Those of us who haven’t been brave enough to let our significant other or roommate cut our hair have seen our manes reach new lengths during the COVID-19 pandemic. With hair salons reopening in most states, you may be tempted to book a trim. But, what if a few extra inches could go a long way toward changing someone’s life? Hair donation charities are urging us to chop our pandemic ponytails for a good cause. Here is what you need to know.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Hair Donations
It should come as no surprise that hair donations came to a screeching halt at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. With salons closed across the United States, people had nowhere to go for their charitable cuts. Not to mention, there was uncertainty around the safety of handling potentially virus-infected hair. Since salons have reopened and research has mitigated such concerns, hair donations are resuming once again — but they still have a long way to go before reaching pre-COVID rates.
Hair We Share, a Long Island-based nonprofit, is one of the many organizations that has been impacted by the pandemic. According to co-founder Dean Riskin, hair donations slowed to “almost nothing” in the spring, but they are now back to receiving ponytails on a daily basis. Nonetheless, challenges remain.
The Hair We Share factories are closed for the foreseeable future. “The only problem now is that our ponytails are being shipped to factories, but there is no labor,” Riskin says. “We’re able to keep up with [demand], since we already had several hundred wigs created.” Once the factories reopen, it will take about 12 weeks to complete the wig-making process. The three-month span includes hand tying the wigs and also styling, photographing, and posting for “adoption.”
Other charities, like Locks of Love, have been able to continue with production during the pandemic. This was particularly important for the organization since it customizes its hairpieces for each recipient. While production was never shut down, Madonna Coffman, president and founder of Locks of Love, says there are delays in shipping and setbacks from office closures.
In March, the nonprofit asked its social media followers to temporarily stop sending donations because it was unable to receive deliveries. “We were closed for about three or four weeks [in late March],” Coffman shares. “Although we tried to have someone in the office once a week so the mail could be delivered, unfortunately our volunteers can’t come in because of social distancing.”
As stay-at-home orders in many states stretched on and people saw their strands grow longer than ever before, Coffman says her team noticed a lot of support on social media. Hashtags like #PandemicPonytails and #CovidCuts began to crop up in April, and Locks of Love saw a correlation to donations — though they’re not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. “We opened back up and did see those ponytails coming in,” she says. “They’re certainly not back at the level where they were before COVID, but we’re seeing an uptick and that’s great because our hair donors really keep us going.”
Coffman remains hopeful that donations will return to normal once people feel comfortable getting their hair cut again. Plus, holding out a bit longer has its benefits. “If you’ve waited this long and you only need one more inch, just hang on a little bit longer before cutting,” Coffman pleads.
How to Donate Your Hair
Not all charities have the same requirements for donated hair. Before hopping in the barber’s chair, research each organization's guidelines for donating. For instance, Wigs for Kids requires a minimum of a foot and the BeYOUtiful Foundation asks for at least 10 inches, whereas Hair We Share and Children with Hair Loss need eight inches. While most charities do not accept highlighted hair, Locks of Love does allow non-bleached hair. Most (if not all) organizations will accept gray hair and all textures, though some may require virgin hair that has never been chemically treated through perms or relaxers.
After your haircut, many charities accept hair donations by mail. Donors are usually responsible for sending the hair to the wig-making charity, although some salons are affiliated with donation centers and may take care of it for you. When you are ready to ship, carefully place your dry hair sample in a plastic bag. Depending on the nonprofit organization, hair should either be tied in a ponytail or braid with rubber bands placed at multiple lengths to keep it intact.
After the hair has been received, the organization will process it and either pass it along to a third party manufacturer or their own factory. Some charities, like Hair We Share, allow donors to see the end result of their gift. For a $125 donation, donors can enter into Hair We Share’s Ponytail Tracking Program for a first-hand look at the wig-making process and, potentially, a photo of the recipient wearing the finished product.
How to Prepare for the Cut
While nothing beats the feel-good factor that comes with a hair donation, there is no doubt an emotional aspect to the process. Jill Buck, a master stylist at Nine Zero One in Los Angeles and creative director of the BeYOUtiful Foundation, specializes in charitable cuts and says the chop can bring up a lot of feelings.
“Whether you are cutting your hair to give to a stranger, a friend in need, or even before you are losing it due to chemo, it is a big deal,” she says. “My advice is to plan it. Don’t decide on a whim. Have a good idea of what type of hairstyle you want after the length is gone. Don’t forget, you are helping someone in need. And, if you are fortunate enough to be healthy, it will grow back.”
If you are waiting to cut your pandemic ponytail, there are steps you can take at home to improve your hair health. As Buck explains, minimizing the amount of times you color your hair and using high-quality shampoos and conditioners are good places to start. Oh, and refrain from the urge to DIY the cut.
While it may be tempting to cut your own hair — especially if local hair salons aren’t open — Buck strongly recommends waiting to meet with a professional. Trained stylists will be able to give you an even cut and style and use scissors specifically designed for cutting hair. As it turns out, Bucks says split ends are often a result of using kitchen scissors (who knew?!).
Style blogger Jessica Camerata of My Style Vita recently donated her back-grazing brunette locks (as documented HERE), and she recommends bringing inspiration photos and chatting with your hairstylist about your vision before making the cut. Depending on the hairstyle, your donation may be cut to different lengths in different sections — à la Camerata’s super chic lob.
Still in need of style inspo? Buck has you covered. “For those with thicker or curly hair, I recommend a light and fresh textured short cut to help keep styling easy,” she suggests. “A professional will be able to take weight and bulk out in order to keep the hair from getting a ‘mushroom’ shape. For those of you with fine hair, I love seeing a blunt bob that will help your hair appear thicker and healthy.”
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