More than a Quick Trim: What I Learned When I Donated My Hair

 

GOTG writer Mary Beth Barber discovers the ins and outs of hair donation charities after cutting her 14-inch tresses. Photo by MB Barber.
GOTG writer Mary Beth Barber discovers the ins and outs of hair donation charities after cutting her 14-inch tresses. Photo by MB Barber.

By Mary Beth Barber

My hair was long – un-styled, almost un-manageably long. But I gritted my teeth and waited and waited to get it cut, because I wanted to donate it for charity.

There are nonprofits that accept cut hair (at least 8-10 inches, preferably more) in order to make wigs for children with hair-loss related issues like cancer or alopecia. The most popular is Locks of Love, a nonprofit based in Florida that’s been around since 1997. I’ve donated hair to them twice before. But when I Googled the name to get the address and instructions, one of the alternative searches posted was “Locks of Love scam.”

Hmm. Curious.

Turns out Locks of Love sells a lot of the hair it receives. This wasn’t a surprise to me, as I had figured that there’s no way they could use all of the hundreds of thousands of donations it receives. What did surprise me was the anger from folks in the blogosphere. Not frustration … ANGER.

I needed to find out more.

I spoke to a mother of a child with alopecia (an autoimmune disease where the immune system accidently attacks the hair follicles, leaving someone bald) who gave me some very good information, and then did some additional research on the internet. Here’s what I learned:

Locks of Love positive: the company, which is geared towards supporting cancer-stricken children, spends over 80% of its income on programming, with the rest split between administration and fundraising. This is a good and responsible percentage breakdown for a nonprofit. And they post the first page of their tax return on their website, probably for transparency reasons after the blog rants.

Locks of Love negative: besides not being upfront about the vast majority of hair donations being sold to wig manufacturers, they apparently charge for the wigs they provide. The amount required is based on income, so there’s one aspect of “fairness” in the system.

But still, when I donated I didn’t expect a child’s wig to cost … well, anything. I understand that real-hair wigs can cost thousands of dollars to create and some parents are better off than others, but there’s donations and income from sold hair, right? And middle-income parents may not qualify on that sliding scale, even though they could be financially devastated by their children’s illness. Doesn’t it make more sense to donate and then ask for a donation after the fact?

Lots to think about. And two long pony tails sitting on my desk, ready to go. I was beginning to get frustrated – not just about the fact I suffered with mangy locks for too long, but because I wanted to get this package out the door.

Someone suggested Beautiful Lengths, a charity arm of Pantene supported by celebs like Diane Lane and Hilary Swank, saying it was the most transparent about where and how the donated hair is used and it for adults affected by hair loss. But their requirements did fit my hair, since they required completely chemically untreated hair, and I’ve been covering my gray for the past six years. (Hair that’s been highlighted is a definite no-donate; hair that’s been colored with a single dye is accepted by Locks of Love, but not Beautiful Lengths.)

I looked into more related nonprofits, with the help of a few blogs.

  • Hair Club for Kids: Charity offshoot of Hair Club for Men that provides free hair restoration services for children. But there wasn’t any indication they took in donated hair.
  • Children with Hair Loss: Michigan-based parallel nonprofit to Locks of Love, and while they say they’d rather not have dyed hair, they will take it to see if it works.
  • Wigs for Kids: Another parallel nonprofit to Locks of Love, based in Ohio. Online reviews of the nonprofit from parents of children who have gone through the program rave about the personal attention. But they seem to be very picky about the dye-treated hair too … I fear if I submit, it won’t be used.

I decided to go for Children with Hair Loss this time around. I’m still a supporter of Locks of Love (despite the rants), but they’ve gotten two donations from me already, and I figure it’s time to share the love. Wigs for Kids would have been my go-to with Beautiful Lengths as a close second, but the color-treated question eliminated them from the pool.

But overall, I don’t see how me or anyone else who willing to grow their hair long and then cut it all off, as well as follows the guidelines (doesn’t highlight, cuts, binds and ships it the correct way), can really go wrong with a hair donation. After all, it will always grow back.

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10 Comments

  1. Noemi salazar says

    In 2012 I donated 13inches to CWHL and I felt I did something great. Now I want to do the same to my sister’s hair. Every year her school cuts kids hair and sends it to locks of love(this will be her first time). and she wants to do that instead, I research locks of love and I read a lot of good reviews, but also some bad reviews that I didn’t feel comfortable with, Should I let her donate hair to locks of love or CWHL?

