Many of my friends have long-haired daughters who, wanting to brighten the day of children suffering from cancer, cut off their ponytails and donate them to “Locks of Love”, “Pantene Beautiful Lengths” and similar organizations that supposedly use the hair to make wigs for these children. I’ve met quite a few adult women who have also donated their long hair this way, and since I’ve interpreted at various cancer hospitals, I’ve seen hair drives in action.
(For those who don’t know, “hair drives” are all-day promotional events where anyone with a minimum of 12 inches to spare can cut their hair, donate it, and walk away thinking they’ve done something good. Hair salons also host these events, donating the ponytails directly).
Unfortunately, very few women I’ve talked to seem to know what really happens when you donate hair. I’ve researched this myself, as A) I have waist length hair; B) every time I go to get a haircut, the hairdresser asks me if I plan to “donate” my hair; and C) I have seen several people I love die of cancer. It’s not that I’m insensitive or too attached to my hair. I’m certainly not looking for excuses to ignore cancer (or alopecia) patients. I just think people should know the truth about this “business” and separate well-intentioned myths from reality before they decide to cut their hair and think they are actually helping someone.
MYTH: Locks of Love is a non-profit organization
A cleverly crafted website never claims to be a non-profit organization, but the idea that it is seems rooted in the public perception that it is a charity. After all, if women are asked to donate their hair, doesn’t it stand to reason that they make no profit on the wigs they produce? Mistaken.
REALITY: “Locks of Love has come under fire for poor accountability practices. Forbes and The Huffington Post report that the charity doesn’t count up to millions of hair donations.
Locks of Love has received criticism for its practice of selling donated hair, rather than using it in wigs as donors expect. According to the Locks of Love website, some unusable hair (bleached, highlighted, gray, or shorter than 10″) is sold to offset the cost of making custom wigs.
According to his tax returns, the organization made millions from hair sales between 2001 and 2006, and received another million in donations.”
MYTH: “If I donate my hair, it will still be for a good cause: someone in need will use it in a wig.
REALITY: Not necessarily. Locks of Love (as well as Pantene) receive so many donations that about 90% of them are downloaded on eBay and sold based on length and quality. This lowers the price even further (the international hair market is huge. The best quality dark hair comes from India, while Siberian women cut their long blonde tresses for as little as $50).
If you really want to cut your hair for charity, I suggest you do it and sell it yourself on eBay. Last time I took the time to check this out, the average retail price for a 12-inch ponytail was around $80. An 18-inch ponytail was twice as much ($160-$180); while anything over 22 inches would cost around $280-$300. (I researched this two years ago, so these relative values may have changed.) Avoid sites that promise you $800 a ponytail, like the now-defunct hairtrader.com – they’re scams.
MYTH: These organizations “donate” (read: givefree) the wigs they make for children suffering from cancer.
REALITY: Again, the organizations mentioned above do not make such a claim directly on their website; this is something of an urban legend. In fact, most wigs go to adult recipients suffering from alopecia; but regardless of who uses them, they are paying good money. To investigate this, I downloaded a “request” form from the LoL website. The potential recipient must complete a W-2 form and other proof of income, and the price of the wig is determined by financial means (in other words, it is sold on a sliding scale).
other organization, “Children’s Wigs”In fact, he donates the wigs, all to children under the age of 18 who are undergoing chemotherapy. Families of patients are never charged. If you’re determined to donate your hair to help cancer patients, I encourage you to consider “Kids Wigs” instead of “Love Locks” (I haven’t fully researched them and don’t know if they are 501(c) — this is purely based on the information on their website).
It seems irresponsible, at best, for organizations like Pantene and Locks of Love to let industry donors and individuals believe they are contributing to a charitable cause, when in fact they are lining the pockets of these organizations. Smart marketing implies, but does not explicitly state, these claims. This participation shapes the public image of organizations, while also keeping them legally clear. While not exactly “false advertising,” such tactics play on the compassion of good-hearted women who genuinely want to help someone. Be conscious; do your research before donating anything; and then make sure an end user is In fact being helped!