“Maybe I should just shave my head like that Sinéad woman did,” complained Aunt Azelda, dropping a rare pop-culture reference. Azelda was staring at her reflection in the vanity mirror, lamenting time’s gradual ruination of her hair. Weekly trips to the salon had long been high points, sources of cheer. Now they were becoming burdensome, and her hair was showing its neglect.

“Maybe you should think about getting a wig,” I suggested.

“Maybe you should get on that, Eve,” she answered.

“Fifty percent of our customers are chemo patients,” said Claudia Pedley, sales manager of Hair Unlimited in Mission Valley (619-299-6060; hairunlimited.net). “The other half is a mixture. Some are older ladies with fine or thinning hair, and some are people with hair problems brought on by medication for high blood pressure. They’re much more lightweight and natural-looking than in the past. They come in any color, from black to lightest blond. They can have highlights, lowlights, even darkened roots to make them look more natural. Still, when you first put one on, you notice it. I suggest that first-time customers wear the wig just at night, in order to get used to the feeling.”

The shop, said Pedley, carries a wide selection of designer wigs, made from either human hair or synthetic hair. The hair for the human-hair wigs comes from “poor villages in Asia. The companies offer money to the women, based on the weight of their hair. They cut the hair in a short bob and then tie off the hair at the root end and at the bottom end. They want the root ends to be at the top of the wig. Our human-hair wigs are hand-tied — sewn one at a time into a mesh with a special needle. Those are the most natural-looking. It looks like the hair is coming from your own scalp.” (A non-stretch mesh is used for the crown to add to this effect.) “You can part the hair any way you want, and it will look like a natural part. With a machine-made wig, you can part it, but it will look like the hair has been teased a bit in the part.”

Caring for human-hair wigs involves “washing every two weeks in the summer and once a month in the winter. You can use your own shampoo — preferably a moisturizing shampoo. If it’s a blond wig, I recommend using cold water to help the color last as long as possible. When you condition, you start at the middle of the wig and work toward the bottom — you never put conditioner on the top because it will soften the hair and cause it to start falling out. Too much blow-drying isn’t good for it, so I suggest squeezing it out as much as possible first and then laying the wig on top of a towel. After that, you can go ahead and flatiron it or style it however you like. You can use hot rollers, curling irons, anything you want. You can style it while it’s on your head or on a wig stand [$2.99–$3.99]. It will hold the style for about a week — only the bangs might go flat and need a touch-up. If worn every day, a human-hair wig will last up to a year and a half. Some people don’t wear them every day, in order to make them last longer.”

Synthetic wigs are less flexible — they come pre-styled, and the wig retains a memory of the style even after washing. They’re less durable — Pedley estimates a six- to eight-month life span if worn every day, with certain caveats. “You must keep a synthetic wig away from heat — you cannot cook next to a hot oven or stove. I even tell people to stay away from those outdoor heaters in restaurants. It’s not that they’re flammable; what happens is that they get frizzy.” They require a specialized wig shampoo ($6.99) and wig conditioner ($6.99). “They’re very easy, especially for people who want something ready to go for when they travel.” And they’re less expensive. A human-hair, hand-tied wig can run from $300 to $800, where synthetics cost $119 to $288.

Full-head wigs come in petite, average, or large. Some fasten at the back of the neck with Velcro, some have hooks, and some feature elastics — “You can pull each side to adjust them. If someone gets fitted for a wig while they have hair, and then they lose the hair, they can come back for an adjustment — we’ll sew it to make it smaller.” Custom-made wigs are also an option, if an expensive one ($500–$1200, depending on length, density of hair, etc.). “You have a mold made of your head, and we cut a bit of your hair and send it in so that they can match it. It takes about four to six weeks to arrive. You can pick the length, and we can style it for you, or you can wear it to the hairdresser’s.

“We observe the customer to see their needs,” concluded Pedley. “If the hair is very thin on top but still thick in the back,” Pedley will suggest an integration instead of a full-head wig. “It’s like a hairpiece, with clips underneath it. It clips onto the crown of the head, and the hair looks as if it comes from the scalp. We can even add bangs and style the integration for the customer. They’re cooler than wigs, but you cannot shower or swim with them.” Integrations, available in synthetic or human hair, run from $49 to $599.

Other wig sources around town:

Donna Good Hairpiece Center, Hillcrest and La Mesa (619-297-2909). Synthetic wigs, $190–$450; human-hair wigs, $250–$550.

Crowning Glory Wig Salon, North Park (619-296-4084). Synthetic wigs, $90–$120.

Lorane’s Wigs, Clairemont Mesa (858-571-7973). Synthetic wigs, $29.99–$55.99; human-hair wigs, $49–$74.99.

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