A man residing in Vietnam refused to get a haircut from the age of 25. Then half a century passed. During those 50 long years the man’s mane never came into contact with a pair of scissors. Furthermore, only rarely was it touched by shampoo. But then, after such a long period of time, the man with the longest hair in the world was ready to reveal it for all to see.
For centuries stories have been told where a character’s hair has played an important role in the narrative. Rapunzel, the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is one such example. In it, the only access anyone has to the tower the central character is locked in is by way of her long, golden locks.
And then of course there’s the story of Samson in the Bible. Samson possessed Herculean strength. Indeed, he managed to kill a lion with his bare hands as well as somehow slaying an entire army single-handedly. But, as he told Delilah, if his long hair should ever be cut off, he would lose all his power.
Tray Van Hay lived in Kien Giang, a province in the south of Vietnam. It isn’t believed that he was locked in a tower for the duration of his life, nor did his hair afford him any particular superpowers. Nonetheless, there was a time in his life when he realized something strange was happening.
According to Hay’s wife Nguyen Thi Hoa, when her husband was 25 years old he had gotten incredibly sick after cutting his hair one day. In fact, it was a trauma the young Hay went through every time his hair was cut. On that occasion, however, he decided enough was enough.
Not wanting to go through the debilitating illness again, Hay vowed to grow his hair from that day on. And so, for many years, Hay’s mane saw neither blade nor pair of scissors. In fact, it very rarely even got washed, with his wife estimating that last happened when he was aged 68.
Hoa, in fact, claims that her husband was a changed man after deciding to let his hair run free. He drew inspiration from Buddhist monks in the area and chose a happy and content life working as a herb doctor. In fact, he offered his services in herbalism free of charge.
For 50 years, then, Hay’s hair grew and grew. And as its mighty volume increased, it started to take on a life of its own. With no haircare routine to speak of, Hay’s tresses turned into a matted clump. Some even commented that his mane looked like the thick body of a boa constrictor.
However, with a great body of hair came many problems. For example, Hay wore his hair piled on his head and wrapped in a scarf like a giant turban. Just keeping the bundle in place proved to be a challenge in itself, with every jolt or movement likely to dislodge the carefully balanced stack.
Then there were the practicalities of things like travel. Hay was denied the luxury of taking a motorcycle taxi anywhere as there simply wasn’t a helmet big enough to fit over the accumulation of hair perched on his noggin. Consequently, drivers considered him too much of a safety risk and refused to take him anywhere.
Although it may sound easy to just leave your hair alone and never touch it again, it was a challenge for Hay. And yet despite his difficulties – not to mention the curious looks he drew from passersby – nothing would deter him. In fact it all increased his will to keep his mane growing.
So what are some of the risks of not washing your hair? The dirt and grime that builds up must be incredibly unhygienic, right? And the smell that it all causes is surely overwhelming. Well, some experts have their own ideas on what happens when you leave hair unwashed for lengthy periods.
Back in 1908 the ritual of hair-washing was described as “rather a trying ordeal” by The New York Times. With this in mind, the advice for women with a good head of hair was to wash it only “every month to six weeks.” That guidance, however, would change in the space of a couple of decades.
In fact, it was only when liquid soaps became more widely available from the likes of Procter & Gamble in the U.S. and Schwarzkopf in Europe that the West became hooked on hair hygiene. Moreover, not much longer than a century ago such products didn’t even exist. Instead, bars of soap were used which were neither appropriate nor particularly agreeable.
Interestingly, some people have quit using shampoo altogether. Advocates of the practice may have signed up to the idea that shampoo simply isn’t needed. They claim that regular shampooing removes natural oils from the hair, which in turn encourages the scalp to produce even more oils to redress the balance. So when the washing stops, those glands no longer need to produce excess oils to overcompensate. The hair effectively becomes self-cleaning.
Experiments in non-hair-washing, however, have mostly only been carried out over a relatively short period of time. It’s unclear whether anyone has attempted to investigate the effects of a long-term lack of hair maintenance, such as Mr Hay’s. What isn’t in doubt is that there was one striking thing about the herbalist’s hair. It was obvious to anyone who looked at him.
And that is, despite age and the ravages of time, Hay’s hair remained black throughout the entirety of his life. This set his mane in stark contrast to the white of his beard. Incredibly, there didn’t appear to be a single white hair on his head. The only change in color came after his passing.
Tran Van Hay passed away in 2010 from natural causes. He had lived a very simple life, but, by all accounts, a very content one. And though his amazing mop of hair could be cumbersome, he never let it become a problem. Instead he dedicated his life to helping others.
Just before his passing, Hay instructed his family to take good care of his hair. He wanted them to have it as a sort of keepsake. To this end, Hoa kept her husband’s hair carefully locked in a glass box, where it has gradually faded to a brown color.
Why a glass box? Well, Hay’s hair had become somewhat of a national treasure over the years. Not only was Hay in possession of the longest hair in Vietnam, but at 22 feet in length and weighing 23 pounds, it was also pronounced the longest hair in the world. Such infamy has its rewards, then, but apparently not its price: brilliantly, the family have refused offers of VND50 million (US$2,500) for the hair.