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