I've donated my hair to charity 4 times, but I probably never will again. Here's what you need to know if you want to do it.
I've donated my hair to charity four times, but I don't plan to again because there's less need now.
I've donated to Locks of Love twice, Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and Children with Hair Loss.
Here are the details about hair donations, including how long it must be and if it can be colored.
The scissors snipped together slowly making that unmistakable crunching sound, and 10 inches of hair that I spent two years growing were gone.
But the strands didn't just fall to the ground to get swept up and thrown away.
Instead, my hair was on its way to Children with Hair Loss, a nonprofit based out of Michigan that gives wigs to children and young adults in the US who have medical hair loss.
I've donated my hair to charity four times.
In my experience, donating your hair is a much more personal gift than sending a check. You're sending a piece of yourself to a kid or adult who has a disease or condition that's caused them to lose their hair.
The last time around, in 2019, I still had some major questions about the process.
Where does my hair go once it's cut off my head? Who gets the wigs? Who makes the wigs? Where do they make them? How many people can it help? Which organization is best?
Before I made that final cut, I found the answers. Here's what I learned.
Which organization should I donate to?
The first two times I donated my hair, I sent it to Locks of Love. But hearing they sell wigs to make a profit gave me pause.
Locks of Love doesn't charge kids for the wigs — but they do sometimes sell the hair if it's too short or grey. Once I dug into why, though, it made sense.
"Shorter hair will be separated from the ponytails and may be sold to offset the manufacturing costs. Although the shorter hair cannot be used in the hairpieces, if sold, it greatly helps to reduce costs," the organization says on its website.
Another FAQ answer reads: "We can accept donations of gray hair. Because we only provide hairpieces to children, we cannot use this hair in a hairpiece but will sell it to offset our manufacturing costs."
The third time I donated my hair, I chose Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that partnered with the American Cancer Society to distribute free wigs to cancer patients.
Deciding which organization to donate your hair to is a personal choice. I went with Children with Hair Loss the last time because I had 10 inches of hair, I wanted to help kids nationally, and I liked that they don't charge anyone for wigs.
Is there still a need for wigs made from human hair?
In 2018, P&G spokeswoman Bilal Lakhani told Insider the program was shutting down after giving tens of thousands of wigs to patients over 12 years.
"Over the last several years, synthetic hair technology has vastly improved, giving synthetic hair wigs more of a 'real-hair feel', making them lighter, cooler to wear, and easier to style," she said in a statement.
Lakhani continued: "Due to these advancements, patients have told the ACS that synthetic wigs are now their preferred wig choice. This change in patient needs has resulted in decreased demand for real-hair, and the time has come for us to wind down the Beautiful Lengths program."
Daniela Hernandez-Salas, who goes by the handle @texaswigfairy, has been wearing, styling, and working with wigs for decades. She said synthetic wig technology has advanced so much in recent years that today, they're lighter, cheaper, easier to style, more comfortable, and less maintenance than wigs made from human hair.
"Most people are taught it has to be human hair to look good and look natural, and that's so far from the truth," Hernandez-Salas told Insider.
Human hair wigs usually have to be cut, colored, styled, and fit specifically to the person's head, Hernandez-Salas said. And if their hair grows back, that custom wig might not fit as comfortably anymore.
If people really want to donate their hair, Hernandez-Salas said she doesn't discourage people from doing so. There's just much less demand for human hair wigs than there was years ago.
Where does the hair go?
Once you send your hair in, generally speaking, the organizations process it and send it to a wig manufacturer.
A Pantene spokesperson told Insider in 2016 that once Beautiful Lengths had enough hair donations at its collection location, they would send a shipment to Hair U Wear, one of the largest wig manufacturers in the world.
Hair U Wear made the wigs at its factory in Indonesia and then shipped them back to Pantene, which gave the well-traveled hair to the American Cancer Society to distribute at its wig banks across the US.
Hair We Share has a ponytail tracking program where you can donate $150 to find out where your hair ends up. If the recipient is willing, you could even get a photo of them wearing the wig made from your hair.
How can I donate?
Each organization has slightly different donation requirements, which you can find on their websites, or in the table above.
Hair We Share and Children with Hair Loss both accept colored or grey but not highlighted hair over 8 inches.
Locks of Love takes hair colored or grey but not over-processed or bleached hair over 10 inches.
Pink Heart Funds paused its wig donations during the pandemic, but is now accepting ponytails 14 inches or longer.
Wigs for Kids will take grey, but not dyed, hair that is at least 12 inches long.
You can stretch curly hair out to reach the minimum length, but the shortest layers have to meet that number or they probably won't be used.
Make sure you put the hair in multiple ponytails or rubber bands before you cut it so it stays together when you send it in. It actually takes about 10 to 12 ponytails to make one wig.
If you watch the first Facebook video embedded above in this story, you can see how my stylist segmented the hair before he cut it.
The hair has to be completely dry before you send it, too, so it doesn't get moldy. They have to throw hair away if it is.
Ask your hair salon if they will give you a discount or even cut your hair for free if you're donating it. Wigs for Kids has a search function on their website to find a salon that works with them.
Who gets the wigs?
In 2016, Jessica Melore described losing her hair as "an outward manifestation of being sick." It was a constant reminder that her body was fighting cancer — in the drain when she took a shower, on her pillow when she woke up.
After finishing chemotherapy for her third bout with cancer, she said getting a wig was an important boost for her wellbeing, making her feel like herself again.
"It's a little bit of sadness like, 'Oh there it goes, I'm on my way to being bald,'" Melore told Insider in 2016. "But you have that reassurance that the wig is there and you feel good about it."
Before she lost her hair, Melore donated it and got a wig from the American Cancer Society all in the same day. She broadcast the experience on Facebook Live:
Melore said her insurance company didn't cover the cost of the wig the second time she wore one after chemo treatment, which shocked her. That's why Melore was so grateful for the ACS's support.
"This is not simply a vanity thing," she said. "It's the result of a medical circumstance."
Patti Allen, the senior director of mission delivery for the ACS of New York and New Jersey, told Insider in 2016 that while they have styles for both sexes, mostly women come in for wigs.
Each ACS wig bank across the country has a salon where cancer patients can come pick out a wig and have it individually tailored by a professional stylist just like Melore did.
"It's not one size fits all. My hair is not like somebody else's hair. We really try to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible," Allen said. "It's hard enough that they're going through treatment that has altered their lifestyle. The wig is the least thing that we can do to try to make them feel a little bit better about what they're going through."
When Insider caught up with Melore in January 2019, she said she has been in remission for two years, and even stopped wearing her wig. Her hair had grown back, and was shoulder-length.
On September 25, 2019, Melore died at the age of 37.
How can I get a wig?
While many of the 1 million cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy or radiation every year in the US are able to grow their hair back after they complete treatment, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that can cause permanent hair loss.
Over 6.8 million Americans have alopecia or will get it at some point in their lives, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, and it often begins in childhood.
If you have cancer, alopecia, or another medical affliction that has caused you to lose your hair, reach out to the organizations to see if you can get a wig. Only some of them offer wigs for adults, so keep that in mind if you need one and are over 18 or 21.
And if you're donating, no matter which organization you choose, your hair could help someone who no longer has theirs.
"I had been familiar with the American Cancer Society through their fundraising activities and the research that they do," Melore said in 2016. "But [it was comforting] to know that there was this whole other side that is dedicated to supporting you and making you feel like yourself, which is I think part of the whole experience, too, because it ties in with your whole sense of wellbeing. This is such a wonderful service."
This story was originally published in January 2016, when the author donated her hair for the third time. It has been updated with new information.
Read the original article on Business Insider