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September 2013

Tonsuring in India and the Global Trade in Human Hair

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
  • 2Department of Internal Medicine, Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 3Yale Primary Care, Waterbury Hospital, Waterbury, Connecticut
  • 4Department of Dermatology, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC
JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(9):1021-1022. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.4025

Most Hindus living in India will tonsure their hair at least once in their lives. In Hindu culture, tonsuring is performed for various reasons, including as a means of honoring the gods, remembering a loved one (usually deceased), seeking purification or fulfillment of wishes, or as a form of protest or punishment.

While certain Hindu sects have practiced tonsuring for centuries, the hair was not always sold for profit. Since the 1960s, however, tonsured hair has been collected, cleansed, and auctioned to commercial hair distributors from around the world in a series of events that is not part of the religious ritual. Today, tonsured Indian hair is considered of the finest quality, generating millions of dollars in the wig and hair extension market,1 as recently publicized by Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair and Al Jazeera’s documentary Hair India. Thus, hair that is sacrificed at the altar of a deity and renounced by the participant is the source of much of the West’s high-quality wigs and hair extensions.1,2