What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
You may think it was those awesome concert tickets you gave your best friend or some chore coupons you gave your mom back when having to clean anything was practically torture. But I know that the best gift I’ve ever given anyone was a piece of myself – my hair. It’s easy to give this life-changing and personal gift, all you have to do is get your hair long, and then take a trip to your favorite salon.
For fortunate girls (or guys) with long, luscious locks, the gift of hair can be the difference between a young girl staying home, embarrassed to wear a wig that either doesn’t fit or doesn’t look real, versus going to a sleepover with friends and being able to have a normal childhood.
Thankfully for these young girls and women, there are non-profit organizations dedicated to providing real-hair hairpieces for patients who have lost hair because of cancer treatment or alopecia areata, an incurable disease that causes hair follicles to completely shut down.
Making the Decision to Donate
My stylist laughed. “Are you sure?” I covered my eyes and nodded.
In two seconds it was over and the weight of ten inches of hair abruptly vanished.
After years of having long hair (when straight it reached to my lower back), I decided it was time for a change during my sophomore year at Colorado State University. I made the decision to cut my hair short at the end of the summer, and by Thanksgiving I was ready (I took a few months to mentally prepare…it was hard). What really pushed me to go through with it though was the decision to donate to Locks of Love. Without the incentive of doing a good deed, I probably would have kept my hair long.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but a girl’s best asset is sometimes underappreciated. Our hair can serve as a great accessory to any outfit and can be manipulated to show personal style and individuality. For some, however, the confidence that can come from a great hair day is nonexistent because of hair loss.
Even though I was sad to lose my hair, I knew that it was nothing compared to the daily pain suffered by women subjected to hair loss. I couldn’t imagine life having to constantly wear a wig, but I do know that I would be eternally appreciative for the donations from strangers.
Don’t forget, of course, that cute bobs and other stylish short cuts are all the rage right now. Chopping off inches of your hair will give you a totally revamped look along with the satisfied feeling you get from doing a good deed.
“I wanted to donate my hair because I remember how rewarding it felt the first time I donated; in high school I donated my hair because my school had a Locks of Love event once a year,” said Laura Elizabeth de la Garza, a Harvard College graduate. “I saw some of my close friends donate and I admired them so much for supporting such a neat organization that I resolved to donate my hair too, and by senior year (of high school) I was ready to give (and I did). I think I'd like to grow my hair out again, so that I can donate one more time while I'm in law school, before I really have to get a grown-up haircut.”
For some, hair donation goes a little deeper than just giving up your hair when you’re ready for a new style. Another grad, Amber Answine, from Cornell University had more personal reasons for deciding to cut a full foot off of her mane. “In the fall, my mentor and professor informed me that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing, luckily, successful treatment,” said Answine. “The Chemotherapy caused her to lose all of her beautiful hair, but she kept her spirits up by making her wigs a fashion accessory—not merely a necessary head cover. After hearing her story and watching her slowly progress to remission, I decided my thick head of Italian hair could do some good. Then, this past February, another woman I care about was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Fortunately, she also is undergoing successful treatment, but as a result, has also lost her hair. After this second instance, there was no doubt in my mind that my next haircut would be to donate my locks.”
Colorado State University student Andrea Satur also donated because of a personal motivation. “I donated because my fiancé’s aunt had cancer and the wig she was wearing was obviously fake, and I thought if there were more people that would donate their hair, then that wouldn’t be a problem.”
“The best part about Locks of Love is that we are helping children who are suffering from a loss of self-esteem and confidence,” said Lauren Kukkamaa, Communications Director for Locks of Love. “Hearing how they feel confident again to play sports and participate in slumber parties or summer camp is truly a wonderful thing! Hair donation is a great way to give back. It is the giving of yourself, an extremely personal donation. The great thing about hair donation is that anyone can do it - any age, any gender, and any socio-economic status.”
Meet the Organizations
Locks of Love
Length requirement: 10 inches
This is probably the most well-known organization for hair donation, and many salons will donate your hair for you to Locks of Love (and sometimes give you a free or discounted cut!). Locks of Love is strictly for children and young adults (under 21) that are financially disadvantaged and suffer from long-term hair loss. The most common cause of hair loss for Locks of Love wig recipients is alopecia areata. Other recipients are cancer patients that have lost hair because of radiation treatment, burn patients, or patients of other skin disorders that can cause hair loss.
Each Locks of Love wig is made from several donated ponytails and costs anywhere from $3,500 - $6,000 each, but they are given to recipients at a price based on their financial need. Their custom-made hair prostheticsare necessary because “most wigs sold by retailers are made to fit adult heads, and are much too big for children to wear,” according to the organization. “They often require the use of tape or glue to keep them from falling off, and these adhesives can burn or irritate the scalp. Often, the styles of adult wigs are not age-appropriate and synthetic wigs can mat and frizz with excessive styling.”
