I have what hairstylists refer to as “virgin” or “unicorn” hair. No, it is not rainbow-colored, it simply means it has never been dyed or chemically treated. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever done to my naturally blonde hair in 30 years is cut it.
It’s a rarity in the beauty world, where it’s estimated that 70% of women in the U.S. use hair-coloring products. That’s why every stylist I’ve ever been to says, “you should donate your hair!” as soon as they meet me. The last time I had my hair professionally done for a wedding by someone who I had never met, she enthusiastically asked if she could cut it afterward because she could “tell by touching it” that “it’s special.”
What none, except my current stylist, realize is that I am actually growing my hair out so I can donate it. It’s why my hair has remained dye-free and why my grumblings about it being shut in car doors (true story) and “in my face all the time” mean nothing when I remember the reason I do it and that those who don’t have hair would love to have my problems.
Cancer has affected my life in more ways than one and I have watched loved ones and close friends suffer physically and mentally — and lose their hair. When treatment is saving your life, hair may seem unimportant, but while most side effects take place inside your body, losing your hair is one more thing out of your control and a physical reminder of the illness.
While many of us can’t really help those we love while they go through treatment, if you have the means to donate your hair, it’s a simple way to help strangers either touched by cancer or other causes of hair loss, like alopecia or trichotillomania, an anxiety disorder that causes a person to pull out their hair.
If you’re interested in donating, but don’t know where to begin, let me put your mind at ease: The process is incredibly simple and perhaps easier than you think. The only cost to you is the time it takes to grow it, the price of the hair cut and the envelope and stamp you’ll use to mail in your lovely locks. Some hair salons will even do the last part for you, so the only thing you have to do is keep your hair free of dyes and chemicals, grow it out and then cut it off.
I just donated my hair for the third time. While everyone’s hair grows at a different pace, it takes about three years for mine to go from a bob to it being long enough to donate, so it’s been about nine years since the first donation. Take a look at how much I was able to donate the first time:
This time around, I donated 12 inches to a charity I had not donated to before, Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan. I chose this charity because I wanted to send my donation somewhere new and they do not require families to pay for the wigs, while some do if the wig recipient is able. If you’re thinking of donating, it’s best to find where you want to send your hair before cutting it. You can donate to a national organization like Locks of Love, where I donated last time, or simply Google “donating hair near me” to find a local organization instead.
It’s important to note that each organization has a different length requirement, so while some require 12 inches to be donated, others only ask for 10, 9 or even 7. So, you could grow your hair longer and donate more at once, or donate more often but a lesser amount each time. Be sure to check the requirements for the organization you wish to donate to. Most organizations will accept layered hair, divided into multiple ponytails and then cut (as I did this time) and it’s usually OK if there is some gray in the hair, though most places will not accept donations that are fully gray.
When it comes time to donate, you will first need to wash your hair. That may seem backward before a haircut, as most stylists will wash your hair for you before it’s cut. When donating, however, you need to arrive at the salon with clean hair, as all donated hair must be washed and dried. Your stylist will then put it in a ponytail or braid and cut it, leaving the donation in the hair tie. Obviously, you won’t just leave your hair as-is now, so your stylist will then wash and finish cutting your hair.
Anyone can actually cut your hair, so you do not need to have it done at a salon. If you’re having a friend or family member cut it, just be sure it is cut 1 inch above the hair tie to keep the strands bundled together. The inch above the hair tie counts as part of the donation. Once it is cut, place it in a zipper storage bag, then in an envelope and mail it off. That’s it — your hair is on its way to create a wig for someone in need.
Here is my final result this time around:
Because you are mailing in your hair and it takes 10 to 12 donations to make a full wig, you do not get to see how the wig with your hair turned out. It will simply be combined with donations from other people with similar hair until a wig can be completed. You also will not meet the person who has the wig with your hair due to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information.
No matter where you send it or how long it takes to turn your hair into a wig, however, you can rest assured that your donation will brighten someone’s life when they need it the most.
Have you ever donated or thought about donating your hair?