Hair

Happiness through hair

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Believe it or not, your hair could hold the key to someone else’s happiness. HAIR explains why donating your hair can bring a smile to the face of someone battling cancer.

One doesn’t have to look too far to see how pervasive cancer is in our modern day-to-day lives. Chances are high that every one of us knows of at least one person who has been diagnosed with it at some point in their lives. Needless to say, increasing awareness about it is of paramount importance; so much so that the entire month of October is dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness, and to tell the stories of those fighting it as well as those who have survived it.

If you have ever wondered how you can help in any way, your hair might just hold the answer to that question.

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Hair loss has its psychological effects
Whether someone diagnosed with cancer has to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy, hair loss is an inevitable side-effect. The treatments take their toll on the body, and the hair is not spared either. However, the toll isn’t just physical, but psychological as well. Hair loss is often one of the tougher aspects of the disease for the patient to deal with—it is the visual representation of what they are undergoing and their lack of control over their own lives.

A 1997 study in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer revealed why this is so. Cancer patients associated losing hair as a cause for lower self-esteem and even made them feel sicker than they actually were. Hair loss also had an effect on their cognitive and rational thinking capabilities, which affected their problem-solving skills. Losing hair due to cancer is not a vanity issue—it is about the lack of agency, especially in the case of children who are too young to grasp what is going on with their bodies.

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A wig can make the difference
The wigs used by cancer patients are not your run-of-the-mill hairpieces. Chemo and radiation therapies have an adverse effect not just on the hair follicles, but on the scalp as well. As a result, the patient’s scalp requires extra care. This is why a wig made for a cancer patient is specially designed for the task and may even be called a ‘cranial prosthesis’.not your run-of-the-mill hairpieces. Chemo and radiation therapies have an adverse effect not just on the hair follicles, but on the scalp as well. As a result, the patient’s scalp requires extra care. This is why a wig made for a cancer patient is specially designed for the task and may even be called a ‘cranial prosthesis’.
These wigs serve two important purposes:

• they help protect sensitive scalps,

• they have a massive impact on the wearer’s psychological well-being.
However, since these wigs have to be of a significantly higher quality than fashion wigs, the cost of making them is also considerably more. A large chunk of the overall cost is down to sourcing the materials, i.e. the strands of hair. Even if wig makers provide their services pro bono, the cost of the materials often keeps the wig prices high, ensuring that most cancer patients will not have access to these wigs due to financial constraints. This is where we can help.

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Donating hair for a good cause
Wig makers mostly have to buy the hair they need to make wigs, and the buying and selling of hair is seriously a big business. In the months of July and August 2016 alone, Tirupati Temple earned R17.82 crore by auctioning devotees’ hair. This cost is passed on to the consumer, which can be quite a lot for cancer wigs as only the best hair follicles have to be used for them. Instead of making wigs from commercial hair, wigmakers often look to people donating healthy hair in order to craft wigs for cancer patients.

There are numerous nation-wide organisations that collect donated hair from salons and pass it on to wigmakers. These wigs are then distributed to cancer patients who cannot afford them. You can donate a certain length of your hair—usually around 15 inches minimum—to be used in the making of these wigs. Organisations like ‘Cope with Cancer’ and ‘Hair for Happiness’ accept donated hair, whether you cut it yourself at home or get it cut at a salon. They can also direct you to salons in your city that work with the organisations—for example, celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavanani’s Mad O Wot in Mumbai.

Also based in Mumbai is Yatin Deshpande, Founder of Hair Aid. According to Yatin, “People grow their hair to have it cut for a new hair style, only to have the hair swept into a bin at the hair salon or to be stored in a cupboard as a memory. Hair is valuable, and even more so to someone who has lost it due to medical reasons. To be able to give to someone who does not have it, is a kind, generous and satisfying thing to do. Your own hair that has taken so long to grow will be made into a beautiful wig for someone who really needs it. Not only will it give them the feeling of having their hair back, it will give them confidence, self-esteem, and allow them to be just like everyone else.” Moreover, as your hair keeps growing back, you also have the option of donating multiple times.

If you are planning to donate your hair, note that the requirements vary according to the organisation. So do check beforehand with the organisation or salon concerned. Some caveats are universal though:

• Bleached or chemically treated hair cannot be donated

• Hair should be washed and conditioned before cutting

• Use a leave-in conditioner before using heated appliances to dry the hair

• Once hair is dry, use a wide-toothed comb to detangle it

• Curly hair can be straightened before cutting so that the right length can be measured