I’ve donated my hair to charity 4 times. Here’s what you need to know if you want to do it.

Before and after I cut 10 inches off in 2018.

Before and after I cut 10 inches off in 2018.
Rebecca Harrington/Business Insider
  • I have donated my hair to charity four times.
  • The first two times I chose Locks of Love, the third time I chose Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and the fourth time I chose Children with Hair Loss.
  • Here’s what you need to know about donating your hair, including how long it has to be and whether it can be colored.

The scissors snip together slowly making that unmistakable crunching sound, and 10 inches of hair that I spent two years growing are now gone.

But the strands didn’t just fall to the ground to get swept up and thrown away.

Instead, my hair is now on its way to Children with Hair Loss, a nonprofit based out of Michigan that gives wigs to children and young adults in the US who have medical hair loss.

I have donated my hair to charity four times now.

In my experience, donating your hair is a much more personal gift than sending a check. You’re sending a piece of yourself to a kid or adult who has a disease that’s caused them to lose their hair.

The last time around, I still had some major questions about the process.

Where does my hair go once it’s cut off my head? Who gets the wigs? Who makes the wigs? Where do they make them? How many people can it help? Which organization is best?

Before I made that final cut, I found the answers. Here’s what I learned.

Which organization should I choose?

The first two times I donated my hair, I sent it to Locks of Love. But hearing they sell wigs to make a profit gave me pause.

Locks of Love doesn’t charge kids for the wigs – but they do sometimes sell the hair if it’s too short or grey. Once I dug into why, though, it made sense.

“Shorter hair will be separated from the ponytails and sold to offset the manufacturing costs. Although the shorter hair cannot be used in the hairpieces, it greatly helps to reduce costs,” the organization says on its website.

Another FAQ answer reads: “We can accept donations of gray hair. Because we only provide hairpieces to children, we cannot use this hair in a hairpiece but will sell it to offset our manufacturing costs.”

Before and after I cut 14 inches off in 2016!

Before and after I cut 14 inches off in 2016!
Business Insider

The third time I donated my hair, I chose Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that partnered with the American Cancer Society to distribute free wigs to cancer patients.

But P&G spokeswoman Bilal Lakhani told me the program was shutting down at the end of 2018, after giving tens of thousands of wigs to patients over its 12-year existence.

“Over the last several years, synthetic hair technology has vastly improved, giving synthetic hair wigs more of a ‘real-hair feel’, making them lighter, cooler to wear, and easier to style,” she said in a statement.

She continued: “Due to these advancements, patients have told the ACS that synthetic wigs are now their preferred wig choice. This change in patient needs has resulted in decreased demand for real-hair, and the time has come for us to wind down the Beautiful Lengths program.”

So this time around, I asked the ACS to recommend other organizations to donate to. Here’s a breakdown of five hair donation nonprofits they suggested:

hair donation charities compared table

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Deciding which organization to donate your hair to is a personal choice. I went with Children with Hair Loss this time because I had 10 inches of hair, I wanted to help kids nationally, and I liked that they don’t charge anyone for wigs.

Read more: I saw brain cancer erase someone I love – and it shows why healthcare coverage is so crucial

Where does the hair go?

Once you send your hair in, generally speaking, the organizations process it and send it to a wig manufacturer.

A Pantene spokesperson told Business Insider in 2016 that once Beautiful Lengths had enough hair donations at its collection location, they would send a shipment to Hair U Wear, one of the largest wig manufacturers in the world.

Hair U Wear made the wigs at its factory in Indonesia and then shipped them back to Pantene, which gave the well-traveled hair to the American Cancer Society to distribute at its wig banks across the US.

You can see which groups each organizations provides wigs to in the table above.

Hair We Share has a ponytail tracking program where you can donate $125 to find out where your hair ends up. If the recipient is willing, you could even get a photo of them wearing the wig made from your hair.

Who gets the wigs?

In 2016, Jessica Melore, 34, described losing her hair as “an outward manifestation of being sick.” It was a constant reminder that her body was fighting cancer – in the drain when she took a shower, on her pillow when she woke up.

After finishing chemotherapy for her third bout with cancer, she said getting a wig was an important boost for her wellbeing, making her feel like herself again.

“It’s a little bit of sadness like, ‘Oh there it goes, I’m on my way to being bald,'” Melore told Business Insider in 2016. “But you have that reassurance that the wig is there and you feel good about it.”

Before she lost her hair, Melore donated it and got a wig from the American Cancer Society all in the same day. She broadcast the experience on Facebook Live:

Melore said her insurance company didn’t cover the cost of the wig the second time she wore one after chemo treatment, which shocked her. That’s why Melore was so grateful for the ACS’s support.

“This is not simply a vanity thing,” she said. “It’s the result of a medical circumstance.”

Patti Allen, the senior director of mission delivery for the ACS of New York and New Jersey, told Business Insider in 2016 that while they have styles for both sexes, mostly women come in for wigs.

Each ACS wig bank across the country has a salon where cancer patients can come pick out a wig and have it individually tailored by a professional stylist just like Melore did.

“It’s not one size fits all. My hair is not like somebody else’s hair. We really try to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible,” Allen said. “It’s hard enough that they’re going through treatment that has altered their lifestyle. The wig is the least thing that we can do to try to make them feel a little bit better about what they’re going through.”

When Business Insider caught up with Melore in January 2019, she said she has been in remission for two years, and even stopped wearing her wig this summer. Her hair has grown back, and is now shoulder-length.

How can I donate?

Before and after I donated a foot of hair in 2010.

Before and after I donated a foot of hair in 2010.
Rebecca Harrington/Business Insider

Each organization has slightly different donation requirements, which you can find on their websites, or in the table above.

Hair We Share and Children with Hair Loss both accept colored or grey but not highlighted hair over 8 inches.

Locks of Love and Pink Heart Funds both take hair colored or grey but not over-processed or bleached hair over 10 inches.

Wigs for Kids will take grey, but not dyed, hair that is at least 12 inches long.

You can stretch curly hair out to reach the minimum length, but the shortest layers have to meet that number or they probably won’t be used.

Make sure you put the hair in multiple ponytails or rubber bands before you cut it so it stays together when you send it in. It actually takes about 10 to 12 ponytails to make one wig.

If you watch the first Facebook Live video embedded in this story, you can see how my stylist segmented the hair before he cut it.

The hair has to be completely dry before you send it, too, so it doesn’t get moldy. They have to throw hair away if it is.

Ask your hair salon if they will give you a discount or even cut your hair for free if you’re donating it. Wigs for Kids has a search function on their website to find a salon that works with them.

How can I get a wig?

While many of the 650,000 cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy every year in the US are able to grow their hair back after they complete treatment, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that can cause permanent hair loss.

Over 6.8 million Americans have alopecia or will get it at some point in their lives, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, and it often begins in childhood.

If you have cancer, alopecia, or another medical affliction that has caused you to lose your hair, reach out to the organizations to see if you can get a wig. Only some of them offer wigs for adults, so keep that in mind if you need one and are over 18 or 21.

And if you’re donating, no matter which organization you choose, your hair can help someone who no longer has theirs.

“I had been familiar with the American Cancer Society through their fundraising activities and the research that they do,” Melore said. “But [it was comforting] to know that there was this whole other side that is dedicated to supporting you and making you feel like yourself, which is I think part of the whole experience, too, because it ties in with your whole sense of wellbeing. This is such a wonderful service.”

This story was originally published in January 2016, when the author donated her hair for the third time. It has been updated with new information.