What You Need to Know About Donating Your Hair

Victoria Moorhouse
Hair donation

Photo: AlexRaths/iStock

Never underestimate the power of a haircut—not only is it the fastest way to make you feel like a brand new person, it can also help change lives. That’s right, we’re talking hair donation. By now, you likely understand what this entails: a portion of your hair is cut off and used to make wigs for women battling cancer and going through treatment that causes hair loss. It’s an amazing cause, but it’s important to make sure that you’re donating your hair to a reputable organization.

Pantene is one hair care brand that’s formed an entire program around it, teaming up with the American Cancer Society almost a decade ago to make and distribute wigs to cancer patients experiencing hair loss. But to get a better understanding of what’s required to donate to this specific program, we chatted with the brand’s stylist Danilo who walked us through everything you need to know.

Learn the minimum length required for donation.
This is one of the most important things to know, as hair does need to be a certain length to donate. When participating in the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, Danilo tells us that they require 8 inches of hair—that’s the absolute minimum. “Two of the inches are used up when the hair is hand tied on the wefting to create the wig,” he tells us. “That ends up being a 6 inch wig. We’d love to have more, but 8 is minimum.”

But if you don’t have eight inches of hair to donate, you can also give $8—the brand’s new #8for8 initiative encourages people to either make the cut or give $8 to the program.

One ponytail is your easiest option.
If you’re doing the cut by yourself and your not a skilled professional, the recommended procedure is to put your hair in a single ponytail, measure it out, and make the cut. In fact, Danilo says that most of this program’s donations have been from people cutting their own hair just like this!

But if you’re going the DIY route, you should have a general idea of the haircut you want to end up with—Danilo explains that this will help you calculate the maximum amount of hair to donate and avoid throwing away inches on the floor. All that hair that’s being swept up could potentially be a part of your initial donation. So if you have incredibly long long locks and you’re aiming for a pixie cut, make it a point to save as much of your hair as possible for the cause.

Only donate quality hair.
That means hair that hasn’t been chemically processed to hell and back. While Danilo says that hair that’s been lightened by, say, the sun or the ocean, would potentially be OK, virgin hair is preferred. According to the program, this is because many ponytails are used to create one wig, and they all have to be dyed the look the same. That means they all have to “absorb” the dye at the same rate and in the same fashion to make the hair piece as realistic as possible. So what about gray hair? As long as no more than 5 percent of your locks are grayed, you’re good.

It needs to be clean and dry.
Before you make the cut, Danilo says hair should be clean (a shampoo and condition before should do it) and fully dry. Hair that’s sent wet could mold in the packaging, and it’s important for the organization to have a understanding of the quality of the hair received. He also says to consider wearing it naturally when you cut it so that they can get an idea of the texture of the hair.

Go to your stylist if you’re not sure how to make the cut.
While it’s a relatively simple process, if you’re a bit scared about the end result of the big chop, visit your hairdresser. You’re ultimately responsible for sending it through to the organization, but they can take the technical stuff off your shoulders. “Go in and say, I want to donate my hair,” Danilo says. “Everybody in salons gets very excited by it. It doesn’t cost anybody anything, and it’s such a great gift to someone in need.” They may make the cut in pigtails or several ponytails (this also changes the end cut you walk out of the salon with), but Danilo says as long as each ponytail is 8 inches in length, you’re set.

Recognize the great value of donating.
Remember that your gesture can make a big, positive, impact to someone who’s battling cancer and going through treatment. “It’s interesting that hair has no life force in it, but the gift of hair can save a life,” says Danilo.

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