9 Insane Facts About the Human Hair Used in Wigs and Extensions
Kylie Jenner loves a good wig — her glam room has a shelf devoted to the many she owns — but if those hairpieces are made using real human hair (and it's likely that that's the case), they probably cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Surprisingly, the wigs are expensive not just because of Kylie, but because there's an intense demand for human hair around the globe. Priceonomics took a look at that market in a feature story published this week — here are some of the most mind-blowing facts that were spotlighted in the article.
1. The human hair industry is extremely lucrative. In fact, it's a multibillion dollar market. Hair is so prized that in one extreme case, the hair on a woman's head was literally cut off by a gang. It goes toward the making of wigs, hair extensions, and fake eyelashes, as well as fertilizers and amino acids used to make dough (for pizza and bagels).
2. The majority of human hair used in wigs and extensions comes from India and China. Religious people make pilgrimages to temples such as the Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala, India, where they shave/tonsure their heads in a ritual of devotion. Hundreds of barbers shave a new person's head every five minutes, leaving "bloody scalps and hair balls" all over the ground. The temple takes these strands, which can get up to 30 inches long, and sells them at auction.
3. Hair from the temple can cost $700 a pound, but when it gets purchased at auction, it's not really in great shape. "Sweat, blood, and lice" can be found in the hair, which ends up in warehouses that "reek of mildew and fungus."
4. It takes days to make a high-end wig. First, the hair needs to get untangled and sorted. The, the lice (if there is any) has to get picked out of the hair. That gets followed by washing, drying, and dyeing. After that, it gets made into a wig.
5. You can't untangle hair from economics. Historically, the movement of hair has always gone from the poor to the rich. It's no different now, where hair comes from China and India, and gets sold predominantly in the United States and Europe, as well as Africa.
6. If you have long, naturally blonde hair, you can get as much as $1,500 for your hair. One wig retailer told Priceonomics that one woman from Indiana got that sum for her hair, which was then turned into a wig priced at $8,000.
7. Short hair also gets collected and sold. It's not as pricey or desirable, and is mostly used for industrial purposes.
8. People buying wigs aren't too concerned about the ethics of where wigs come from or how they're made. Though most human hair comes from India and China, only a fraction of that hair comes from the temples. "Where the rest comes from, we have no idea," a regional minister for textiles and commerce in India told The Guardian in 2006. Still, the mysterious origins of all that hair don't bother consumers — they just want to know that it's hygienic.
9. Synthetic wigs are getting better and better. The Chinese and Indian economies are much stronger now than they were 10 years ago, which also means that its citizens are wealthier, and there aren't as many hair donors now as there once were. But that means companies are coming up with other ways to make wigs and extensions that are just as good to style as real human hair.