The Best Tips For Styling Wigs, According to Gabrielle Union's Hairstylist

There's nothing quite like having the freedom to style your hair in whichever way you please. Want to try the latest "California brunette" hair color? Grab that box of hair dye. Looking for an edgy new haircut? Get your inspiration picture of the trendy "airspace" haircut, and head to the salon. There's so much inspiration to choose from that it can feel easy to want to try them all. The problem, of course, is that constantly styling your hair can come with lots of adverse effects like heat damage, dullness, or dry and brittle ends. One solution worth considering? Wearing wigs.

Wigs can act as a great protective styling option if you want to decrease the manipulation your hair endures. They're also great for anyone who just wants to try out different hairstyles without having to fully commit. But styling a wig can be a bit different than styling your own hair, especially if you take into consideration all the different types of wig options on the market. To stave off any confusion, Larry Sims, celebrity hairstylist and cofounder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union, provides the best tips for styling wigs ahead.

How to Style a Wig

A common goal when styling a wig is making it look like it could be your real hair. "I always approach wig styling with wanting them to look as natural as possible," Sims says. "I love doing over-the-top styles with wigs, but I also like for there to be a realistic approach to even my most extreme hairstyles."

What exactly does making a wig look natural entail? It depends. If, for example, you're wearing a lace-front wig, that typically involves gluing down the front of the wig (or the lace) because these types of units tend to be extremely natural looking. Synthetic wigs, on the other hand, may need a bit more work — including some additional detangling — to make the wig lie flat and not get too tangled. Either way, approach the customization of your wig to your standards and what will make you feel the most comfortable.

The Difference Between Styling Natural vs. Synthetic Wigs

The biggest difference between wig-hair options is how much work it takes to make a style stick. "You have to manipulate synthetic hair differently than you would with human-hair wigs," Sims says. "Human-hair wigs definitely have more options in terms of styling, but with heat use, you have to get more creative when it comes to styling synthetic wigs."

Synthetic wigs can make the perfect canvases to practice on for a first-time wig wearer. Not only are they more cost effective, but you can also improve your styling skills by learning all the different ways that you can manipulate the wig to look natural.

How to Make a Synthetic Wig Look Expensive

Whether you don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a wig or are new to the wig game, it never hurts to have your synthetic wig looking and feeling expensive. To help, Sims has a few recommendations. The first is to give the wig some breaks. "Do not make your lesser-quality wig the one you wear daily," Sims says. "Wear and tear on wigs that have lower quality [make them] tend to go bad quicker. So you have to make sure that you handle your wig with care. Make sure that you don't sleep in it, don't swim in it, and make sure that you are conscious about the products you use on it."

Perhaps the most important tip when it comes to synthetic wigs is to keep them detangled. "Once cheap wigs tangle and get matted, then you might as well throw them out," Sims says.

How to Clean a Wig

One of the most integral parts of styling a wig actually has a lot to do with cleaning the wig. "Making sure that your wig is clean is imperative," Sims says. "Make sure that if you're working with lace wigs, all of the glue is cleaned off using alcohol after each use. Dry shampoo between cleansing works wonders on both synthetic and human hair as well."

So how do you clean a wig? Delicately. "I like to use a cowash on my wigs because it cleanses them without clarifying them," Sims says. We love the Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Natural Cleansing CoWash ($9). "I also like to make sure that my wigs are sprayed with a leave-in conditioner before cleansing to help in the detangling process. Then I use Flawless by Gabrielle Union 3 Minute Restoring Conditioner ($10), which is a great moisturizing conditioner to be rinsed out after cowashing the hair." When you've washed and dried the wig, make sure to also store it on a mannequin to give the wig room to breather.

While wigs can definitely feel intimidating, with the right products and techniques, you can master styling them in no time. Keep these tips in mind when venturing into wigs for a seamless application every time.