Where Do Your Wigs, Weaves and Hair Extensions Come From?

Human hair.

A multibillion dollar industry.

Whether it's you, a super-model, your favourite reality TV star or your favourite music artist, demand for the best quality human hair is only on the up!

Credit: Raydene Salinas Hansen

From wigs to weaves to hair extensions; customers want top notch human hair.

Brazillian, Indian and Peruvian hair are some examples of the most sought after types of human hair. But where does this hair come from? Yes obviously, if you're ordering Peruvian or Indian hair, you would expect the hair to come from the afore mentioned regions. However, the real question here is who does the hair come from?

When ordering hair online or buying from retailers and beauty salons, it is easy to forget that this hair comes from actual real people. Real people who are sometimes exploited by the beauty industry's insatiable appetite for human hair. An appetite that is largely unfettered due to a general lack of regulation. 

Take South East Asia for example, a region that is extremely popular with human hair traders with an export value of over $70mRogue traders are known to routinely exploit vulnerable women across hair trade hotspots such as Cambodia and Vietnam.

And that is the common denominator- vulnerability. Not just across South East Asia but in every location in which human hair is sourced through unethical means. For example, in Venezuela and Colombia there have been incidents of women being forcibly grabbed and their hair cut by thieves. 

These thieves then sell these stolen tresses of hair to retailers, hairdressers and beauty salons. The women are left traumatised and get nothing.

According to anthropologist Emma Tarlo, the trade of human hair has always relied on poor women selling their hair. From poor women in the provinces of Ukraine to poor women in Myanmar all of who part with their hair for a mere pittance compared to the hundreds of pounds and dollars their hair later retails for.

In her work, Emma Tarlo also notes the human hair trade's reliance on donations of hair from religious traditions and ceremonies. Take for instance Hindu pilgrims in India that voluntarily donate their hair to temples such as Tirumala Temple which makes millions from selling donated human hair. 

Hair donated in religious ceremonies is generally seen as relatively more ethical as the hair has been voluntarily given and you can actually source the hair's origin. That being said, there has been criticism that making millions from freely donated hair is grossly unfair.

Some have defended this saying that if the donated hair is not sold, it would simply go to waste. 

For example, Great Lengths state that they only buy ethically sourced temple hair at a reasonable price. That money is then ploughed back into the local community for projects involving health care and education.

So... The question is, how does one purchase good quality human hair that has been ethically sourced?

The first step is being aware of whether the retailers and beauty salons you use for your wigs, waves and extensions actually know the origins of the human hair they use. 

Companies such as Great Lengths, Woven Hair and Remy New York all sell human hair sourced from women who have either donated or sold their hair without exploitation. On their websites they document the hair's journey from the individual's scalp to the final packaged product.

If you want to ensure the human hair you buy has been ethically sourced, start checking if the companies you are buying from clearly list the origins of said hair. If your beauty salon sources your hair for you, ask them whether they know the origin of that hair.

If you are unable to easily get an answer to those questions, there is a very high likelihood that the human hair you are buying has not been ethically sourced!