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Haircut for a Cause: Are Hair Donations Really Worth It?

Nov04

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Amy,
So, my hair is currently a bit longer than shoulder length and it looks terrible. I HATE my hair long and keep it predominately in a ponytail any time is is past chin length, BUT I am growing it out to donate it to Locks of Love (and as a compromise to the hubby as this is IT, after this donation, short hair from now on — it just looks better on me). Right now flat is how I would describe my hair. I have an oval face, so flat on the top looks not so good. So, please tell me what I can do with it until it reaches its needed length of “bra strap” to make it look decent. A pony tail in the office every single day is getting old and I need to look more polished then all that. How about getting some lift to it? I actually have great ends, so it isn’t the splitzies dragging it down.
Whitney

25599.jpgSo, given the dozens of questions I get on a regular basis from people planning a hair donation, I just feel the need to throw this out here: Locks of Love cannot use hair that has been overly processed or damaged — or really, most of the hair it receives at all (and quite honestly, their donation guidelines don’t seem to quite add up with media reports, which repeatedly mention the un-useability of most colored hair). The majority of donations are thrown out, or sold to cover the organization’s administrative costs. The wigs that are made go to alopecia sufferers, not cancer patients. Nothing wrong with that — alopecia SUCKS, for real — but a lot of people do really think their hair will definitely end up on the head of a young chemotherapy patient. The disparity between ponytails received vs. wigs produced is disheartening. Even the president of Locks for Love admits that it’d be better for people to just write a check.
The idea of a hair donation is beautiful, I admit. Poetic, even. Everybody’s heart is in the right place. But. It’s hard to not be a little bit jaded by the reality of just how useful those donations end up being.
I could easily come up with a list of volumizing products here — products that will cost a decent chunk of change. Pureology root lift and shampoo, Bumble and Bumble Thickening Spray, BedHead Small Talk. Love them all. A good blowdryer and a round brush and a styling technique to match. (Dry in two-inch pieces, three rolls of the brush and blasts with the dryer for each piece, starting with the lower layers and saving your crown for last.)
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I know I’m going to sound like a total asshole here…but…think about getting a moderately-priced, face and hair-type flattering haircut, and write a check to a cancer-related or childhood-illness related charity instead. I know it lacks the physical oomph and satisfaction of chopping off your own hair. I know! But unless you are SURE your hair meets the donation guidelines — no color, no heat-damage, really extremely strong and thick — and unless you’ve read about all the (lesser-known) hair donation charities and are SURE your hair will be used like you hope it will be, there’s something a little not worth it about these long-hair dilemmas. The hair is good, but the dollar is mighty.
My mom didn’t lose her hair to cancer, but she did lose her breast. I wanted SO BADLY to do something real and tangible for her…I ended up asking to pay for her bras, for God’s sake. Her insurance paid for those, so she asked me to write checks to breast cancer research charities instead. So I did.
And then I bought her some really soft pajamas too. Because…well, pajamas.
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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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13 Responses to “Haircut for a Cause: Are Hair Donations Really Worth It?”

  1. robin m Nov 05 at 9:49 am Reply Reply

    Locks of Love is a scam. Please consider giving your hair to a real charity instead of this for-profit association:
    http://badhairday.typepad.com/bad_hair_day/2006/07/locks_of_love_i.html

  2. robin m Nov 05 at 9:50 am Reply Reply

    That being said, longhaircommunity.com has a lot of tips and advice to grow your hair. Mine is currently at BSL (and holding, apparently) from chin-length 3 years ago.

  3. Hot Librarian Nov 05 at 12:15 pm Reply Reply

    You’re not an asshole, Amy… it’s good advice. It makes so much more sense to skip the pricey volume boosting products and send the money you WOULD HAVE spent on them to a deserving charity.

  4. Valette Nov 05 at 12:36 pm Reply Reply

    Just because Locks of Love sells the hair they can’t use to pay for administrative costs doesn’t mean they are for-profit or a scam. The money they get from selling that hair goes to help them make the wigs – though they probably should be more up front about it. It’s just like the Salvation Army using the proceeds from their thrift store to help fund their service programs: like disaster relief and low-income dental care. Non-profits need money to run just as much as for-profits do. A donation of hair cannot keep the electricity running without firt turning it into money.

  5. Erin Nov 05 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    This is the organization to which Hilary Swank donated her hair on Oprah the other day. http://www.beautifullengths.com/en_US/index.jsp
    Perhaps their standards are better than Locks of Love.

