Donating Hair for People With Cancer and More

Are you looking for a way to support children and adults with cancer? One option is to donate your hair. Several organizations collect donated hair and arrange for it to be made into wigs for children or adults who lose their hair during cancer treatment or due to other illnesses.

Different organizations have different guidelines for accepting hair, so it's good to know what criteria your hair needs to meet before you decide to cut it off for a donation.

This article explains why you might consider donating your hair, how the hair is used, and what you need to know about the agencies that collect hair to be used to help people dealing with hair loss.

Woman holding her hair that she plans to donate to a cancer patient
Image Source / Getty Images

Why Donate Your Hair?

Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment. It can be caused by chemotherapy or by radiation to the head.

Not everyone who undergoes these treatments loses their hair. When it does happen, though, the hair begins to thin one to four weeks after the first chemo session or within four weeks of radiation. This can be very stressful. If a person is already feeling weak, ill, and scared, seeing a radical change in their looks can cause more worry and despair. Those feelings can rob an individual of strength and hope just when they need both to get well.

Preventing Hair Loss

It's sometimes possible to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy. However, the current methods for prevention don't always work. There's also some concern that they may get in the way of chemotherapy being fully effective.


You can help those who experience hair loss by donating your hair so it can be turned into a wig. Wigs aren’t just about vanity. They can help people with hair loss feel more like themselves. Some people like the fact that a wig enables them to appear healthy so no one judges them or assumes they're sickly. By donating your hair, you can help improve a person’s mood, which will help them greatly on the road to recovery.

Of course, there are many other ways that you can support cancer patients or those who are ill. Many good cancer organizations need money. In addition, if you’ve had experience as a cancer survivor or as the caregiver to someone with an illness, you might want to become a cancer advocate.

These options aren’t possible for everyone, though. If you don’t have the extra income to make a cash donation or don’t have time to work as an advocate, you can still make a difference by donating your hair. It costs you nothing (except maybe the price of a haircut) and takes little time.

Turning Your Hair into a Wig

People with hair loss can also choose a wig made with synthetic (non-human) hair. These are less expensive, but they don't look and feel as natural as human hair wigs. It’s also easier to style real hair in different ways.

Creating a wig with human hair takes about 20 donated ponytails of hair. Thus, it’s important for many people to donate. Multiple ponytails are sewn together and tied into a cap that's specially measured to fit on a person’s head. The hair can then be colored, cut, permed, and otherwise styled. The result is a wig that’s unique and personal.

Recap

Donating your hair is an easy way to help people who have experienced hair loss due to chemo or other treatments or medical problems. A well-made wig of human hair can boost self-esteem and improve a person's outlook, which goes a long way to helping them manage other symptoms and recover.

Requirements for Hair Donation

If you're interested in having your hair turned into a wig, it's important to contact one of the organizations that accept donations. Ask about their requirements for hair. These vary a bit from organization to organization, but the following are some common guidelines:

  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Most organizations allow you to have your hair cut at your regular stylist and then send it 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.

Organizations That Accept Donated Hair

A wide variety of organizations have sprung up to help people with hair loss have access to wigs if they want them.

Locks of Love

Locks of Love provides hair replacement for children who have suffered from medically related hair loss. They accept hair that's 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's 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. It provides wigs for people 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, and 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 (an autoimmune disease that causes 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 provides wigs for people who have medical conditions that cause hair loss. This includes cancer and burns. They require only 8 inches of hair and accept hair that has been dyed (but not highlighted).

Summary

By donating your hair, you can help people who are dealing with cancer or other medical conditions feel stronger and better able to focus on their health. To have your hair donation turned into a high-quality wig for those with hair loss, contact one of the organizations that specialize in this mission. Usually, these groups require your hair to be at least 8 inches long, but some only accept hair that is 10 inches or longer. There may also be restrictions on accepting hair that has been dyed or permed. Check with the specific organization for detailed requirements.

A Word From Verywell

Many people think that financial donations or giving large chunks of your time are the only ways to make a difference for people with cancer or other illnesses. There are other, simpler ways to help, though. Through hair donation, you not only give a part of yourself (literally) but offer something that can help someone living with cancer today, not down the line when research dollars find better treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the criteria for donating hair for cancer?

    What is most important is that the donated hair be long enough to make a wig. Check with the charity to understand their requirements as some set the minimum length at 6 to 8 inches, while others may only accept hair that is 14 inches or longer.

  • Do cancer wig charities accept gray hair?

    Some wig charities do accept gray hair donations, but check beforehand just to be sure. Please note that some charities do not accept donations that have been permed, bleached, or color-treated. Hair donations should be washed, dried, tied neatly into a ponytail, and packaged in a Ziploc bag.

  • Where can I donate hair for people with cancer?

    National charities dedicated to making wigs for people with cancer include:

    • Chai Lifeline
    • Children With Hair Loss
    • Hair We Share
    • Locks of Love
    • Pantene Beautiful Length
    • Wigs for Kids

    When donating to any charity, make an effort to select a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.

  • Where can I get a free wig if I have cancer?

    The American Cancer Society offers a free wig program through "Gift Closets" stocked and operated by the local chapters. The wigs are not made of real hair but are sourced from top manufacturers like Raquel Welch Wigs and Jon Renau Wigs. For more information, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345).

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Watanabe T, Yagata H, Saito M, et al. A multicenter survey of temporal changes in chemotherapy-induced hair loss in breast cancer patients. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(1):e0208118. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208118

  2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Hair Loss and Your Cancer Treatment.

Additional Reading

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."