Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Hair Donations: Where Does All the Hair Really Go?

Hair Donations: Where Does All the Hair Really Go?

Recruitment Specialist

I had long hair until two weeks ago. I had donated my hair once before but the hair salon was collecting the hair for a large contribution and I didn't know where the hair would be going. This time instead of letting the locks pile onto the ground as usual my stylist carefully braided the back of my hair before cutting it. She placed the hair in a bag for me to ship off to the organization of my choosing.

Corinna Hair

This is when the research began. Locks of Love is the most well-known hair donation foundation in the United States, receiving nearly double the amount of hair annually as Pantene Beautiful Lengths program. However, it has some disconcerting business practices that surfaced in 2013 when Nonprofit Investor (NPI) did an investigation. You can read the full report here, but the gist is that Locks of Love has $6 million in hair donations unaccounted for annually, or 91 percent of the total amount received.

Locks of Love has been transparent regarding the fact that the majority of donations, 80 percent, are unusable. The organization has also disclosed that it sells some of this less than satisfactory hair. However, the organization says it does not count how much hair is sold for profit or to offset production cost. NPI research, however, revealed that Locks of Love receives a reported 104,000 donations annually and it can take up to 10 pieces to create a wig for one child. This would mean that the organization should be cranking out somewhere close to 2,080 hairpieces per year. But in reviewing records from 2011, NPI found that only 317 were produced.

Once a hairpiece is created, parents are required to submit their child's medical diagnoses, photos, their most recent tax return, and two formal letters of recommendation. Frequently and unbeknownst to donors, patients with cancer are rejected due to their hair loss being deemed "short-term." Moreover, families often have to pay for these wigs. Locks of Love states on its website that hairpieces sell "on a sliding scale based on the financial need of those responsible for the children." The average monthly cost for cancer care is $10,000, but can exceed $30,000, so it's safe to say that the cost of cancer treatment is a burden for many people.

If any of this information has you a little hesitant to donate, know that there are plenty of alternative organizations to which you can donate your hair.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths specifically provides wigs to the American Cancer Society's wig program and was estimated by the NPI report to make wigs with a seventeenth of the needed donations as Locks of Love. Specific requirements are determined by the local chapter.

Children with Hair Loss provides wigs to young patients (younger than age 21) in Michigan at no cost. The organization started with a cancer-based focus but has since spread to other indications causing hair loss. An application is required with standard supporting documentation.

Wigs 4 Kids provides hairpieces to children younger than age 18 with hair loss for a variety of circumstances, including disease-related alopecia and burns. This is done at no cost to the patient, but requires a physician referral and before and after photos with the wigs (which is great because they're adorable).

Wigs for Kids requires physician referrals, insurance information, a cranial prosthesis prescription, and for patients to work with the Wigs for Kids-sponsored salon personally; however, this involvement results in a completely free hairpiece anywhere across the country.

Angel Hair for Kids is sponsored by the A Child's Voice Foundation and is focused on helping financially disadvantageous children in Canada. It provides free wigs to patients upon physician or social worker recommendation.

If your hair is not long enough to donate to these programs or for any other reason is not qualified, you can also sell your hair (then hopefully donate the funds) or send clippings to Matter of Trust, an ecological nonprofit foundation for the Clean Wave program. The Clean Wave program uses donated hair and other fibrous materials to absorb the oil in contaminated waterways and has been used in such instances as the Gulf oil spill in 2010. Four-legged friends can also participate in this one.*



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