Where do hair extensions come from? And how ethical are they? We investigated. And you may be shocked at what you read!
By Diane Small
Celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, and Demi Moore may all look like they have incredible hair. But in fact – they don’t.
All three women have experienced serious hair thinning over the years, and likely have a significant amount of grey hairs, given their age. So, how does their hair look so amazing? Well, besides obviously having access to the best hairdressers and colourists in the world, there are plenty of tricks to make your hair look fuller.
Those with really thin hair or alopecia will use U part wigs and lace wigs made with real hair. These look so real, they’re barely distinguishable from one’s actual hair. But even if a star has ‘ok’ hair, it’s highly likely that they’ll still be using hair extensions.
In fact, more and more of us – celebs and ‘civilians’ alike – are using extensions. And we know the best ones are made of real human hair. But few of us ask where that hair comes from.
The highest quality ethical hair extensions don’t come cheap. They’re made from Remy hair. These human strands have intact cuticles and all strands face the same way. Extensions made that way look the most natural and have the best movement.
These qualities make Remy the most sought-after hair on the market and people will pay up to thousands of dollars for a set.
Unfortunately, that means selling such hair becomes desirable to the point where highly unethical practices may take place to get it.
Where do real hair extensions come from, usually?
Most real hair extensions come from India, Russia and China.
In India, hair is usually given voluntarily, thanks to a Hindu custom called tonsuring. This is a common ritual where people shave their heads for several reasons, including:
- praying for better crops, health or to have a child
- seeking purification
- inflicting self-punishment
- honouring a God
Both men and women might grow their hair for years in anticipation of a tonsuring ritual. This hair used to ‘go to waste’ until the 60s, when wigs and falls were a huge trend. Much of the money generated from what’s now known as ‘temple hair’ goes back to the temples it came from and local communities. Extensions made from temple hair are considered ethical, since it was given voluntarily, and since the revenue is fairly shared.
However, unethical agents known as ‘hair pickers’ are always eager to profit from the hair trade, and are known to forcibly hold people down to have their heads shorn. Children can even be bribed with sweets and candy in exchange for their locks.
Hair theft is also prevalent in other poor nations. For example, in Venezuela, there have been reports of women being attacked by gangs that force them to put their hair in ponytails to have it hacked off with garden shears. Las Piranas – as the hair thieves are known – are mostly female. And they use the hair to make their own extensions!
Prisoner’s hair…and worse
But that’s not even the worst case scenario! Much hair sourced for extensions comes from Russia and China. In those countries, female prisoner’s hair is shorn and sold. Not just for extensions, but also to make wigs and weaves.
But get this: Chinese hair can come from executed prisoners! Think that’s disgusting? It gets worse. China even uses the skin of executed prisoners in cosmetics. Yes, really! But I digress….
In short, there’s nothing ethical about hair extensions that profit from incarceration and death.
Why cheaper hair can be unethical
Given the high price of real hair, this leads us to another issue when discussing the ethics of hair extensions. Namely, synthetic hair.
Some unethical extensions brands try to stretch their profit margins by adding fake hair strands to their products. In fact, they can blend in anywhere from 10-50% of artificial hair to the final package.
Generally made from several chemicals and plastics such as low quality acrylic, polyester and silicone, these fake strands are then manipulated and sealed to create a smooth and shiny result. These might look great in the package, but ultimately, synthetic hair is knottier, less manageable and has a shorter lifespan than real hair.
The combination of toxic chemicals takes years to erode in landfill, too. And do you really want those so close to your skin?
Not all hair extensions are unethical, though
Although many of the above means of obtaining hair for extensions are horrific, there’s good news, too. There are plenty of ethical hair extensions you can buy.
For example, these include those made with:
- hair sold by women for a fair price to extensions makers like Bloomsbury Hair and others
- locks donated by women who cut it for a charitable cause
- temple hair
Be sure to ask the origins of the hair you’re about to wear from your salon or provider. If you’re ordering online, the site should say something about where the hair came from. If it doesn’t, avoid!
So, where can you find ethical hair extensions?
Luckily, more and more companies are aware of the ethics of hair extensions, and are offering products that you can wear with pride. An ethical brand will always be upfront about having strict policies to promote a sustainable and fair supply chain and offer a fair price to the women who sell their hair.
Clip Hair UK insists that all of the hair extensions we sell are not only made from the finest quality human hair but are ethically sourced too. When you buy from them, you can do so with complete peace of mind. They also deliver worldwide.
Great Lengths sell temple hair, and insist all their hair is donated willingly. They have a representative based in India who buys it straight from the temple, and ensures the money is funnelled directly back into the local community. Profits gained from the hair trade are used to fund medical aid, educational systems and other crucial infrastructure projects.
Woven Hair began when Founder Margot Greer lost her hair to chemotherapy, and struggled to find a wig that was natural looking, ethical and affordable. Now her company makes and sells ethical hair extensions, sourced from India. A portion of each sale goes to funding the creation of hair for people who need them, but can’t afford them.
Finally, Bloomsbury Hair is proud to pay women who want to cut their hair a fair price for their locks.
Surprisingly, ethical hair extensions don’t even usually cost more than their non-ethical counterparts. So there’s really no excuse for not buying them, especially given the horrific circumstances in which some hair is obtained.