    1. Ariel says

      Noemi, I was also wary of Locks of Love after a friend advised against donating to them. From what I understand, they require the families in need of a wig to pay for it, based on their income. This doesn’t settle well with me and I do not agree with it.

      I struggled finding a place that will take my 10” cut hair with some black hair dye in it, and believe CWHL is a good choice. While I am now wary of almost any organization that deals with charity, I have at least read good reviews of first hand experiences with CWHL.

  2. cindi says

    I am cutting 10-12 inches off my hair on Monday2/8/16 I have colored my hair and at 52 I have some grays…I do not wish to donate to locks of love…..what is the best organization to donate it to??

  3. Christina E. says

    3 years ago I had let my hair grow much longer than usual and so I decided I wanted to donate. I weave the crown portion of my hair and after researching who to donate to I was discouraged by the list of what was not acceptable. I have very healthy hair. I came across children with hair loss and I was so happy to see that they would take colored hair and required only 8 inch minimum so I could still keep some length (they got 10 in). They send me emails with whats happening/events for fundraising. I am considering doing again right now and I have no regrets going with this organization.

  4. janet says

    I have cut and donated over dozen times. My hair used to grow extremely fast, but slower now as I get older. It takes about 5 years now, used to take 1 to 2. I agree with the post, I have given to lock of love, wigs for kids and this time to children with hair loss. I have 12+ inches, but now showing some gray at 56. Never dyed. The only reason I grow it out is to donate, and such a simple kindness.

  5. Eric Everett says

    I am a survivor of 2 brain tumors. The last brain tumor was the size of 3 golf balls. I was growing my hair to donate but it was too short after waiting an entire year without a haircut. Now I have waited 4 years and have yet another brain tumor. I will finally get to donate! I would like to ask everyone to join me in creating a national day to donate hair. I started the movement on August 13th 2012. I called it “Donate Your Hair to Show You Care”. So on August 13th,2016 will be the 4th annual “Donate Your Hair to Show You Care”

    1. Jude says

      Hello Eric,

      I am getting ready to cut my hair for donation, first time. Please let me know your favorite charity that you donate to.
      I could use some help, being my first time.
      Thank you.

      Your letter is very moving to me.

      May GOD you,

  6. Patricia Rice says

    Worth reading.

  7. Beth says

    Locks of Love’s purpose is to provide disadvantaged children with hair prosthetics. They also provide funding for alopecia research ($500k in 2015) because the charity came about as a result of the founder and her 4 year-old daughter both having suffered from alopecia, and understanding first hand the traumatic impact of hair loss on a child. The wigs are provided free of charge to disadvantaged children, but they also help families who aren’t in financial difficulties provide wigs for their children. They provide this service on a sliding fee scale. They also run a 4-day summer camp each year for 15 recipients who suffer from alopecia. Alopecia is a special cause of theirs because of how they started, but they don’t restrict their recipients to only alopecia sufferers. They help children with any condition that results in hair loss. As for selling hair, they receive a large amount of hair that doesn’t meet their criteria. Rather than simply discarding this hair, they sell what they can and use the proceeds to help fund the charity as well as funding research and other programs to help children with hair loss. They are listed on most charity rating sites and have good ratings. The majority of this information is available on their website. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to read the details, and don’t understand the process. There have been multiple rumors spread across the Internet over the past ten years or so defaming Locks of Love and instead recommending Wigs for Kids as an alternative. I’m always suspicious when I see postings such as these because I wonder at the motivation behind them. Wigs for Kids appears to be an excellent charity from reading their website. However, they aren’t rated on any of the charity rating sites, so it’s difficult to find outside verification. They also provide wigs to children at no cost. They say they do not sell hair, but they then say they send the hair to a wig company that gives them credit for all of the hair, whether it can be used in wigs for the charity or not. They then use that credit to fund the wigs they provide for children. So they may not get cash for the hair, but they do use the credit to fund the charity’s wig purchases. I don’t personally see much of a distinction between receiving cash vs credit for the hair they send the wig company. Either one seems to being selling hair to me, the only difference being the cash can be used for other functions of the charity as well. I think both charities are doing good work. And in my opinion, if I were to donate hair to a charity, my hope would be that they used my donation in the best way that would help them help children with hair loss, whether my hair became part of a wig or part of the funding for a wig or research or whatever was necessary.

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