Aye Aye Thein, a hair trader at Yangon's Insein market.

Untangling Myanmar's trade in human hair

Updated 6:38 PM ET, Wed May 16, 2018

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Story highlights

  • Myanmar is a major source of human hair, feeding the global demand for wigs, weaves and hair extensions
  • But as the nation grows richer, there are fears that fewer women are willing to part with their locks

Yangon, Myanmar (CNN)Aye Aye Thein, 55, cuts hair for a living at Insein market in the north of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

But unlike most hairdressers, she doesn't charge her customers. Instead, she pays them.
The country is a major source of human hair, feeding the global demand for wigs, weaves and hair extensions.
"Myanmar hair is the softest, most sought-after hair in Asia," said Aye Aye Thein, whose hair stall is nestled between those of a greengrocer and a betel nut seller.
Figures suggest the global trade in human hair was worth $87.4 million in 2016, with Myanmar the third largest exporter after India and Tunisia.
In Myanmar, hair can be considered sacred: The gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the Buddhist country's holiest sites, is believed to be built on strands of Buddha's hair.
    But it's also common for women here to cut their hair to make ends meet and during Buddhist New Year celebrations, when some women and girls become nuns for a short time and cutting off their hair shows an absolute sacrifice, a detachment from any distractions.