Tutorial: How to Remove Shine from Costume Wigs

remove wig shine

High-sheen wigs can look fake and detract from the authenticity of your character portrayal. But don’t worry—toning down the shine on your cosplay wig is easier than you might think. With a few household items and simple techniques, you can give your synthetic wig a more natural appearance.

Washing your cosplay wig with a dilute solution of fabric softener can reduce its shine significantly. This method works well because the fabric softener coats the fibers of the wig, lending it a softer and more natural matte finish. If you need a quick fix, a bit of baby powder or a swipe with a dryer sheet can also do wonders in cutting down that synthetic glare, making your wig cosplay-ready in no time. These are surprisingly effective solutions that can transform even the cheapest of wigs into something camera-ready.

You can use this method with any kind of wig, it doesn’t have to be heat resistant. If you’re working with a very low-quality ‘Halloween-store’ wig then this method of reducing shine won’t be able to completely fix the wig, but it might help a little. Instead, it’s best used for medium-quality wigs that just need a little help to look more natural.

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Wig shine before and after compared to natural hair
This is the before and after images of the wig compared to my natural hair.

How to reduce shine on a synthetic wig

It’s pretty common for synthetic wigs to have a little bit of an unnatural shine, even if they are of decent quality. This is because synthetic wigs are made up of strands of plastic fiber. Plastic reflects light differently than actual hair, so the plastic fibers have to be treated in a way that will change the way light bounces off of them.

That’s why treating a wig with fabric softener and baby powder works. These products can coat the fibers of the wig to make light reflect more realistically. For this tutorial, all you need is:

before and after using fabric softener
There is still some shine after using a fabric softener bath, but you can tell that the appearance of the wig has significantly improved.

1. Wash your wig with fabric softener

The first step is to wash your wig with a fabric softener. In many cases, just this step will be enough to reduce the shine on a wig and make it look more natural. 

  1. Add a few inches of water to a basin with ¼ cup of fabric softener (you can also use a sink). You can use a little more for long wigs and a little less for short wigs. If you add too much softener, it can cause a sticky residue to build up on your wig and you will need to wash it again.
  2. Submerge your wig in the basin. Gently move the wig around in the water to make sure all the fibers are coated in the fabric softener solution.
  3. Let your wig sit for 10-15 minutes. Occasionally move the wig or flip it over to make sure all areas stay submerged in the water.
  4. Rinse off the wig. Remove the wig from the basin (or drain the sink) and rinse the wig in running water, making sure to rinse off all areas of the wig.
  5. Place your wig on a wig head to let it dry.
wig in fabric softener bath
Occasionally move the wig around in the fabric softener bath to be sure all the fibers are coated evenly.

One thing to keep in mind is that fabric softener can make wigs a little bit more flammable and less heat-resistant. If you are planning on styling this wig with heat later, always test a small, indiscreet section first, so you don’t end up melting the wig or setting it on fire.

drying with foam curlers
If you want the wig to be wavy at the end, let it dry using foam curlers.

2. Comb the wig and let it dry completely

When your wig has dried a little bit (to the point where it is damp but not soaking wet), you’ll want to comb it out. The wig probably acquired some tangles during the bath, so you want to comb those out before they dry in place. Use a wide-toothed comb to gently comb out the fibers.

If your wig has waves or curls, this is also a great time to restyle those especially if it’s not heat resistant. While the wig is still damp, add foam curlers to sections of the hair. As the wig dries, the fibers will stay in place. Use larger foam rollers for wider, looser curls, and smaller foam rollers for tighter curls.

Before moving on to the next step, you need to make sure your wig has dried completely. I will usually let it dry overnight with the foam curlers in place. By morning, you should be able to touch it and feel that the wig is dry. Remove any curlers and give the wig a quick comb-through if necessary.

adding baby powder to the wig
With your hands, shift the baby powder through the wig until it coats the fibers and diffuses the shine.

