Donating Hair for People With Cancer and More

Woman holding her hair that she plans to donate
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If you've heard that you can donate your hair to benefit women and children with cancer, you're correct. There are several organizations that welcome donations of hair, but these organizations may have different requirements and may use the donations for different causes. Some of these agencies offer wigs to women going through cancer treatment. Others use hair donations for children with any kind of illness which results in hair loss. The requirements for donating hair also vary between agencies, with different organizations accepting different lengths, but many exclude hair that is been permed or colored. If you don't meet these requirements, there are still options for using your hair for good.

Giving Back

If you've watched a loved one go through cancer treatment, or if you've gone through cancer treatment yourself, you may have felt an urge to "give back." There are many ways you can help by engaging in fundraising or donating money, but if you've lived through the rigors of cancer, you may not have the finances or even energy to spare. Fortunately, donating your hair is a non-monetary way that you can benefit people living with cancer directly. Let's take a look at what you need to know before you grow your hair out or cut off those beautiful locks.

Advantages of Wigs

One of the most dreaded side effects of cancer treatment is hair loss, whether due to chemotherapy-induced hair loss or as a side effect of radiation therapy to the brain. For both men and women, hair can play a role in your self-image.

A benefit of wigs (in contrast to other head covers) is how a wig lets you walk through life feeling "normal." It's not a vanity thing, as many people first assume. When wearing a wig (and painted on eyebrows if needed), you can avoid the sympathetic looks...and sometimes the whispers. Many people living with cancer wish for only one day that they can feel "normal." Wearing a wig can help, if only from outside appearance.

There are certainly other headcovers for hair loss from cancer treatment, such as hats and scarves that can be very attractive. Sometimes preventing hair loss from chemotherapy may even be possible, though it's not always effective, may be uncomfortable, and is not recommended for people with certain types of cancer.

Why Human Hair?

Both synthetic and human hair are used to make wigs. Human hair wigs look and feel more natural, but are also more difficult to care for and much more expensive. That said, they are a real treat for someone who is facing a life-threatening disease.

Cost of Wigs

A percentage of the cost of a wig is covered as a benefit under many private insurance plans. These require that you have a prescription from your oncologist for a "medical cranial prosthesis"—a fancy term that simply means "wig." If not, and if your medical deductions exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income, a wig can qualify as a tax deduction for cancer patients.

Requirements for Hair Donation

The requirements for hair donation can vary, but in general:

  • Hair needs to be clean and dry and placed in a braid or ponytail before it is cut. You should not apply any hair products, such as gel, mousse, or hairspray, and the hair should be completely dry before it is packed for shipping.
  • Only your natural hair is accepted; no hair extensions, dreadlocks, or wigs.
  • Your ponytail or braid needs to be a certain length to be accepted. Curly hair can be pulled straight to make the measurement. Requirements usually range between 8 inches and 14 inches.
  • Some organizations accept gray hair, and some do not.
  • Some organizations accept bleached hair, but highlighted hair is usually not accepted.
  • Some organizations accept hair that has been permed, whereas others do not.
  • For privacy purposes, donors are not linked up with recipients. (It usually takes donations from several people to create one wig, so every donation is extremely important.)
  • Most organizations allow you to have your hair cut at your regular stylist and then sent to their location. Check ahead, however, as some organizations can recommend a salon that will offer a discounted cut for those who are donating hair.
  • Many of these organizations will give you a certificate for donating your hair.

Oh No! What If You Cut Your Hair and It Wasn't Enough?

This can happen, but if it happens to you, don't despair. Your hair won't be used to make a wig for a child or a woman with cancer, but it can still be used for good. Matter of Trust is an organization that accepts donated hair—as little as 3 inches—to help clean up oil spills and such.

Organizations That Accept Donated Hair

General requirements for hair donation are discussed above. A few of the specific requirements for different agencies are discussed below, and more information is available at the websites. Make sure to carefully read through all of the requirements before cutting your hair. You may also wish to contact the organization with further questions.

Questions to Ask

  • Who will receive the wigs? Are they provided only for children, for women, or both?
  • Do recipients receive the wig free of cost, or are they required to pay part of the cost?
  • What conditions qualify people for a wig? For example, are they provided for people with cancer, with burns, with autoimmune hair loss, or other conditions?

Locks of Love

Locks of Love helps provide hair replacement for children who have suffered from medically-related hair loss. They accept hair that is at least 10 inches long in a braid or ponytail. They do accept gray hair, which is sold to help defray their costs, as well as hair that has been permed and hair that is colored (but not bleached). 

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

Pantene Beautiful Lengths is a program sponsored by Pantene and the American Cancer Society. They provide wigs for women who have experienced hair loss from the treatment of any form of cancer. Their minimum length is less than some other organizations at 8 inches. Hair may be colored with vegetable dyes, rinses, or semi-permanent dyes, but not permanent dyes or bleaches.

Children with Hair Loss

Children With Hair loss also provides hair replacement for all children with medical hair loss and requires only 8 inches of hair. Gray hair is accepted, though they prefer non-chemically treated hair. 

Wigs for Kids

Wigs For Kids provides wigs for kids who are living with cancer, as well as those who are suffering from alopecia areata (autoimmune hair loss). They require 12 inches of hair but recommend that you have 14 inches to spare.

Chai Lifeline

Chai Lifeline requires 14 inches of hair and provides wigs to children with cancer.

Hair We Share

HairWeShare is newer on the scene of hair donation organizations (2014) and provides wigs for people who have medical conditions that cause hair loss, such as cancer and burns. They require only 8 inches of hair and accept hair that has been dyed (but not highlighted).

Support and Advocacy for Cancer

Hair donations are just one method by which people can support those living with cancer. If you are looking for a much needed and worthy cause, awareness and funding for lung cancer lags far behind that of some other cancers, even though lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the United States. If you are wondering where to begin, it doesn't take much to become a cancer advocate. There are so many ways to help, and even providing an hour a month can make a difference.

A Word From Verywell

Donating hair to help women and children with medically-induced hair loss is a wonderful way to help those who are coping with unfair diseases such as cancer, or accidents such as burns. Many people think that monetary donations and gifts of large chunks of time are far more valuable, but that's simply not true. Through hair donation, you not only give a part of yourself (literally), but do something that can help someone living with cancer today, not down the line when research dollars find better treatments. For those of you who have chosen to donate your hair, we offer our thanks and blessings from Verywell.

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