Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Many women shop for the finest hair extensions but few actually know where these lustrous locks come from. You will see words like “luxury”, “virgin”, “Pure”, and “hair from Brazil, Peru, India,” but what is the real difference? Well, there really isn’t. Most of the hair actually comes from China, the biggest exporter and importer of human hair. China harvests enormous amounts of hair from its own citizens and it is processed in giant warehouses across the country.
India is the second biggest supplier of hair. This is mainly because of their religion of Hinduism. Every year millions of people travel to the temples to get their head shaved, or “tonsured”. It is done as a religious offering in fulfillment of a vow. The temples then take these strands and sells them in auctions.
Another elusive market is European hair. European hair is the most expensive because it has a variety of colors and fine texture. Additionally, it has a shorter supply because typically the women there are not as desperate for money as those in third world countries, sadly.
History has shown the hair movement has always gone from the poor to the rich. It’s no different today, where hair comes from China and India and is sold mainly to the United States and Europe.
At the top end of the market is “virgin” hair, or hair that has never been chemically treated, and “remy” hair, which has been cut or shaved directly from a donor. On the lower end of the market you will find “standard hair”, which is comb waste. Yes, hair that is picked from combs and plugholes and separated out.
After the hair gets collected and passed from trader to trader, it ends up in warehouses to be untangled and separated out. All the hair need to point in the same direction to prevent more tangling. Typically, this labor intensive work is done on the floor by dozens of women who need work and can take around 80 hours to do.
Many people don’t like to look at this side of the industry because there is a ‘gross’ factor to the whole idea of buying and wearing other people’s body parts. People don’t want to be haunted by that, and for that reason the whole supply chain is a bit of a mystery. Additionally, there is a lot of mislabeling on the vendor side that happens, but most of the time the people buying it don’t ask questions anyway. Consumers just want to know that it’s hygienic.
Overall, the Chinese and Indian economies are much stronger now than they were 10 years ago. This means there are not as many hair donors as there once were. Today companies are coming up with other ways to make wigs and extensions are are just like the real human hair. Nonetheless, the next time you look at that shiny, beautifully packaged hair, you’ll know a little more about what journey that hair has been on.