Over lockdown, many of us have grown our hair longer than we usually would, as we haven’t been able to go to the hairdresser’s salon. This is the perfect opportunity to grow your hair and help a child with cancer.
Why do children with cancer need wigs?
Children with cancer are often undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These treatments make an area of the child’s body too toxic for the cancer cells to keep existing, so the child gets very sick. They lose weight because they can’t keep their food down. And all their hair falls out. This makes them feel very miserable and self-conscious at a time when they are already going through a terrible ordeal.
Why can’t they just buy a wig?
Children with cancer spend a lot of time in hospital. This can either be as an inpatient, or, more commonly these days, visiting the hospital two or three times per week (or even daily) for treatment. Many children don’t live near to the hospital they are treated in. Their parents have to spend lots of money on petrol to drive to the hospital, food to eat while they are out, and accommodation near the hospital so they can visit their baby and hold their hand.
Wigs for children with cancer typically cost hundreds of pounds (or Euros, or dollars). That’s because the raw materials (good hair) are expensive and the labour to make a wig is intense (wigs have to be handmade). For decades, this has been a problem (basically, since chemotherapy was invented). In the past ten years or so, however, a solution has appeared.
Do you have very long hair?
If your hair is long enough, you can donate it to charities that make wigs specifically for children with cancer. Right now, however, the best thing you can do is let your hair grow another inch or two. Those extra inches could make the difference about whether your hair can be used in a longer wig–the most in-demand type, as little girls usually have long hair before their treatment begins, and adults rarely have hair as long, so it’s hard to get wigs at this length.
The goal is to help the children feel as normal as possible, at a time when nothing feels normal to them, so a wig close to how they used to wear their hair is very important.
Do I have enough hair to help a child with cancer?
Another point to bear in mind is that your hair is cut above the ponytail, but the rest of your hair will stay attached to your head. There could be 6-8 inches of hair before your ponytail. When thinking about how long a wig would be from your hair donation, remember that first 6-8 inches will be needed, too. So a 12 inch wig will only actually give 4 inches of drop past the ears. And a 12-inch wig needs more than 12 inches of hair, because some will need to be used to sew it to the woven cap part of the wig, just like you need extra fabric when you are sewing, to account for the seams.
They will also need to cut the hair after it’s been woven into a wig, to turn it into a hairstyle, because it’s unlikely that your ponytail will transform itself into a perfect bob, for example. Suddenly, even a 12-inch hair donation doesn’t seem like much. So whatever length your hair is, letting it grow for another couple of inches will make a huge difference overall to what can be done with it. Just remember in the meantime to take good care of your hair, don’t bleach it intensely or dye it any unnatural colours, or it usually can’t be used.
How to do it:
When it’s time, choose which children’s wigs for cancer charity you want to donate to (some are listed below), and follow their instructions to be sure your donation is in tip-top condition. NEVER send them wet hair. It can’t be dried properly once it’s cut. In fact, washing it the night before you cut it is best. It’s also important to use top-quality scissors, as blunt scissors can damage your hair donation, so if you can, get your donation cut at a hairdresser.
If you’re impatient, of course, you can cut your hair at home, just be sure to follow the instructions about cutting your hair, which are different for each charity, and always cut above the bobble/elastic. Make sure when you cut your hair, it is tied into a ponytail with a bobble/elastic you don’t mind donating along with your hair.
However, your contribution doesn’t have to stop there.
It costs a lot of money to process your hair and turn it into a wig. Setting up a Justgiving page, sharing this with your family, friends and colleagues, and sending the proceeds to your chosen charity, is a great way to help them with the costs of making not just a wig from your hair, but other people’s too.
While in-person events are currently off-limits for many of us, you could still set up an online event, and get your hair cut live on Facebook, and get people to sponsor you to do it, then they can watch it happen.
Some hair donation places will give you a certificate to thank you for your contribution.
What has really shocked me, researching this, is that the Canadian Cancer Society isn’t linking to or telling potential hair donors about the FOUR Canadian charities giving real hair wigs to children going through chemo! And they don’t accept donations which they could have passed onto these organisations, claiming people prefer acrylic wigs. Of course, that’s fine if you’re an adult because your head size will fit something bought on eBay, but a bit useless for kids. I hope they update their site soon.
Little Princess Trust (UK) Little Princess Trust UK works to provide children across the UK with wigs, and also works with the Lauralynn Hospice in Ireland. Minimum hair length: 7 inches (as mentioned above, growing it another inch or two could make a huge difference).
The Rapunzel Foundation (Ireland): The Rapunzel Foundation is an Irish charity working to provide wigs for children. Minimum hair length: 16 inches.
Hair Harvest (UK): They pay you for your hair (minimum 14 inches) and they turn it into wigs for people undergoing chemotherapy or who have alopecia (hair loss). A percentage of the value of your donation goes to the Katie Piper foundation, who help fund wigs for people with medical hair loss.
Chai Lifeline (Canada): They deal specifically with wigs for children in Canada undergoing chemotherapy. Their hair guidelines are here.
Minimum hair length: At least 10 inches (curly hair can be pulled straight to measure).
A Child’s Voice Foundation (Canada): They do hair for children with alopecia or undergoing chemotherapy. They don’t give set guidelines on their website but ask that you contact them to figure out if your hair is going to be a good match for their program.
Hair Donation Ottawa (Canada): They raise money and solicit hair donations for wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy. Minimum hair length: At least 12 inches (no bleached hair). Their submission guidelines are here.
Wigs for Kids (Canada): A hairdresser set up this charity to help children going through hair loss. Guidelines are here. Minimum hair length: 12 inches.
Freedom Wigs (New Zealand): This Kiwi business sells hair solutions for men, women and children suffering from hair loss due to chemo or alopecia. They pay you for your hair donation. While their wigs aren’t free, they are at least able to offset the cost if you donate them your hair. Minimum hair length: 14 inches (33cm)
Ella Wigmakers (Australia): This Aussie company works in conjunction with Kids With Cancer (Australia) to ensure hair donations make it to the kids you want to support.
Small Business (USA) has a great resource on the best ways to donate hair in America, since there are quite a few different avenues depending on whether you want to donate nationally or locally. Please don’t email me to add US sites to this article.
Donating your hair to help kids with cancer is possible in every country in the English-speaking world. Right now, the best thing you can do is let your hair grow one or two extra inches, because that could make an enormous difference to what the charity can do with your hair. It can take 12 donors’ ponytails and €1000 to make a wig, so any money you can raise in the process will help these vital services keep working miracles for children.