Caroline has been discussing donating her hair for wigs for cancer patients for quite some time. She settled on the Pantene hair donation program in the end (Pantene Great Lengths). I thought it might be helpful to share the process she went through to decide, what we learned along the way, and why she chose this particular organization.
Caroline has had long hair since she was three. (She is now eleven.) Here is her three year picture with all the pretty natural curls she had when she was little. Sadly the blonde curls did not last. (Sniff!) You can see it growing in darker and straighter even at this age. But she has lovely light to medium brown hair now.
Other than pictures of herself as a toddler, Caroline’s never seen herself with hair shorter than half way down her back. Like many girls and women with long hair, a bit of her identity was tied to it. She frequently receives comments and compliments on her lovely hair. But after she learned about donating hair to help those who need wigs, she would bring up the topic again from time to time. Over the past few months she started discussing it more seriously and in the past month she became very serious about it and spent much time researching the different organizations that take hair.
(Her first desire was to donate her hair for my next wig. I tear up just writing this. She has such a kind and loving heart. I explained why it wasn’t possible, but that we would find a good home for her donation.)
Where to Donate Hair
The first question of where to donate hair is a personal one with many aspects to consider. There are a number of organizations that pop up when doing research including:
Each organization has a unique focus such as children with cancer, children with alopecia, women with cancer, etc.
Each group also has their own donation requirements. The donation length requirements vary from eight inches to twelve inches.
Some groups will take no gray hair. Some will take up to 5% or 10% gray hair. It just depends.
Each program wants the hair secured in a particular way. Some want it in a single ponytail, secured with a couple of rubber bands. Some want it in multiple smaller sections, secured with many bands. So it’s important to understand what each organization is looking for when you make your plan. When we went to the salon, I took with me a printed copy of the visual directions from the Pantene Beautiful Lengths website to make sure we did it correctly.
In all cases, the hair must be clean, dry, and free of products. Most do not want it if it has been chemically treated.
So whichever choice you end up making, it’s very important to read the directions on the organization’s website. I believe every website indicates they throw away a lot of donations simply because people don’t follow the instructions and then it is unusable.
I put together this chart that shows some of the most important information that people might like when making a decision regarding where to donate hair.
Donating Hair for Cancer Patients Controversy
Like everything today, even donating hair for cancer patients can be controversial. I did a little research and it appears to me there is a a lot of outdated information and misinformation online regarding where to donate hair for cancer patients. Each person who decides to donate will have to do their own research, but here are a few things I discovered that mattered to me that I thought I would address.
Part of the controversy stems from people not understanding the purpose of each organization. Not every group has the purpose of providing wigs for cancer patients. But everyone connects donating hair with cancer and so people assume that anything that deviates from that must be run by evil manipulators trying to take financial advantage of unsuspecting people. That is simply not the case.
For example, Locks of Love seems to get a lot of negative word of mouth press. As soon as you mention you are thinking about donating hair, people are eager to tell you that Locks of Love is bad. After doing some reading around, the problem seems to be that most people don’t understand their focus. From the Locks of Love website:
Our recipients are financially disadvantaged children, age 21 and under, suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. Most of our children suffer from an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata, which causes the hair follicles to shut down. In addition to the loss of scalp hair, many also lose their eyelashes, eyebrows and all body hair. This hair loss is permanent in most cases, and there is no known cause or cure. Other recipients have been victim to severe burns, cancer survivors, or suffer from any number of skin disorders that cause permanent hair loss.
In other words, Locks of Love does not focus on working with cancer patients. They work with kids who have lost their hair for the long-term because of significant medical issues which may or may not include cancer. They especially focus on children with alopecia areata. They also don’t create wigs. They create hair prostheses. There is a difference. These children receive hair pieces that “stick” to their head via a vacuum seal which then allows them to do everything other kids can do including swimming, etc. A typical wig does not do that.
This kind of hair loss is not life-threatening so it might not seem as significant at cancer, but it is in some ways. As someone who has experienced significant hair loss (but not alopecia areata), I know what it is like to deal with this. I know how people treat you differently. I think it is FANTASTIC Locks of Love is providing these kids with hair prostheses that allow them to live more like children who don’t face the same issues.
