The Ugly Truth About Our Wig & Hair Extensions Habit

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According to: RHEA CARTWRIGHT FEBRUARY 13, 2020 1:00 AM

The Ugly Truth About Our Wig & Hair Extensions Habit

RHEA CARTWRIGHTFEBRUARY 13, 2020 1:00 AM

PHOTO BY ISO ATTRILL.

Moving from buzzword to necessity, sustainability is important to so many of us in 2020. As mounting pressure is rightfully placed on the beauty industry, we’ve ditched microbeads, are swapping cotton pads for Face Halos and the humble shampoo bar is firmly back on our radar. But is there another huge eco-faux pas that’s going over (or perhaps on) our heads?ADVERTISEMENT

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With the global wig and hair extension market estimated to be worth over $10 billion by 2023, it’s no surprise that the demand for synthetic hair has risen exponentially in recent years. The considerably lower price point and versatility, coupled with ethical issues surrounding natural hair harvesting, have made it an obvious choice for many. Environmentally however, synthetic hair plays a rather sinister role.

Anyone who has attempted to put high heat styling tools on synthetic hair will be well aware that the composition is essentially ultra fine strands of plastic. Much like in fashion, the petrochemical-derived materials such as polyester, acrylic and PVC are not biodegradable. This means that they will ultimately end up in landfill and contribute further to our global waste problem.

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While an extreme hair change is a breeze for some, others are more hesitant to chop off hard-earned inches or embark on a bold colour change. The noncommittal nature and ease of a wig allows wearers to experiment with their hair. Amber Rose Theron, a self-confessed synthetic wig “hoarder” enjoys being able to create a whole new look. Having dabbled with fake hair since her early teens, she says: “My natural hair can be inconsistent. Wearing wigs allows me to have more control.” Echoing reduce, reuse, recycle, Amber regularly brings her wigs back to life and is an avid watcher of DIY videos on YouTube, but mentions she is unaware of how to dispose of synthetic hair.

MUCH LIKE IN FASHION, THE PETROCHEMICAL-DERIVED MATERIALS USED FOR WIGS, SUCH AS POLYESTER, ACRYLIC AND PVC, ARE NOT BIODEGRADABLE. THIS MEANS THAT THEY WILL ULTIMATELY END UP IN LANDFILL.

This is echoed by many synthetic wig wearers in the UK. Despite the lifespan of synthetic hair being far lower than that of human hair, best disposal practice is widely unknown; often there are no instructions on the packaging. Beth Summers, co-director of Women’s Environmental Network (WEN), tells R29: “Regulations are needed on all hair products, synthetic or real. A fair trade and transparent supply chain, with proper health and safety legislation for the manufacture, use and disposal of synthetic hair is required.”ADVERTISEMENT

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