Giving Back: The Kindest Cut

For more than half her life, 16-year-old Annie struggled with hair loss caused by alopecia areata. "It was hard going to school looking so different," she reflects. "I spent years treating the condition, but none of my efforts were effective." Relief finally arrived via Wigs for Kids, one of several national organizations that accepts and transforms tress donations into perukes for those suffering myriad medical ailments. Nearly anyone can donate hair, once a few basic provisions are met.

Most donation organizations prefer virgin tresses. The reason? "Chemically processed follicles dissolve, being too weak to withstand the required sanitation step," explains Lilly Robbins, Locks of Love Communications Director. Some companies accept hair that has been colored, but none accept hair that has been bleached. Conversely, hair that's more than 5 percent gray is less desirable, as it absorbs dye at a slower rate, note the experts at Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that creates wigs for adults battling cancer. When blended with other offerings, gray hair prevents uniform coloring to a single realistic-looking wig shade. Gray strands also tend to fade faster once stained. Dreadlocks are likewise unacceptable, as only individual fibers can be woven through silicone caps.

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