Getting a buzz cut? Here’s how your hair can change someone else’s life

Donate your hair the next time you cut it, and someone in need could get a free wig. Take a look at how donors are helping cancer, brain injury and alopecia patients find strands of hope.

india Updated: May 14, 2017 10:12 IST
Madhusree Ghosh
Madhusree Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Hair donation,Cancer,Alopecia
Did you know that you could donate your hair? NGOs are working with wig-makers to provide free wigs to people with cancer, brain injury or alopecia. A good wig costs about Rs 30,000, so even many middle-class patients can’t afford one after they have paid for, say, chemotherapy or brain surgery. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)

Having a bad hair day? Imagine if all your hair were gone. Abhaya* lost hers when she was battling a tumour in the neck a year ago. “I had long, lustrous hair and when the chemotherapy took it, it hit me hard. I didn’t want to face anyone without it. I didn’t feel like myself,” she says.

It’s not just women. Sumeet* was diagnosed with a brain tumour at 10 and is now 29. His hair never grew back. “I didn’t like seeing myself in pictures. I was so self-conscious about how I looked,” he says.

Both Abhaya and Sumeet got in touch with NGOs that turn donated hair into wigs for cancer patients. Sumeet poses confidently for pictures now. Abhaya is in remission and her own hair is returning.

Hair is easier to donate than blood or a kidney, but not many people know it’s an option. So NGOs such as Madat Charitable Trust, HairAid, Sarga Kshetra Cultural and Charitable Centre and Hair for Hope are working to spread awareness online and offline, organisation donation drives in metros across the country, helping link donors and recipients. They organise hair donation events, carefully collect the hair donated, and then take it to affiliated wigmakers, who make the wigs for free.

“Before chemotherapy starts, we generally advise patients to get a wig that resembles their hairstyle,” says Dr Sujata Vasani, medical oncologist and haematologist at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital. “It’s a relatively small thing, but the relief it can bring to someone is immense. Especially in cases where, for instance, a parent doesn’t want their kids to know they have cancer.”

It’s not cancer alone. Donated hair is used to make free wigs for patients who have alopecia or have had extensive brain surgery. “A good wig costs about Rs 30,000, and the cost of treatment is so high in such cases that even middle-class people often can’t afford one,” says Premi Mathew, founder of Hair for Hope India. “So don’t throw away hair when you get your summer cuts. Come to us, and we’ll use it to bring a smile to a chemo patient.”

(* Names changed on request)

Meet some of the donors

Before and after pictures of Sunita Wazir, 40, and her 13-year-old daughter Ameya. Sunita, an HR business consultant from Mumbai, and Ameya donated their hair in October via NGO Madat Charitable Trust. “My sister Kavita died 18 years ago after a painful tryst with cancer,” Sunita says. “This contribution is our small way of celebrating her life by helping someone cope with cancer. I’m even prouder that my daughter Ameya joined me in this. Bringing a smile to someone is our biggest reward.”
Sherin Mathew, 26, a contracts manager with a PSU, decided to go bald when donating her hair. “It occurred to me that if I cut it short, people would comment on the ‘new haircut’. I decided to go bald so I could spread awareness every time someone asked why. It was also my way of showing my solidarity with people who had lost their hair. It was a difficult decision to take, but everyone has supported me and, one month one, I am very glad I did it,” she says. Mathew donated her hair via NGO Hair for Hope India.
Lendle Sunny, 24, is an IT professional who grew his hair extra-long, just so he could donate it. “It was while vacationing in Kerala that I heard about hair donation. The pictures online of people donating hair for cancer patients inspired me. So I grew mine for a year. My mom oiled it every day so it would grow faster. Every time people asked why I was growing my hair, I got a chance to spread the word. And as a result two other people pledged to donate their hair too, at an event we organised in Mumbai. I feel very happy that I was able to do something to bring happiness to someone who needed it,” he says. Sunny donated his hair via NGO Hair for Hope India.

So what happens to the hair once it’s been cut and collected? Take a look

Pankaj Bhupatkar runs a wig-making company called Rajkamal Wigs & Hair and also works with NGO Madat Charitable Trust, making wigs for free out of donated hair. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
Gray or wavy, frizzy or straight, anyone can donate hair. All you have to do is make sure it’s at least 12-15 inches long, collect it carefully when you cut it so the ends are not mixed up with the roots, and then send it to an NGO that collects hair for wigs. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
Donated hair is sorted carefully into ‘plaits’ based on length, colour and texture. Each plait is then brushed carefully to remove all knots. It is now ready to be rooted into a ‘cap’. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
Each wig base or ‘cap’ is made to fit a specific person’s head. “This is a very crucial stage of the wig-making process because if this measurement goes wrong, the wig will never fit right. We are very careful to not to make any mistakes,” says Bhupatkar. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
The cap is made using monofilament net imported from Korea. This fine mesh fits close to the scalp and is virtually invisible, making the wig look even less wig-like. The mesh is also thin and breathable, making the wig comfortable and well-ventilated over long hours of use. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
This is the knotting stage, where the real skill comes in. Two or three strands of hair are knotted into the net at a time. “This needs total concentration and a keen eye for detail,” says Bhupatkar. It’s almost like fine carpet-making. If the hair is not knotted delicately and exactly, the hair won’t fall right. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
After the knotting, the hair is cut, shampooed, conditioned and styled just as it would be in a salon — except that no hair dryer is used. Hair, once separated from the scalp, becomes dry and gets brittle if exposed to intense heat or friction. (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)
It takes about a week to make one wig. But once it’s done, it’s yours to play with. You can change the parting; tie it and style it as you wish, just like you would your own hair. “I wore a donated wig for eight months and it was so me, I didn’t even feel sad about losing my original hair. I went to school wearing it and no one knew,” says a 16-year-old college student and cancer survivor. “When I told friends, they were surprised. That made me happy and confident in my appearance.” (Satyabrata Tripathy / HT Photo)

First Published: May 12, 2017 23:31 IST