Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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28 Iyar 5764 - May 19, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Sources of Hair
by Mordecai Plaut

An article published in the Wall Street Journal last August may have been the trigger for the recent raising of this important issue. The article portrayed an Indian woman who "traveled 10 hours by bus to a temple here in southern India to thank lord V. in the best way she knew: by shaving her head" at the Tirupati temple, one of Indian's busiest shrines.

Some 20 million visitors come each year, and as many as 25,000 a day shave their heads. The hair cutting operation (known as "tonsure") uses 1,800 barbers in three shifts around the clock. The hair is shaved off with a straight razor, and 1,800 barbers are capable of shaving many more people if they come.

Long hair from Tirupati can bring $165 per kilogram. Shorter hair brings only about $100 per kilo. The article reported that the temple took in $5.6 million from sales of hair last year. The total budget of the Indian shrine is around $120 million. Most of its services, including the haircuts, are provided free to pilgrims.

The US alone imported around $47 million worth of hair last year. Lately there are reports that many women in the USA are cutting their hair and selling their locks.

The premium type of hair is called Remy hair, and it comes from India, mainly if not exclusively from Tirupati. Indian hair is much closer in structure to European hair due to the similar genetic makeup of Indian people (Chinese hair, for example, is about 30 percent thicker), and the Indian women who bring their hair to the temple almost never treat their hair with chemical processes of any kind such as dying or bleaching or conditioning, so the hair has a natural softness that is similar to European hair from young people.

Remy hair is almost always collected at temples. Indian women cut their hair as an offering to their avodoh zora. This is a very ancient tradition. They consider their hair as an obejct of pride and they take meticulous care of it while it is growing. Hair to an Indian woman is a symbol of beauty and honor. The idea of cutting their hair specifically at the temples and what they mean to say by offering hair to their deity is that they are willing to sacrifice their beauty by removing their hair, namely their most valuable and treasured belonging.

Indian women do not cut off their hair to sell for money outside the temple because hair to an Indian woman is not only a symbol of beauty but also of honor.

Collecting and using this Remy hair in hair products solves a number of problems for hair product manufacturers. First, the cuticle layer of this hair is still perfectly healthy and intact since Indian girls rarely visit hair salons to get chemical treatments. It is also usually woven into a plait before cutting so that it is all aligned in one direction and the hair is homogeneous in color and thickness.

Indian hair is of exceptional quality and this precious Remy hair provides the best solution for use in hair products.

In addition to this Remy hair, millions of women of all ages in other places collect their hair every day after brushing it. This is called fallen hair. This can include dark hair, grey hair, and hair of all lengths and thickness. This hair is cheaper because as a result of this method of collection, the hair is mixed up and misaligned with cuticles falling in different directions.

Because of the mixed direction of the cuticles, the fallen hair has to be subjected to an acid process in order to remove the cuticle to try to minimize subsequent tangling. Hair companies in Korea and Indonesia specialize in purchasing this type of hair and treating it with this acid process.

Because of the mixture of different hairs in this mass and because some areas are particularly oily or dirty, it is very often impossible to fully remove all the cuticles. To give this acidized hair a more healthy appearance, the hair is usually dipped in silicon to make it shine and to cover up any cuticles that were not removed in the acid bath. The silicon also adds weight which brings a better price since hair is generally sold by weight. The standard of this kind of hair is variable, and quality depends on finding a good reliable supplier.

According to a large hair extender firm, Remy hair is at a premium due to its limited supply. Remy hair is stronger, softer and has a finer feel to it. It is the hair that people who spend unlimited sums on their appearance use. Remy hair lasts longer, keeps vitality and elasticity, colors better, is easier to comb and curls and sets better. Remy hair is also tangle-free and has a long life.

However, it is tikroves avodoh zora, and absolutely forbidden for Jewish people.

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