Charitable people donate millions of dollars to cancer treatment each year. But if you’ve got a head full of long, luxurious locks, there’s another way you can meaningfully help cancer patients. Learn how to donate hair to cancer and make a significant impact on someone’s life.
For more than 30 years, people have been donating their locks to make real hair wigs for kids and young adults going through radiation therapy. This year I checked an item off my bucket list and donated 12” of my hair to Wigs for Kids. All it takes is a quick snip to give a priceless piece of yourself to someone in need. The hardest part is finding out the what, where, and how.
I’ll help you get started by answering some questions about how to donate hair to kids with cancer, plus a list of some of the best charitable organizations.
Why Should You Donate Hair for Cancer?
Receiving chemotherapy is both a physically and emotionally trying experience. A wig is a symbol of hope for a cancer patient who is already going through so much. Hair loss isn’t just a matter of vanity; it can severely affect mental health. A beautifully crafted wig can give a cancer patient a significant boost of self-confidence and emotional balance.
When you donate hair for cancer wigs, you’re helping to create so much more than the synthetic wigs sold at Halloween. Natural hair wigs commissioned by charitable organizations are custom designed. They are crafted to mimic the recipient’s own hair, fit comfortably, and stay securely in place during any activity. They bring a sense of normalcy to someone who’s going through chaos. And they are done for little to no cost for those who can’t afford to purchase a high-dollar realistic wig.
Who Can Donate Hair for Cancer?
Anyone anywhere can be a donor, regardless of your age, ethnicity, or hair type. Many organizations will accept gray hair or hair with a certain percentage of gray in it. Organizations that cater specifically to children, of course, will not be able to use gray hair for the obvious reasons. Some, however, will take gray donations and sell them to offset manufacturing costs.
Healthy hair of any color and any texture can be made into a full-cranium prosthetic (or wig) for a child or adult suffering from cancer-related hair loss. However, it does have to meet minimum length and quality requirements to be usable.
How Long Do You Have to Grow Your Hair to Donate?
The required length of hair for donation will differ by organization. Most charities will require hair to be a minimum of 8”-14” long. If you’re close to that one-foot mark, try to wait just a little longer. 14” or more will have the most significant impact. If you have layered hair, make sure the shorter hair meets the minimum requirement. If it doesn’t, it may be discarded or sold to offset manufacturing costs.
How do you measure? Pull your hair back into a ponytail. If you have curly hair, pull it straight to get an accurate measurement. Don’t measure to the tip of the last strand, but to the point where the hair thins out.
Can I Donate Color-Treated Hair?
If you’ve had your hair dyed, bleached, permed, or otherwise treated, unfortunately, you won’t be able to donate it to most organizations. Dreadlocks cannot be used either. Temporary coloring or highlights, however, are okay if the color is thoroughly washed out.
The usability of treated hair will depend on the charity. Some will accept it with the stipulation that the manufacturer might reject it. Some organizations cannot take treated hair because treated hair is often not strong enough to undergo the wig-crafting process.
But if you’ve had a close, personal relationship with hair dye all your life, all is not lost. You can make a hair donation to Matter of Trust. This eco-friendly organization takes donated hair, fur, and fleece clippings and makes felted mats. The mats are used to soak up oil spills and keep storm drains clean. They accept all types of hair, and it only needs to be 3” long.
What Organizations Accept Hair Donations for Cancer?
Several non-profit organizations use donated hair to create free or low-cost wigs for people with cancer and other conditions. Each organization has its own mission and different requirements for donations. Each will also serve different causes, like childhood cancers, burn victims or conditions like alopecia areata and trichotillomania. Do a little bit of research to determine which is a good fit for you.
The founders of some organizations, Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, chose to serve specific states. Others, like Hair We Share, aim to provide wigs to adults with hair loss. The organizations listed below focus on wigs for children who have lost hair due to cancer or other medical reasons:
How Do I Donate My Hair to Cancer Patients?
Though you can cut your hair at home, I recommend going to a salon to make sure the hair donation process is done correctly. You’re making a considerable contribution, so you might as well treat yourself! Go to a salon that you’re used to. Losing multiple inches of hair at once can be a traumatic experience; you want it to be a comfortable and positive one. If you don’t have a favorite salon, you can find a list of salons that cut for donations on your organization’s website. Some will even package and ship the hair for you (and do the cut at a reduced price).
Preparing Your Hair for Donation
If you aren’t quite at 12” but are considering donating hair in the future, take great care of your hair now so that it’s in perfect shape when it’s time for the snip.
Here are some tips for preparing your hair for donation:
- Don’t process it with any dyes or other chemical treatments
- Reduce the use of straightening irons and styling tools to avoid hair damage
- Use conditioner after washing to protect against heat damage
- Practice regular trimming to prevent split ends and breakage
- Brush regularly to promote hair health
Guidelines for Making the Cut
Cutting a ponytail isn’t rocket science, but you do only get one shot at it. If your stylist isn’t familiar with cutting hair for cancer donations, show her the instructions for your specific organization. Whether you are lopping off your locks at home or visiting your favorite stylist, ensure that your hair is clean first. Don’t apply any hair products like hairspray or gel after washing it.
Before you get your hair cut, it must be separated into sections. The more small sections you cut, the more usable hair you’ll be sending. Aim for at least four to six. You can make each section even by creating a center part, then parting the halves over the top of each ear. Secure the hair tightly with rubber bands at the top. Many organizations request that you secure the hair with more bands every 2”-3”. Or you can braid each section.
How to Mail it Off
Make sure to dry hair completely before packaging it up. Wet hair risks molding during shipping and cannot be used. It would be a shame to see your hard-grown mane go to waste!
Seal the dry ponytails in a ziplock bag. Each organization will have a hair donation form to send in with your donation. These will request your return address so that they can send a certificate of thanks. Put your hair and donation form in an envelope and ship it off to its new life as a wig for someone in need!
What if My Hair is Not Usable?
Hair donation isn’t for everyone. You could have the best of intentions, but your hair may not be up for the task. Perhaps you’ve color-treated your hair for years, or maybe it just refuses to grow. There are still ways that you can help. Donated human hair only makes up about 30% of the manufacturing costs of making a hairpiece. Consider sending a monetary donation directly to your favorite organization.
You can also donate your time and energy to this worthy cause—volunteer with a charitable organization to become a hands-on part of the process. If you work in or own a salon, consider partnering with an organization.
Over To You!
When salons shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many women chose to let their hair grow. Now that things are opening back up, organizations are seeing a boom in hair donations. Now is the perfect time to get a fresh start with a new haircut!
The decision to cut your hair can be a tough one. Hair takes years to grow and a lot of work to keep healthy. But it will always grow back. Meanwhile, the hair that you donate will change the life of a child with cancer. Not just physically but emotionally. And you’ll be able to feel great about that for the rest of your life.