Pantene Beautiful Lengths
Length requirement: 8 inches
Pantene Pro-V has teamed up with the American Cancer Society (which distributes the wigs), the Entertainment Industry Foundation (which helped Pantene create their campaign) and HairUWear (which sells a large range of hair extensions and additions) to create Pantene Beautiful Lengths, supplying women with real hair wigs. Pantene Beautiful Lengths caters to women struck devastating blows by cancer, easing the pain of the hair-loss side effect of chemotherapy, which according to the Pantene website, 60% of female cancer patients pinpoint as the #1 dreaded side effect of radiation. Pantene understands the beauty of a woman’s hair, and the self-expression and confidence that comes from having ‘beautiful lengths.’
Wigs for Kids
Length requirement: 12 inches
Wigs for Kids also supplies prosthetic hairpieces to children affected by permanent hair loss, mostly from cancer treatment. Wigs for Kids began when Jeffrey Paul, a successful hairdresser, found out his 15-year-old niece was diagnosed with Leukemia and would lose her hair. After encountering the difficulties of finding her a wig (because of her size and her need to be able to participate in activities such as gymnastics and swimming) he worked with doctors and prosthetic specialists to give her a wig that met her needs. After that, Paul asked the community for wig donations, but ended up with a ton of outdated wigs that were unsalvageable. When his salon shut down because of a flood, he took the opportunity to start Wigs for Kids, and began his business providing custom fit wigs for children and some adults. At first he didn’t take hair donations, until he was inspired to by the daughter of a cancer patient that wanted to give her hair to her mom. And that was the beginning of the business as it is now, providing hairpieces to kids from donated hair.
To learn more about hair donation visit the organizations’ websites:
When growing your hair out to donate it, or if you just have long hair normally, there are a few general things you should do to make sure that the hair you donate is in prime condition. Since each wig is created from many donated ponytails, hair that is donated has to meet several key requirements.
- Dyed, highlighted, or permed hair? If your hair is dyed, you can donate to Locks of Love, even if the dye is permanent. However, any bleached hair (which is often how highlights are done) is not acceptable. Wigs for Kids does not take any chemically processed hair, and Pantene Beautiful Lengths only takes hair treated with vegetable dyes, rinses, or semi-permanent dye. Only Locks of Love will take permed hair. Dreadlocks are not acceptable.
- If your hair is layered, the longest layer must meet the length requirement for Locks of Love (Wigs for Kids and Pantene Beautiful Lengths do not specify on this).
- Hair must be gathered in a ponytail or braid when being cut, because loose hair is unusable.
- While growing your hair, be sure to keep up with trims, even when it may make sense to avoid cutting your hair to maximize the length. What’s more important than length, though, is the health of your hair. If you are thinking of growing your hair long enough to donate, keep your split ends in check and avoid dyeing your hair if possible.
If you’re like me when I donated my hair, you may have never had experience with a short haircut before. I was terrified of chopping off what I considered my favorite physical quality – and then, when I finally got the guts to allow the first cut to be made, I wondered, “How in the world do I style short hair?” I was used to being able to throw up my somewhat disobedient hair in a ponytail any time I didn’t feel like pulling out my flatiron. But, with hair too short to go up, I had to reconsider my morning routine.
Some of my personal favorites to style my own A-line cut (which means I have it shorter in the back and longer in the front) is just to straighten it and have a subtle curl on the ends. Or, I use mousse or gel and a few bobby pins to make a quick, tousled style.
“I haven't figured out a lot of styling secrets just yet, but I love that my hair is so much easier to wash now, and it's so much faster to blow dry,” said de la Garza. “I bought some cute, sparkly headbands...I love just putting my hair back with the headband in the morning and not having to worry about it all day!”
Accessories are great for short hair because they can help keep your hair out of your face since putting it up in a ponytail might not be possible.
“When I wear (my hair) down, I use a blow dryer to dry it flat and add body by drying my hair with my head upside-down,” said Answine. “With the natural wave in my hair, this method really helps the layers to frame my face.”
Not sure about how you would look with short hair? Try doing a virtual makeover! I suggest the Try-A-Hairstyle tool at the Ladies’ Home Journal website.
It’s incredibly easy for each of us to take advantage of the things we have if we simply don’t think about those who don’t. So every time you wash or brush your hair, ask yourself how your life would be different if you touched only skin instead of hair. Try to imagine the gratefulness that hair loss patients feel toward the donors that have given them the next-best-thing to their own beautiful lengths. So, whether you are ready for a more sophisticated style or are a budding philanthropist, donating hair is one of the easiest feel-good actions you can take to enhance someone else’s life.
Amber Answine, Cornell University 2010
Andrea Satur, Colorado State University 2012
Laura Elizabeth de la Garza, Harvard College 2010
Lauren Kukkamaa, Communications Director for Locks of Love