This is a question we get asked often in the studio: What is the difference between unprocessed hair vs. processed hair for wigs and hair extensions?
Unprocessed hair still has the cuticle intact; it has not been chemically processed. The hair is also usually from a single donor. Each strand of hair faces the same direction, not causing tangling. The hair would also be considered remy hair, also known as “cuticle hair.”
The advantage of unprocessed hair is that if you want to color the hair, you can get a great match to your own. With unprocessed hair, you also get a better color application, as the stylist can see the original tones in the hair and which tones it pulls.
At STRUT, we often add low-lights to wigs, or smudge the roots of hair extensions so that clients get a seamless transition with their human-hair pieces and their natural hair.
Another advantage is that unprocessed hair lasts longer than processed hair; this way, you get a greater value, as it’s not damaged hair. The hair is soft and more manageable after you wash it as it’s not usually coated in silicone.
Unprocessed hair is a greater investment than processed hair, but worth the cost.
Be careful, though, as lots of websites and wig shops claim their hair is unprocessed just to make a sale. Remember, unprocessed hair is harder to source, so it is in limited quantities, and it is indubitably more expensive than processed hair.
What you need to look for is whether the colors are vibrant. Are there highlights or roots on the hair? Unprocessed hair usually has a single-tone, or sometimes dull, look. (That’s where the professionals come in and customize the look to match with your hair.) Thus, processed hair does show better on the shelf in a store or online; however, the naturalness of the hair is gone due to processing.
Processed hair is…well, processed. Processed hair has been chemically treated during production to make it appear a certain way. Processed hair is soaked in a highly acidic bath to strip it of its cuticles and basically remove all of the natural characteristics of the strands.
Processed hair has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of processed hair is that once the cuticles have been removed, the hair can be colored and treated in any way to look however the manufacture wants it. Usually, processed hair is coated in silicone after treatments to replenish the appearance and boost its shine.
Processed hair wigs show beautifully in the studios, as metallic dye is often used and the color is more vibrant and the hair feels silky. The disadvantage is that the hair is heavily processed, so its lifespan is not as long as the lifespan of an unprocessed wig or set of hair extensions.
After the first wash or so, the hair can start to tangle. We have seen this on a few wigs where knotting of the hair occurs around the hairline in the back of the hair. Also, after washing, the silicone starts to wear off and the silky hair you felt in the store now feels more like a brillo pad.**
I will say, however, that the manufactures we carry, who offer unprocessed hair and processed hair, have really started to slow the processing down and use a slow-bleach method to not damage the hair as much as before. We’ve seen clients happily get 6 months to a year with their hair.
It really is best to seek the guidance of a trained professional in alternative hair to find the best fit for your lifestyle and budget.
For more information on wigs and hair pieces, contact us today. We look forward to serving you!
**We have a few ways to fix this for clients who have purchased a processed wig elsewhere. We soak the hair in a special solution to help undo the knotting and we follow with a keratin treatment to soften the hair.