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Some hairdressers are charging for their service, and then again for your cut hair. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
Some hairdressers are charging for their service, and then again for your cut hair. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

SocietyApril 10, 2024

Do you know where your hair goes after it’s cut?

Some hairdressers are charging for their service, and then again for your cut hair. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)
Some hairdressers are charging for their service, and then again for your cut hair. (Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell)

Eyebrow wigs, oil spills, or Facebook Marketplace: where your cut hair ends up is anyone’s guess.

Windowshopping Facebook Marketplace has become an entertaining pastime for me. There are always good deals and weird knick-knacks you wouldn’t find on its more responsible cousin, Trade Me. 

I’ve seen a cat-shaped car, a roll of bondage tape sold by a woman who broke up with her boyfriend, and a hot pink CD and cassette player littered with cigarette butts for $1,000, but one listing has haunted me from the second I saw it: Natural hair all for $15.

Selling on behalf 

my sister in law is a hair dresser and selling these

pick up in Papakura or happy to post” 

Over 10 bunches of real human hair of all shades strewn over the floor – what would people even buy this for? I ask the seller if the clients were OK with their hair being sold, and whether hair had been sold on Marketplace before. 

“seriously 😐”, is the response I get back. Then I get the block. (The seller also did not respond to a request for comment by my editor.)

The hair listing on Facebook Marketplace.

Simone Jones, co-chair of Hair and Barber New Zealand, says this example speaks to a greater issue in Aotearoa’s hairdressing industry. Like Facebook Marketplace, the hairdressing industry has no regulations. “We’ve tried,” Jones says. “We’ve gone to government, we’ve tried to go through the legislation regulation process.”

Last year, Hair and Barber NZ launched a quality grading system that works like hotel and restaurant grading. The NGO keeps a membership of professionals who meet a high hairdressing and barbering standard and supports them in their professional development. Aside from checking a hairdresser or barber’s membership with Hair and Barber NZ, there’s no formalised way to check if they are qualified, Jones says. At least 40% of hairdressers and barbers are unqualified, she says. “You could open a salon tomorrow and start cutting hair and there’s nothing to stop you.”

So long as council regulations and the Health (Hairdressers) Regulations 1980 are met, she’s right. I wouldn’t need a qualification to set up shop, and there’s nothing in those regulations to say I can’t sell my clients’ hair without their permission.

Jones says many hairdressers and barbers end up working at home due to being time poor. However, this means people can get away with “setting up in the kitchen, cutting people’s hair with no regard to health and safety [and] selling people’s hair that’s not theirs to sell.” 

The usual practice across the industry is for cut hair to be donated to organisations that make wigs for cancer or alopecia patients, says Jones. Other hair waste can be donated to initiatives like Sustainable Salons to recycle into hair booms to clean up oil spills. “If we’ve cut off some hair that’s not long enough to donate for wigs, we might take some of it to do colour swatches or to do some practice,” Jones adds. 

As for the hair for sale on Facebook Marketplace, “I don’t imagine anyone else but a wigmaker would buy it,” says Jones. In her view, though, “that hair actually still belongs to the client.” 

Simone Jones has tried and failed to get the government to regulate the hairdressing industry. (Photo: supplied)

Is she right? There isn’t a national code of conduct specific to hairdressing and barbering, but hair is a human tissue under The Human Tissues Act 2008. Under Section 56 and 61, no person may require, accept, offer, or provide financial or other consideration for human tissue (or advertise this) unless it is hair collected from living people and is for use in wigs or other hair pieces. 

Some of the strips of hair for sale on Marketplace aren’t long enough to make a wig out of, Jones says, which muddies the legality of the listing. If it’s in breach of the Act, the seller could rack up $70,000 in fines or face 1.5 years imprisonment.

Stacey* is a wigmaker with a New Zealand company, which for over 30 years has manufactured wigs for people experiencing hair loss from medical conditions or treatment. Stacey said all of the locks in the photo have zero value to them as a wigmaker because of their length and condition. Stacey’s company will also only accept hair that can be traced back to its owner. Though hair is a relatively unregulated market, Stacey warns that regulation could stop Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand from doing initiatives like Shave for a Cure, where ponytails may be donated along with the fundraising campaign. (A representative from Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand told The Spinoff that “a change in regulation would not change the initiative.”)

Facebook Marketplace is full of gems, like this hot pink CD and cassette player littered with cigarette butts for $1000.

If it’s not being donated or reused, how should salons dispose of hair? The general standards around management of healthcare waste provide best practice guidelines for the management of hair. The standards cover “facilities providing dental or animal treatment and research; blood bank, health emergency, home healthcare, laboratory, mortuary, pharmaceutical, podiatry, tattooing, body piercing or sex services; pet shops; boarding kennels; other similar practices or premises”. 

Under the standards, all waste generated by the above facilities can be categorised as “non-hazardous”, “controlled” or “hazardous” waste. The different categories have different rules for disposal.

It’s not clear which category hair falls into. On one hand, it could be deemed a body part, ie human tissue, which if unclaimed by its owner or whānau, means it should be managed as infectious hazardous waste. On the other hand, it could be classified as controlled waste: waste that is recognisable as coming from those facilities which may be contaminated or soiled with potentially infectious body fluids, or is not infectious but may be considered culturally or aesthetically offensive. By way of comparison, for the Dental Council New Zealand, clean extracted teeth that are not wanted by the patient should be disposed of as controlled waste. This kind of waste can be acceptably disposed of in a sanitary landfill or via incineration. A sanitary landfill may also contain sanitary pads, IV tubing and bags, and empty syringes without needles. 

Within a couple of weeks, I see that the Marketplace listing has marked the hair as sold. If not to make a wig, then what for? Stacey couldn’t comment on whether the locks would be suitable as eyebrow wigs or hair toppers and wasn’t aware of anyone who made those in New Zealand. Even if the shorter hair could potentially be used for eyebrow wigs and hairtoppers, there’s nothing stopping buyers from using the hair for purposes other than wigmaking. 

Regardless of how the hair is used, though, making a profit off it just doesn’t sit right with Jones: “Wouldn’t it be a much better idea to donate it?” 

*Name has been changed upon request.

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