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Losing one’s hair is a common part of aging, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The experience can greatly affect self-confidence and may lead to unpleasant emotions in some people.
If you’re having hair loss, zinc shampoos, hair tattoos, and toupees are all things you might consider. Like any hair replacement system, a toupee comes with pros and cons. The trick is figuring out what’s the right option for you.
What is a toupee?
A toupee is a small hairpiece that’s custom-fitted and made for the wearer. The word comes from the Old French word “toupet,” meaning “tuft of hair.” The goal is to cover up areas of balding on your scalp, such as a receding hairline. These hairpieces attach to the scalp using adhesive or tape.
Modern men’s toupees are well-designed and natural-looking. They are made from synthetic or natural hair that matches your own hairstyle and blends in nicely. A toupee, however, does not actually restore hair loss (Saed, 2017).
Wearing a toupee is one of the easiest ways to mask mild balding. They are used by people experiencing hair loss due to male pattern baldness, alopecia areata (patchy hair loss on the scalp and body), trichotillomania (impulsive hair pulling), chemotherapy, and other conditions (Cranwell, 2016; Phillips, 2017).
Toupee vs. wig: what’s the difference?
Wigs and toupees differ in coverage, function, and design. Most commonly, a toupee is a small men’s wig worn to cover up a specific bald spot, such as the top of the head. Wigs are a larger hairpiece that includes a full head of hair and can cover the whole scalp.
Wigs and toupees also differ in how they attach to your head. Typically, toupees have a looser fit and stay in place using temporary adhesive, though other options to help them stay in place are also available. Wigs are usually tighter and may have tabs, clips, adhesive, or a lace front to help them fit seamlessly (Saed, 2017).
The final difference is a toupee is almost always used to disguise areas of thinning hair or baldness, while wigs are used for this purpose plus for fun or fashion purposes.
Why is my hair falling out? How can I stop my hair loss?
Pros of a toupee
Toupees have a lot going for them. Here are some of the pros:
- Toupees look realistic: Despite what you think from watching ‘90s sitcoms (ahem, Seinfeld), today’s toupees look very convincing. They’re designed to blend in and match your hair color, length, and style (Cranwell, 2016).
- Safe solution for hair loss: Toupees are one of the least invasive options for disguising hair loss. Unlike other men’s hair loss treatment options (like medication or a hair transplant), toupees are purely cosmetic and have little to no side effects. Some people find them uncomfortable to wear or have a minor allergic reaction to the adhesive, but unpleasant effects are generally minimal (Saed, 2017; Park, 2018)
- Easy to apply: Toupees are applied using a temporary adhesive or double-sided tape. You can add more adhesive to ensure the toupee is securely in place. Removing a toupee is also straightforward, thanks to special adhesive removers (Saed, 2017).
- Fast results: Wigs and toupees provide immediate results. In one small study, participants reported equally fast improvements in their self-esteem and emotional well-being (Weffort, 2021; Park, 2018).
Cons of a toupee
For all their benefits, toupees are not without downsides. These include:
- Does not restore lost or thinning hair: Like a hair tattoo, a toupee effectively covers up areas of hair loss or thinning hair but does not do anything to make new hair grow. Using prescription products like topical minoxidil (Rogaine) or oral finasteride (Propecia; see Important Safety Information) can actually address and treat hair loss (Cranwell, 2016).
- Toupees are expensive: Purchasing a toupee is more affordable than hair transplant surgery, but it’s still not cheap. An individual toupee costs anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. According to one study, cost is the primary complaint people have about hairpieces (Park, 2018). The more realistic the toupee, the higher the price tag. You also have to add in the costs of replacing and refitting a toupee, which usually happens every few months to years (Saed, 2017).
- Maintenance and upkeep: Toupees need TLC, just like regular human hair. To look their best, toupees need regular shampooing and conditioning using special products.
- Increases your getting-ready time: You’ll need to carefully apply adhesive and put on your toupee when getting ready. Other hair care options don’t slow you down as much because they’re more permanent or can easily be incorporated into your daily routine (Cranwell, 2016; Saed, 2017).
- Can cause anxiety: Wearing a men’s hairpiece or toupee can improve the quality of life for some, but for others, it creates new anxieties or fears. In one study, 49% of people with alopecia areata avoided activities like exercise or swimming due to fears of their hairpiece falling off or being revealed (Aldhouse, 2020).
Hair transplant: what is it, cost, does it work?
Other options for restoring hair
Toupees can be a great option for some people. With a high-quality toupee, you can feel confident about your hair again.
- Medications like oral finasteride and minoxidil
- Hair tattoos
- Microneedling for hair
- Scalp sprays or dyes
- Hair transplants
Talk to your healthcare provider about what may work best for you.
- Aldhouse, N., Kitchen, H., Knight, S., et al. (2020). “‘You lose your hair, what’s the big deal?’ I was so embarrassed, I was so self-conscious, I was so depressed:” A qualitative interview study to understand the psychosocial burden of alopecia areata. Journal of Patient-Reported Outcomes, 4(1), 76. doi:10.1186/s41687-020-00240-7. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32914253/
- Cranwell, W. & Sinclair, R. (2016). Male Androgenetic Alopecia. In K. R. Feingold (Eds.) et. al., Endotext. MDText.com, Inc. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25905192/
- Park, J., Kim, D. W., Park, S. K., et al. (2018). Role of Hair Prostheses (Wigs) in Patients with Severe Alopecia Areata. Annals of Dermatology, 30(4), 505–507. doi:10.5021/ad.2018.30.4.505. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30065604/
- Phillips, T. G., Slomiany, W. P., & Allison, R. (2017). Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment. American Family Physician, 96(6), 371–378. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28925637/
- Saed, S., Ibrahim, O., & Bergfeld, W. F. (2017). Hair camouflage: A comprehensive review. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 3(1l), S75–S80. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.02.016. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28492045/
- Tamashunas, N. L. & Bergfeld, W. F. (2021). Male and female pattern hair loss: Treatable and worth treating. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 88(3), 173–182. doi:10.3949/ccjm.88a.20014. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33648970/
- Weffort, F., Sales Martins, S., Plata, G. T., et al. (2021). Do you know how to recommend a wig to your patient? Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 20(3), 724–728. doi:10.1111/jocd.13602. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32706926/
- Zito, P. M. & Raggio, B. S. (2021). Hair Transplantation. StatPearls. Retrieved on April 22, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31613520/