If you have never priced a real hair wig before, they are expensive. I have owned both synthetic and real hair. There is no comparison in the quality and the realistic look. Real hair prostheses such as those made by Locks of Love are time intensive and expensive. It is no small undertaking to provide these. They also only last so long. The typical real hair wig begins to show its age after about a year. They cost at minimum $1,000 each.
The prostheses made by Locks of Love cost significantly more than that because they are molded to fit with that vacuum seal. This is a significant investment of labor to make something like this. They are creating a special mold for the child’s head. And then each hair – EACH HAIR – is hand tied. It is a time and labor intensive undertaking and that is why these protheses can cost thousands of dollars to make.
Because children grow, they are able to apply for a new one every 18 months which completely makes sense to me. Between the fit and the hair itself wearing out, they would need a new one that often.
So, yes, providing wigs for cancer patients is incredibly important. But don’t underestimate the importance of providing hair prostheses for children with other medical issues, many of which are life-long and emotionally devastating.
Do They Throw Hair Away or Discard It?
Another common concern that comes up is the fact that so much hair that is sent in is not used for actual wigs. There are a number of reasons for that. The first one is just sad. People don’t follow directions and send in damp hair so it gets moldy. Of course they are going to throw it away!
Other reasons hair is thrown away include poor quality or it doesn’t meet the requirements in other ways. If you are creating an expensive wig for a person in need, the last thing you want to do is use poor quality materials. So the hair that doesn’t meet the criteria is often sold for other purposes and to offset the costs of running the non-profit organizations.
In reality, what difference does it make if some hair is thrown away? If people are cutting their hair anyway and it is going to get thrown in the salon trash, doesn’t it make more sense to spend $3 to send it to one of these organizations and hope that it can be used in some way?
Caroline’s Decision of Where to Donate Hair
The decision of how much to donate and where to send it was Caroline’s. I was not going to dictate to her how or what she should do. She’s eleven years old and she was the one driving this decision. I was proud of her not only for making this choice but also for how much time she spent researching the different options. (We’re homeschoolers and I was thrilled to see how seriously she took this in terms of understanding what was involved, the pros and cons of different organizations, etc. So much learning, reading, studying, debating pros and cons, etc. in real life learning!)
At first she was learning towards Wigs for Kids and then Locks of Love. She liked the idea of helping sick kids. As the time got closer, she decided she would be more comfortable donating a shorter length the first time. She opted to donate to the Pantene Great Lengths program because they accept hair of eight inches. The Pantene program provides wigs for women with cancer.
In the end, she sent in nine inches. I think this was a good choice. I believe if she had tried to do an entire twelve inches, the experience might not have been as positive. It would have left her hair much shorter and I think there would have been more of a shock with it. The important thing to me is she made the choice to donate to help women with cancer and she made a choice for her own appearance that she is happy with.
Caroline’s Salon Experience
So we were off to the salon where Sharon Jo was ready to help us out. (Honestly, this picture doesn’t do Caroline’s hair justice. It’s much prettier in person. I’m just not the best photographer. LOL!)
Putting in the pontytail holders…
Starting to cut!
The stylist says it is more like sawing. LOL!
And there it is! A ponytail to donate!
What have I done? (Not really!)
Ponytail donation packaged up in a clean bag for mailing to the Pantene hair donation program.
Getting a nice fresh cut!
Very pretty new hairstyle!
Dried and with finger curls!
Such a pretty finished product!
Then we had a bit of a bonus…
Caroline loves to do her nails in a variety of colors, with glitter, etc. I noticed that the nail stylist wasn’t busy so I asked if she could do a manicure on Caroline. Caroline has wanted to try a professional manicure for a number of years and this seemed like the perfect time!
The manicurist was great. She took a lot of time with Caroline, explaining all the steps, why they were important, etc. Caroline opted for a light green polish except for her ring fingers which got silver glitter polish. (As much as we’re the alike in many ways, we’re VERY different in other ways. LOL!)
The next day we put the bag with the donation ponytail in a padded envelope. Here we are all packaged up and ready to take to the post office! We included Caroline’s name, age, and address so we will hopefully receive a confirmation that they received it. There is no way to know who will benefit from Caroline’s hair, but we trust it will all work out for the best!
So there is Caroline’s Pantene hair donation story! At this point, she hasn’t decided if she will do it again. She likes her (relatively) shorter hair and I’m curious to see if she decides to keep it at this shorter length or let it grow out again. Whatever comes next, it was a great experience all the way around and something we would recommend to anyone else who is considering it!