Blond Hair Worth Its Gold?

Photos: Valeri Nistratov for The New York Times ; L'Oreal In the global beauty industry, blond hair is valuable. At this plant in Yukh...

In the global beauty industry, blond hair is valuable. At this plant in Yukhnov, Russia, hair is washed, dyed and sorted.

Long sought for wigs and toupees, human hair is now in particularly high demand for hair extension procedures in more affluent countries. Dark hair from India and China is more plentiful, but blond and other light shades are valued for their relative scarcity and because they are easier to dye to match almost any woman’s natural color.

The largest market is the United States, where tens of thousands of beauty salons offer hair extensions. African-American women have long worn hair extensions, but the trend among women with lighter hair has been popularized by celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton.

Great Lengths, an Italian company and major supplier to the United States, has estimated the American retail market for hair extensions at $250 million annually, or about 3 percent of the entire hair care products market. The average price for extensions is $439, according to a 2009 survey by American Salon Magazine, although the procedure can cost several thousand dollars at elite salons.

“It’s not hard to understand why people in Ukraine sell their hair a hundred times more often than people in Sweden,” David Elman, a co-owner of Raw Virgin Hair Company, an importer based in Kiev, Ukraine, said in a telephone interview. “They are not doing it for fun. Usually, only people who have temporary financial difficulties in depressed regions sell their hair.”

Here in Mosalsk, a 16-inch braid, the shortest length a buyer will consider, fetches about $50.

“This is capitalism,” he said. “The people with money want to distinguish themselves from the people with no money. Why does one woman sell her hair to another? The person with money wants to look better than the person without money.”

Read the full article from The New York Times here

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