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.

Before and after I cut off 4 inches in 2018.Rebecca Harrington/Business Insider

  • I’ve donated my hair to charity four times, but I don’t plan on doing it again because there’s less of a need now.

  • I have donated twice to Locks of Love, Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and Children with Hair Loss.

  • Here are the details on hair donations, including how long it should be and whether it can be colored.

The scissors cut together slowly, making that unmistakable creaking sound, and 10 inches of hair I had been growing for two years was gone.

But the strands didn’t just fall to the floor to be swept up and thrown away.

Instead, my hair was on its way to Children with Hair Loss, a Michigan-based nonprofit that provides 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 are sending a piece of yourself to a child or adult who has an illness or condition that causes them to lose their hair.

The last time, in 2019, I still had some big questions about the process.

Where does my hair go when 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 the best?

Before I made that final version, 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 when I heard that they sell wigs to make a profit, I had to think for a moment.

Locks of Love does not charge children for the wigs, but sometimes they sell the hair if it is too short or too gray. However, once I dug into the why, it made sense.

“Shorter hair is separated from the ponytails and can be sold to offset production costs. While the shorter hair cannot be used in the hairpieces, it greatly helps to reduce costs if sold,” the organization says on its website .

Another answer to the FAQ reads: “We can accept donations of gray hair. Since we only provide hairpieces to children, we cannot use this hair in a hairpiece, but will sell it to cover our production costs.”

The third time I donated my hair, I chose Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that partners with the American Cancer Society to distribute free wigs to cancer patients.

becca hair donation

Before and after I cut off 14 centimeters in 2016.Business Insider

Deciding which organization to donate your hair to is a personal choice. I went with Kids with Hair Loss 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 human hair wigs?

In 2018, P&G spokeswoman Bilal Lakhani told Insider that the program was shut down after giving patients tens of thousands of wigs over 12 years.

“In recent years, synthetic hair technology has improved tremendously, 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, “Thanks to these advances, patients have told the ACS that synthetic wigs are now their preferred choice. This change in patient needs has led to a reduced demand for human hair, and it’s time for us to expand the Beautiful Lengths program .”

Daniela Hernandez-Salas, known as @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 are lighter, less expensive, easier to style, more comfortable and less maintenance than wigs made from human hair.

a woman poses in 3 different wigs in 3 photos

Daniela Hernandez-Salas said she loves the versatility of synthetic wigs.Thanks to Daniela Hernandez-Salas

“Most people are taught that 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 need to be cut, colored, styled and fit specifically to the person’s head, Hernandez-Salas said. And when their hair grows back, that custom wig may not fit as comfortably.

If people really want to donate their hair, Hernandez-Salas says she doesn’t discourage people from doing so. There’s just a lot less demand for human hair wigs than there were years ago.

Where is the hair going?

Once you send your hair in, the organizations generally 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 the collection site, 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 the factory in Indonesia, then shipped them back to Pantene, who gave the well-travelled hair to the American Cancer Society to distribute to its wig banks in 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 can even get a photo of them wearing the wig of your hair.

How can I donate?

her donation

Before and after I donated a foot of hair in 2010.Rebecca Harrington/Business Insider

Each organization has slightly different donation requirements, which can be found on their websites or in the table above.

You can stretch curly hair to reach the minimum length, but the shortest layers should meet that number or they probably won’t get used.

Be sure to put the hair in multiple ponytails or rubber bands before cutting it so that 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 in this story above, you can see my stylist segmenting the hair before cutting it.

The hair should also be completely dry before shipping so it doesn’t get moldy. They should throw her out if so.

Ask your hair salon if they will give you a discount or even cut your hair for free if you donate 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 battling cancer — down the drain when she showered, on her pillow when she woke up.

After completing chemotherapy for her third bout with cancer, she said getting a wig was a major boost to her well-being, helping her feel like herself again.

“It’s a little sadness, like, ‘Oh there it goes, I’m on my way to going 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 received a wig from the American Cancer Society on 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 chemotherapy, which shocked her. That’s why Melore was so grateful for the support of the ACS.

“This is not just vanity,” she said. “It’s due to a medical condition.”

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 genders, women in particular come for wigs.

Every ACS wig bank across the country has a salon where cancer patients can come and pick out a wig and have it custom made by a professional stylist, just like Melore did.

“It’s not one size fits all. My hair isn’t like anyone 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 changed their lifestyle. The wig is the least we can do to try and make them feel a little better about what they’re going through.”

When Insider caught up with Melore in January 2019, she said she had been in remission for two years and even stopped wearing her wig. Her hair had grown back and reached her shoulders.

On September 25, 2019, Melore passed away at the age of 37.

How do I get a wig?

While many of the 1 million cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy or radiation each year in the US can grow their hair back after they complete treatment, alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that can cause permanent hair loss.

According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, more than 6.8 million Americans have or will develop alopecia at some point in their lives, and it often begins in childhood.

If you have cancer, alopecia, or any other medical condition that has caused you to lose your hair, contact the organizations to see if you can get a wig. Only a few offer adult wigs, so keep that in mind if you need one and are over 18 or 21.

And if you donate, whichever organization you choose, your hair can help someone who no longer has it.

“I was familiar with the American Cancer Society through their fundraising activities and the research they do,” Melore said in 2016. “But [it was comforting] to know that there was a whole other side dedicated to supporting you and making you feel like you, which I think is also part of the whole experience because it ties into your whole sense of well-being. This is such a beautiful 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

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