Indian Hair: The Next Hot Beauty Trend? The hair of Hindu women shorn in a religious pilgrimage in India is finding new life thousands of miles away as hair extensions in fashion-conscious Los Angeles.

Indian Hair: The Next Hot Beauty Trend?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host: In Los Angeles, famously, you can buy good looks, better looks anyway if you don't like your own. New breasts, new lips, a flatter tummy, well, hair too is for sale here. And Indian hair is really the finest, the most desirable, what everybody wants. We have a report from NPR's Amy Walters.

AMY WALTERS, reporting:

Vered Valensi's Salon is on a busy corner of trendy Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. The walls of her shop are plastered with pictures of Valensi and many of her celebrity clients, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Tara Reid, and a nest of Playboy bunnies. Each one is cute, skinny, and has someone else's hair attached to her head. Valensi put it there.

Ms. VALENSI (Hair Stylist, Los Angeles): I actually did hair extensions for Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie right before The Simple Life started. I really believe that once that show started, they made it really popular. Like most girls saw that they have it or heard about it, and all of a sudden at that point it really became really popular.

WALTERS: Heather Cohen(ph) is one of her clients. She sits in the salon chair as Valensi combs through her hair. And there they are; small waxy clumps dangling near Cohen's scalp.

Ms. VALENSI: Right now you can kind of see them because I'm parting the hair.

WALTERS: Those clumps are called bonds, they attach long strands of someone else's hair to Cohen's head. She's clearly pleased with how the extensions have turned out.

Ms. HEATHER COHEN (Client, Vered Salon): I've been going to Vered for three years now. I got them done once and I'm totally hooked; they're the best.

WALTERS: But the look doesn't come cheap. A full head of extensions runs $1500 to $3,000. What exactly are Valensi's customers paying for? She says it's the quality of the hair she uses and the country it comes from.

Ms. VALENSI: I always tell them it's Indian temple hair. Most of the hair that I do use is Indian hair.

WALTERS: The so-called temple hair Valensi prefers actually comes from a Hindu temple in India. It's a by-product of a religious practice many Indian women have observed for generations.

Ms. SIRASA KUMAR(ph): This sacrifice I have to God. They give their hair to the God like that; human hair, Indian human hair.

WALTERS: Sirasa Kumar owns a hair company in Shini(ph) India. Kumar says the hair comes from Hindu pilgrims who leave freshly shorn locks at the temple as part of their worship.

Ms. KUMAR: We don't have, the temple won't do anything. So we buy from the temple, we process the hair. I'm the exporter.

WALTERS: Kumar says she offered her own hair when she was a young girl. The ritual is very common and the hair comes from all walks of life and sometimes, she says, with a few surprises including lice.

Ms. KUMAR: The hair will come for our company with the lice. The company won't even clean the lice eggs and the export clean the hair.

WALTERS: With or without little critters, the hair has proven a boon for Tiripati Temple; now commonly known as the richest temple in India. Much of the money is coming from places like Los Angeles. In fact you'll find signs across L.A. advertising 100 percent Indian hair plastered on utility poles and storefront windows. Often the signs are put there by individuals and small salons that cater mostly to the African-American market. Naomi Williams runs one such salon in West L.A. She says hair extensions have been in the African-American community for a long time, but the availability of Indian hair has changed things.

Ms. NAOMI WILLIAMS (Professional Hair Stylist): Oh, I think the market is already out there; but what I've seen now, I think more people are starting to sell it themselves. It's all about how much they can get it for and how much they can mark it up for.

WALTERS: Williams says most of her clients don't care where the hair comes from as long as it looks good and they can get it at a good price.

Ms. WILLIAMS: As long as it's clean and it doesn't have any parasites or any lice in it, then they're pretty much fine with it.

WALTERS: At the moment, Williams buys her hair off the Internet, but she's planning a trip to India to buy direct at a cheaper rate. Meanwhile in India, more and more companies are advertising hair to Americans trying to capitalize on the new trend.

Amy Walters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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