3. Apply baby powder to the wig

At this point, your wig might already look good enough. Using fabric softener usually makes a significant difference, so you can stop here if you’re happy with the result. However, if you want your wig to look just a little more natural, all you have to do is add some baby powder.

  1. Pour some baby powder onto your hands. Rub your hands together to coat them. Start with a small amount of powder. You can always add more.
  2. Scrub your fingers through the wig. Go section by section and scrub your fingers through the wig as if you were giving it scritches. You want to make sure you give a light coat of powder to the fibers all the way through the wig, not just those sitting on top. If you don’t want to use your hands, you can also use a large makeup brush to help distribute the powder.
  3. Use a comb to distribute the powder through the wig. A wide-toothed comb can help get a more even look throughout the wig. 

At this point, the powder should help to diffuse the light on the surface of the wig, making it less shiny overall. 

final wig compared to real hair
When you are finished, the final wig will have a much more realistic look.

Other steps you can take to make your wig look more natural

Removing the shine from a wig is not the only thing you can do to make your wig look more realistic. There are also a few more tips and tricks you follow that will make a big difference in the end. After you’ve finished removing the shine from your wig, try some of these tips to make the wig look even better.

paint the part of the wig
Use foundation to paint the part of the wig skin-colored.

Adding a part with foundation

If there is a part in your wig (and you don’t have a skin-top) then there will be a small amount of the mesh showing in the little gap between the wig fibers. This isn’t super visible, and it’s not going to ruin a cosplay or anything, but it is something that makes the wig look like a wig.

You can make the part look a little more natural by painting the gap with your foundation to make it look skin-colored. This works best if you use a cream foundation and not a powdered one. Just use a small eyeshadow or eyeliner makeup brush and carefully fill in the area. You may need to use a Q-tip to clean up any mistakes since it’s exceptionally difficult to not touch the hair fibers while you’re doing this.

remove the first two rows of wefts
To make a wig smaller, remove the first two rows of wefts from behind the ear tab. Then sew the wig back together.

Custom-size your wig

Wigs that are too big or too small for your head size can also make them look a little unnatural. Most wigs will have elastic tabs at the back to allow a small amount of adjustment, but these don’t work for all head sizes.

For example, my head is quite small. For many wigs, those little ear tabs end up going directly on top of my ears, so I need to make the wig smaller so it will fit my head correctly.

If you find that you have problems with the size of your wigs, check out my step-by-step tutorial for making a wig smaller or bigger.

use cream makeup for a brighter brow
Coating your eyebrow in cream makeup will help you get a more vibrant eyebrow color.

Don’t forget to change the color of your eyebrows

You also need to remember to color your eyebrow, especially if you have an unnaturally colored wig. You don’t always need to completely match the color of your wig, but giving your eyebrows a tinge of the color will make the whole ensemble look a little more put together.

glueing the wig to your face
Use eyelash glue or spirit gum to attach your wig’s bangs and the hair in front of your ears to your face.

Glue the wig to your face for short-haired cosplays

It may seem weird to think about gluing a wig to your face, but hear me out. For most cosplay wigs, the fibers do not fall to naturally surround the face, the way hair does. Instead, there tends to be a noticeable gap, especially in the area directly in front of your ears on the sides of your face. This gap is much more noticeable with short wigs.

To make the fibers frame your face, you can use eyelash glue or spirit gum to literally glue them to the area in front of your ears. It may not actually be more natural, but it looks more natural when you do this.

wearing a lace front wig
Lace-front wigs look pretty realistic, especially if you blend the front with your foundation.

Consider buying a lace-front wig

If you want a highly realistic-looking wig, the best thing is really to get a lace-front wig. These are wigs where the fibers along the front hairline are individually sewn in place, making them look like actual hairs coming out of your scalp. Lace-front wigs tend to be more expensive than non-lace-front wigs, so it’s understandable that they’re not for everyone. But they can make a big difference if you want a highly natural look.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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