Japan is seeing a rise in programs to donate hair to make medical wigs for children suffering from cancer and other diseases, but a lack of knowledge among donors and a shortage of manufacturers is holding back progress.
Hair donation, which began in the United States in the 1990s, is gathering steam in Japan against the backdrop of increased awareness of volunteer activities. Social media sites about how to grow out one's hair are also helping boost momentum.
But as Japan has only a small number of barbers and aestheticians capable of making medical wigs from human hair, production cannot keep up with demand, said Hitomi Iwaoka, 43, secretary general of the National Welfare Beauty and Barber Training Association in Aichi Prefecture. Her organization is acting as a "goodwill" bridge between people willing to donate hair and children in need of wigs.
The production of wigs has usually been outsourced to overseas makers. But that has become costlier and less affordable to organizations and facilities exclusively relying on monetary donations.
An aesthetician in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, said preparations for production of wig donations, such as cutting, bundling and ironing hair, in addition to the daily work at his beauty salon are a "considerable burden."
A lack of knowledge among donors is causing hair -- often grown longer for donations -- to inadvertently go to waste. Several conditions must be met when donating hair.
Although donations require at least 31 centimeters of hair that is not overly damaged, there are increasing cases in which the hair is either too short or too fragile -- breaking when lightly tugged, for instance. Such unacceptable hair is rejected.
Organizations may vary, but some will call for completely dried hair and each hair donation to be from the same person. The age and sex of the donor should not matter.
However, some donors have taken issue with the lack of transparency about the hair being donated. Since they don't know who will use the hair, the sense of having provided help to someone is reduced.
"It would be nice to know who received the wig made out of my hair," said Kiko Yamada, a 20-year-old university student in Aichi Prefecture who recently donated around 60 centimeters of hair.
In light of these hurdles, Fine Today Shiseido Co. and the NPO Welfare Beauty founded a medical wig program that plans to host an event to provide information regarding the history, aim, and current situation behind wig making to potential donors. They have also begun to use hashtags on social media sites to enable people to connect with wig recipients.
Meanwhile, instead of being tossed out, damaged hair can be utilized in cosmetology schools for practice wigs.
"We'd like the initiative to be one that is steadily built up by its participants," said Hiromi Akasaka, from Fine Today Shiseido.