Just like the hair replacement industry offers “alternative hair solutions,” there are alternatives to human hair. Created fiber, alternative fiber and synthetic are all terms used to describe “non-human hair.” While semantics may be considered a marketing gimmick, consider how your client feels about something they perceive as unnatural.

Synthetic fibers commonly used consist of modacrylic, polyvinyl chloride, polyester and nylon.

Modacrylic (K7). Commonly used in wigs.

  • Curling temperature 190 degrees F
  • Replicates human hair denier
  • Melting temperature 390 degrees F
  • Moist heat
  • Won’t absorb water

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Very shiny by itself and common in costume or Cosplay wigs, and of course, Barbie doll hair.

  • Curling temperature 190 degrees F
  • Moist heat
  • Won’t absorb water

Polyester is also known as its marketing name of Futura.

  • Curling temperature 250 degrees F
  • Moist and dry heat
  • Won’t absorb water

Nylon is also known as cyberhair and vital hair. Made from nylon chips with color throughout.

  • Curling temperature 320 degrees F to 365 degrees (depending on the type)
  • Keeps factory-made textures and curl
  • Replicates human hair shine
  • Three times lighter than human hair
  • Moist and dry heat
  • Absorbs water like human hair

Created hair fibers can often be worn right out of the box with little cutting and no styling. Synthetic hair fibers have “memory” for wave, curl and volume built into the fiber, which lets hair bounce back into place with minimal effort. Some synthetic fibers can even hold up in bad weather without frizzing.

Wigs made from synthetic fibers typically last about three to six months, with nylon-made fibers last much longer. Durability will depend upon the client’s home care routine. Salon conditioning services are recommended for prolonged wig life.

Synthetic fibers colors are more colorfast than human hair. They are the go-to for light colors, including grays. Other tips:

  • Store wig properly to avoid matting and tangles
  • Sleeping in wigs reduces durability
  • Swimming can dry out synthetic fiber
  • Do not expose wig to higher heat than recommended
  • Use products developed for synthetic hair
  • Friction will cause damage if not cared for properly
  • Longer styles can mat and tangle from the shoulder friction

Synthetic Hair Advantages

  • Does not rely on human hair harvesting practices
  • Color does not fade
  • Blondes and grays are consistent quality and color
  • Improved options with hand-tied areas in the front and tops
  • Synthetic fiber is lower cost than human hair
  • Rooted colors are common
  • No unwanted undertones as compared to human hair

Hair texture can be difficult to achieve without using a curling iron or a crimping iron, but heat damage can occur. There are ways to add texture and waves without heat styling. These methods are effortless and effective.

Adding Texture and Volume into Synthetic Hair Without Causing Heat Damage

Use a steamer to change up your client’s style (in salon) for a more permanent set. To speed up the process, place the wrapped wig (hair netted) in the overhead hairdryer and let dry on medium heat.

BRAIDS: Apply damp braids in a random method to add texture and let dry. This is a classic method to give waves and hair texture. More braids give smaller waves. A French braid will have waves go all the way up towards the roots.

SCRUNCHING: Use your hands on a damp wig, add a small amount of curl mousse, a towel, or a T-shirt to scrunch the hair. The longer you scrunch it, the wavier it will be when dry. To ensure more defined waves, scrunch the hair with curl-enhancing products. After you’ve scrunched the hair, be sure to let it air dry so waves stay intact.

ROLLERS: Roll hair after cleansing it until dry, for beautiful, voluminous curls. Start from the bottom and roll up small sections. Speed up the drying process with a hairdryer if necessary.

ALUMINUM FOIL CURLS: Curl the hair with aluminum foil and a straightener at the correct synthetic temperature. Take a big piece of aluminum foil and fold it into a long, skinny rectangle. Bend it in half and lay the “V” of the folded foil at the base of the hair. Weave a section of hair around the foil and then gently use a flat iron at the correct temperature and tap down that section. Adding a steamer in the salon will make this last longer. Let dry and cool completely.

HEADBAND WAVE: Leave hair out below the band and place the part where you like. Start wrapping small pieces and twisting the hair backward while picking up the next piece as you proceed around to the back. Use curling mousse or water to create a natural beach wave effect. To make this more of a permanent curl, add steam. Let dry completely.

By Jerry Holt, Senior Research and Development and Educator at International Hairgood