Photo/IllutrationHuman hair sold on online auction site Yafuoku (Yahoo! auction) (Captured from Yafuoku)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Women around Asia have created a promising market in Japan, but economic success is ironically leading to a shortage in what should naturally be an unlimited supply.

Online sales of human hair are now common, with demand being spurred by makers of wigs and hair extensions as well as doll manufacturers in Japan.

Descriptions of the locks offered on Japan’s biggest online auction site, Yafuoku (Yahoo! auction), show that the hair is often marketed toward “connoisseurs.”

One item up for bid on the site operated by Yahoo Japan Corp. was the 50-centimeter-long hair of a Japanese woman in her 20s. The hair weighed 196 grams and was described as “tough and smooth.”

The auction page showed pictures of the back of the woman’s head before and after her haircut.

She also included crucial information: “I have never gotten my hair dyed or permed.”

Thirty-one bids were made for the hair, and it fetched a winning price of 40,000 yen ($368).

A search of the keywords “human hair” and “sheaves of hair” found about 280 separate sales of human hair in the past four months on the site.

The sales pitches included the age, sex and nationality of the hair sellers, as well as length and weight of the locks.

Some examples include: “Hair of a sixth-grade elementary school girl,” “27 years old and a sheaf of 30 centimeters” and “70 centimeters, China.”

The characteristics of the hair were also given, including “thick and tough” and “thin and smooth.” In some cases, the descriptions included the date when the hair was cut and even the brand of shampoo and conditioner used.

Some sellers said they would tie the hair with rubber bands and enclose it in zipper-lock bags to maintain its form for delivery.

The bids ranged from several thousand yen to several tens thousands of yen.

Sales of hair are not limited to the Internet.

Tamtam, a hair-purchasing company in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, started buying hair directly from people about five years ago.

It now purchases several tens of thousands of sheaves of hair a year.

The company offers more than 1,400 yen per 100 grams of hair between 31 cm and 40 cm long. For hair 61 cm to 70 cm long, it pays more than 3,600 yen per 100 grams.

However, Tamtam does not buy permed, damaged or men’s hair. It also rejects the hair of women over the age of 30.

“Increasing age decreases the moisture volume,” a company official said. “We set the age restriction to maintain the quality of hair.”

The company had previously resold its purchased hair to companies that test hair color products or make the eyebrows of daruma good luck dolls.

Now, it usually resells the hair to wig manufacturers.

According to a cooperative association of hair product makers in Tokyo, wigs emerged in Japan half a century ago. At that time, the wigs consisted of human hair, but wigs using artificial hair soon began appearing.

Currently, standard wigs carry a 2:8 ratio of human hair to artificial hair.

Artificial hair is easier to take care of. The mixed hair is also believed to make wigs feel and look the most natural.

Human hair is rarely distributed in Japan, so most of the wigs produced here use hair from Chinese and Indonesians.

Tokyo-based Genteel, an extension and wig wholesaler, buys hair not only from China and Indonesia but also from India and Myanmar.

The company uses hydrochloric acid to wash the hair and remove the surface cuticles. The hair is then dyed and coated with a special medical substance.

After that, the hair is processed into extensions or wigs.

People who buy hair on auction sites can bring the strands to manufacturers and have a similar procedure done to produce their own wigs.

According to Genteel, Chinese hair is suitable for extensions and wigs because the strands are thick and tough. But the cost of Chinese hair has risen by 30 percent from 10 years ago because it has become harder to obtain.

As for local hair, many Japanese women perm or dye their hair, thereby damaging it. The company said it is now very rare to find long, beautiful and undamaged hair among Japanese.

“Demand for human hair is rising because extensions are popular among Europeans and Americans, but the supply is decreasing worldwide,” said Nobutaka Aoki, president of Genteel.

The rate of hair from Southeast Asian countries and other developing regions has increased in recent years. The suppliers have mainly been women seeking some extra revenue.

However, as their countries develop economically and their incomes increase, the individual hair suppliers have changed their lifestyles and appearances. That may include getting their hair permed and dyed, which would make those strands unwanted by Japanese companies.

In economically growing China, the number of areas providing undamaged hair has also decreased.

Extensions are attached to the roots of hairs through twisting or other means. But when the natural hair grows, the extension looks unbalanced.

That gives extensions a lifespan of only about two months.

“Hairs for extensions are used up very quickly. But hair, like natural resources, takes a long time to generate,” Aoki said.