  6. OneSmartCookie Nov 05 at 1:53 pm Reply Reply

    I actually did donate my hair to Locks of Love – it was really long (like almost long enough to sit on long) and I chopped it off up to my bra strap. It was healthy, and not color treated, so I felt good about its potential to become part of a wig for someone who needed it.
    That said, my hair was long because that’s just the way a wore it for a while – not because I spent forever growing it out for charity. I’m a big fan of the ‘write a check’ suggestion, because then the charity of your choice can use it in the way that will do the most good.
    There are so many charities out there, and so many ways to help, that it can get overwhelming at times. I think the important thing is to do something, anything, whatever you can. Whether it is writing a check, or buying someone some really soft pajamas… it’s helping, and that’s what matters.

  7. JuliaW. Nov 05 at 4:04 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you thank you thank you for helping educate people about this! When I read that article in the Times awhile back I was shocked at their sorry stats. I forward that article on to people I know and people I meet online that are considering donating to Locks of Love. It really is a crock, and people need to better educate themselves about the charities they support.

  8. thepaperdoll Nov 05 at 4:16 pm Reply Reply

    Just out of curiosity, where did you (collectively) get information that Locks of Love is a scam or that most hair is unusable? It clearly says on their guidelines page that color and permed hair IS acceptable. However, bleached hair is not.
    I just don’t know much about it and would like to make an informed decision.

  9. JuliaW. Nov 05 at 6:37 pm Reply Reply

    Paperdoll, read the NYT article she linked to, it has a ton of information in it. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/fashion/06locks.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1194305801-Ve04QJFtCYv6w3H88oahhQ

  10. Alison Nov 05 at 9:12 pm Reply Reply

    I think it’s really not right to say that Locks of Love is a scam or a crock (unless there is info I don’t know). They can’t help it that they can’t use all the donations they receive because they’re not all suitable for wig-making. That doesn’t make them a scam! I’m sure they would LOVE to use all the hair donations they get, if they were suitable for their needs. A scam is a group raising money under false pretenses. That’s not the case here.
    And bravo to Valette for pointing out that nonprofits need money just like any other endeavor. (I work for one — believe me, if we don’t get financial donations, we can’t do any good.)

  11. Alison Nov 05 at 9:13 pm Reply Reply

    Oh but to clarify, I think Amy’s post is right on.

  12. Amy Corbett Storch Nov 05 at 11:49 pm Reply Reply

    No, I don’t believe LoL is a “scam.” They operate under regular non-profit guidelines…it’s more a question of whether their purpose and follow-through line up with supporter’s expectations, I think.
    Most people assume that all hair is used as wigs. Most people assume *their* hair will be used as a wig. Clearly, with the charity’s wig output being SO SMALL, something isn’t right here, which I think sparks the anger and the “scam” talk. But like any charity — before you write a check or donate your hair — you need to do your own research. The stats on LoL are easy to find, like in the Times article I linked to.
    The simple fact is that human hair, in general, is NOT ideal for wigs. It’s extremely delicate (especially Caucasian hair) and makes for high-maintenance, easily-destroyed wigs. Not ideal for children OR chemo patients who might not have the time or energy to take care of it. Synthetic hair really is the best and most popular choice for wigs, which is why most donations end up in the trash. Even the faintest blonde highlights weaken the hair and get classified as “bleaching.” So while I know LoL’s site says colored hair is accepted, the honest truth is that almost all processed hair ultimately will be tossed.
    Personally, I think LoL created a PR monster they weren’t really equipped to handle and haven’t made enough moves to grow to meet demand and basically be everything they could be. (Seriously…six employees and 10-15 volunteers? Only 2000 wigs since 1997? $1.1 million in expenses per year?) But that’s their call.
    Check out charitynavigator.com for expense and revenue breakdowns on charities too — it’s pretty helpful in seeing how much money a charity spends on itself vs. on its intended recipients.

  13. kalisah Nov 06 at 6:18 pm Reply Reply

    I worked at a childhood cancer center for 8 years, and in all that time, I only ever saw two patients wear wigs. And one of those was to her prom.
    Kids are pretty resilient. They hardly care that they’re bald. Frankly, they have bigger things to worry their little heads about – like fighting for their lives.
    If you really want to make a difference to a “young chemotherapy patient” donate to St. Jude or the Cancer society or somewhere that is actively searching for a cure rather than an org that wants to make sick kids look prettier.

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