKIN WIG b*tch. 😂 sittin up here dying tryna be cute. Omg.
— My name is MUNI (@munilong) February 24, 2023
After more than 23,000 people viewed her tweet, she decided to share further details. While unclear if it was the actual wig or the glue used to hold it in place, the singer-songwriter said once she took it all off, she was no longer in pain.
The tweets left us wondering what exactly caused her the pain that would leave her ill for that long. Could a wig really make you sick? Board-certified dermatologist Yolanda Lenzy, MD, FAAD of Lenzy Dermatology in Chicopee, Mass. says it was contact dermatitis.
“It’s pain in the area where she had the wig,” Lenzy tells ESSENCE. “With contact dermatitis, you can get pain, tenderness, scaling, redness. Those are the typical symptoms of a contact dermatitis or contact allergen.”
But sometimes symptoms experienced from hair accessories are more complex than just feeling pain or itchiness. For actress Countess Vaughn, she revealed years ago that her constant use of wigs and glue to keep them in place left her with an oozing scalp and hair loss.
“The red flag was the oozing — from my ears, from my forehead, the whole nape around my head. The pus. It had a horrible smell. It was painful,” Vaughn said during a visit to the show The Doctors in 2014. “I let this go by for six months. What I didn’t realize was I had a bad reaction to the glue that I used to apply the wig, so my hair started falling out. I didn’t want to make the connection. I mean come on, a wig can make you sick? No. No way.”
In Vaughn’s case, Lenzy says she was suffering with a severe form of contact dermatitis.
“Similar to patients who have severe eczema, they can have so much itching and scratching that they develop a secondary skin bacterial infection,” she says. “We call it secondary because the infection is coming from the itching or scratching. It’s not like a primary infection where there was something in the glue that was contaminated. It’s that the reaction is so severe the skin starts to ooze just from the severe inflammation.”
So what is it about some wigs that could leave our scalps in such great distress? In a time when wigs are, perhaps, more popular than ever, Lenzy shares the ins and outs of contact dermatitis, the impact of methacrylate in common hair products, and why a wig and adhesives you had no problem with today could give you great trouble tomorrow.
“The adhesives that are used to fix the wigs, some people use wigs they glue down and some people just use wigs that are attached with the clips that are inside. The ones that are using glue, they have a chemical in them called methacrylate and they are a common allergen for a lot of people,” says Lenzy. “Basically, you can develop something called contact dermatitis which is just an allergic reaction to an ingredient that is coming into contact with the skin. With that you can get itching, scaling, redness, burning. All of the typical symptoms people see with skin sensitivities. So that’s a reason I generally don’t recommend gluing down wigs because you don’t know if you’re allergic to it until it comes in contact with your skin.”
You Can Develop An Allergic Reaction To A Product You Use Often
“You can develop allergies to things you have used with no problems in the past,” Lenzy says. “Patients will say, ‘Oh I’ve been using this for a long time and never had any problems.’ But you can develop a reaction to things you previously didn’t have a reaction to.”
“Wherever you have a lot of inflammation and scratching, you can start to lose hair,” she shares. “It can grow back because it’s usually more of a temporary situation unless whatever is causing it is not removed or treated properly. You can get continuous inflammation to the point that the hair follicle temporarily goes to sleep and doesn’t produce any hairs. The only time hair doesn’t come back is if any scarring has happened. That usually doesn’t happen unless there’s continual neglect for a long period of time. But generally, it’s a temporary situation. The hair can grow back once what’s causing the issue is removed.”
clump of hair strands in comb
Early Symptoms to Pay Attention to
“If you notice a temporal relationship between when you added the wig and developing symptoms like itching, burning and pain, that’s a strong sign that it’s the contact from that product causing it,” she says. “So we have to pay attention if we introduce things and find ourselves developing any new types of symptoms.”
Cropped shot of a beautiful young woman sitting at home
Keep Wigs From Being Directly on Your Scalp or Skin
“One of the things I recommend is you definitely want to protect your edges under the wig,” Lenzy advises. “You don’t want the wig sitting directly on your scalp or your skin. I recommend the patients use a special headband like the hair grip, so the wig sits on top of that — it’s like a velvet headband — as opposed to right on top of your skin. Even if you don’t develop a reaction, consistent wig use will cause damage to your hair follicles and you can end up with traction alopecia.”
As part of a make-over series (4K footage available)
Rotate Styles to Give Your Scalp a Break
“If you have to wear a wig all the time due to a medical condition, when you get home, try letting your hair be free,” she says. “That’s why I’m not a fan of sewing wigs down. Some people go to the salon and get their wig sewed down and don’t take it out until they go to the salon again. I prefer more wig use where people take them off and on daily so they can properly cleanse their scalp and let it breathe.”
Gathering hair volume with hands. Trying to make a hairstyle with sensitive head skin
Listen to Your Scalp
“We need to listen to our scalp, listen to our skin,” Lenzy adds. “It will tell us when it doesn’t like something or something is irritating it. Try to do something about it and not expose your hair to the same thing.”
Young African woman from behind with curly brown hair wearing a white tight-fitting dress standing in a wig shop.