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Go Inside the Secret World of Hair Extensions

We see them on the heads of celebrities. We may even have them ourselves. But, when it comes down to it, do we really know where that hair comes from?

The March issue of Allure offers a story behind some of the most prized extensions, and it's not a pretty picture. More than 500 tons — yes, tons — of human hair come from Tirumala, a temple of the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism in southern India. Women grow their hair to their waists, then have their heads shaven as a symbol of religious devotion. After processing, that hair becomes extensions sold in posh salons in the United States.

Why do they have the hair? Since the ninth century, devout Hindus have visited the temple to pay respects to the resident deity through a procedure called tonsuring. This ritual head shaving is a gesture of devotion. By giving up their hair, they believe the god will then grant them any wish. Quite often, this is the first time that the hair, which has never been treated with anything harsher than coconut oil and herbal Ayurvedic soap, has been cut.

To get more of the story,


Where does the money go? After being cleaned and processed, the hair is sold at auction and the temple funds schools and medical centers with their portion of the profits . . after part of the proceeds go to the various parties involved from the extension makers to the distributors. This makes Tirumala one of the richest religious pilgrimage sites in the world, earning about $20.6 million annually. Their chief accounts officer says, "Our deity is now the richest deity in the world."

Do the women know? When asked by the reporter, many of the women did not know what happened to their sacrifice at Tirumala, and they certainly did not know of the high price their locks can fetch. (After all, $3,000 is more than triple the average yearly per capita income in India.) While most of the profits do go to the temple, it doesn't sit right with me that the devotees are kept in the dark about this multimillion-dollar industry.

As the article concludes, I'm still pondering the final questions: Would it matter to them? Should it matter to us? Check out the story when you have a chance, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Join The Conversation
OhMyDragonflys OhMyDragonflys 8 years
Well I don't use hair extentions because it's so bad for your real hair but this is another good reason. Although it's interesting how they have such beautiful hair using only natural products.
MzShanon MzShanon 8 years
I just read this story in my issue of Allure yesterday and I think its just so upsetting how much Americans spend on beauty. So while the temple makes millions off the women's hair, the women in return don't get paid a cent but just hope their prayers will be answered by their deity. It makes no sense to me. I think these women need to be compensated for somehow. We should all think twice before getting hair extensions. I myself have never gotten any and will never after reading this story. It does make me wonder though where the hair from fake eyelashes comes from.
barbye barbye 8 years
what sits sourly with me is the fact that this situation can easily be manipulated. the women don't know what happens with the hair and for all they know it's trashed. the fact that it can greatly benefit the community is a good thing. "By giving up their hair, they believe the god will then grant them any wish." That really caught my eye. Since the hair is so essential in their community to growth, what would happen to a woman that didnt participate, and had a full head of hair. Would she be seen as someone who is being selfish by those who do know how the hair market benefits their community? Would they go out of their way to convince a woman to participate in this ritual because of the potential value of her hair? I just hope greed doesn't loom it's head.
socialitebabe socialitebabe 8 years
I'm sure all the girls I go to class with won't care where their weaves come sad
cordata cordata 8 years
I wish the women's families got some of the $3,000 that their hair would fetch... it seems like the temple is using it slightly dishonestly. This story is better than others. They are stories of impoverished women selling their hair for $20 or something ridiculously low. Of course if the women got a share, the world would have to be a fair place. And that's the last thing it is.
austerity austerity 8 years
Frankly, I think this story is a little dramatic. The women cut off their hair for the sake of it and wouldn't really use it anyway. And although it WOULD probably be fairer if they would get informed about it, it's not like it's some great injustice. I really wish people would assume any kind of story from the 'developing world' is one of 'strange customs' that imply great sadness and exploitation.
goatimpact goatimpact 8 years
I thought there was a big to do about this several years ago since some Orthodox Jewish women who wear wigs couldn't wear those where the hair was provided through a religious ceremony or something. I don't remember details so I could be way off on this.
Abbigail Abbigail 8 years
I saw that show too aehunter, except it did show that the women who save their hair, eventually comb it out. When they sell it it isn't a ball but a long ponytail of hair.
Beauty Beauty 8 years
million. sorry, fixing.
omigosh omigosh 8 years
thanks for this interesting article Bella! but do you mean $20.6 million, or just dollars?
macgirl macgirl 8 years
When I read the title of this post I expected it to be some horrible story about how these women were tied up and forced to grow out their hair or something equally seedy. This really doesn't seem like a horrible thing. If it was one guy at the temple selling and living a secret rich life while everyone else suffered I might be bummed. Sounds like they are doing good things with the money.
deanna024 deanna024 8 years
I say that in the Christian sense of tithe and offerings, it's more about being good stewards of what God has given us. Recognizing that everything we have comes from God anyway, the least we can do is put it to work for him. It's not so much to show our obedience, as it is to help others and acknowledge it's all from God. That said, I kind of admire this temple's business sense! Why throw the hair out when they can make money from it and put it to work for their faith? Though the women should be informed of the hair's ultimate destination before they shave their locks.
ThePerfectScore ThePerfectScore 8 years
Think of it in a Christian sense of tithe and offerings.... you are giving up your prized possessions to show how obedient you are to God. Plus the money funds schools and medical centers, so that's helping the general public. We have to not just look at things from a capitalist perspective but try to be empathetic to the spiritual and religious significance of what these women are doing. We are so limited in our thinking that if it makes money we need to get a cut of the profits.
kscincotta kscincotta 8 years
This is really interesting. In a way, the women's sacrfices are being rewarded with new schools and medical centers, which I'm sure is a very welcome thing for their communities. But at the same time, it does seem somewhat wrong for them to have no idea where their hair is going.
ThePerfectScore ThePerfectScore 8 years
the mother of my mom's best childhood friends (haha a little confusing, but basically my mom's 2nd mother they were so close) She was a Filipino land who used to grow her hair way past her butt then cutt it off and sell it to wig manufactures. Her virgin hair was beautiful and grew super fast!
aehunter86 aehunter86 8 years
I saw this on Oprah a few weeks ago, on her show about beauty from around the world. Lisa Ling was the reporter covering the story. It's so crazy that they think they're doing this for their God, not for us! Lisa did tell a few of the women about what really happens w/the hair & the general replies were 'why? don't they have their own hair?' & 'God can do what he wants w/my hair.' None of the women seemed upset. However, it's also very, very common for multiple women in a community to collect stray hair (like hair that ends up in your brush) and roll in into this giant hair ball & sell that! That hair is classified as 'dead hair' b/c it has fallen out of the head, plus it's rolled into some nasty ball, so obviously it's worth less. When those women found out about how much freshly shaved hair is worth - they were pretty mad!
le-romantique le-romantique 8 years
I love when magazines have REAL stories... so sick of the same things in every months magazines, this is a great story, Its pretty sad. I've had extensions a few times, just to enhance me a few weeks (for a prom/graduation my senior year and for my bday last year, etc) But I'm sure if they were compensated for their hair they wouldn't except it, would they? They're Hindu... aren't they known not to do such things...
tallkell tallkell 8 years
Very interesting article. I am sure these young women had no idea how much their hair is worth over here.
mnp mnp 8 years
It should matter to them not so much to us. Maybe the temple should be better compensated for the hair?
pookie18 pookie18 8 years
wow i had no idea. sad that we don't know where some of our beauty products come from. i like that allure is doing this in addition to regular makeup stories.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
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