You might have caught the widespread news reports in the last day or two about Venezuelan gangs who have actually been stealing women's hair in a series of personal attacks.


The purpose is to turn the locks into human hair extensions which are then sold on to hair salons. In Venezuela's socialist economy, gang activity is rife, particularly in Maracaibo near the Colombian border. In particular, smuggling is the crime most renowned - and not just for drugs but also basic staple foods such as rich and toilet paper - but hair has become the latest black market commodity, with a value to the equivalent of around £200 for good quality. 

The hair thieves have been dubbed 'Las Piranhas' by Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, whose reports vary between women being grabbed or held at gunpoint, their hair then being put into a pony tail and being cut off with a razor or garden shears. Many women are scared to walk around with their hair left loose, and online sources have been advising long-haired citizens to tie their hair up into a tight covered bun or cover it with a hat or scarf.

Industry insiders have commented on the crime wave, with salon owners claiming point blank they would not buy hair extensions from street vendors. One hairdresser spoke to BBC reporter Irene Caselli about the nature of Venezuela's beauty industry - a country that has made more Miss Worlds and Miss Universes than any other. He says that there is a real pressure for women to look good, and that it is this pressure that causes women to impatiently dye and straighten their hair and - to come full circle - have hair extensions. Of course, this means that long hair by its very nature is a look highly admired by Venezuelan women, making human hair extensions highly valuable and having your long hair cut off an incredibly big deal. Some women have even voiced that they'd rather let their purse or phone go before having their hair stolen.

Furthermore, having to cover it up for fear of it being cut off entirely defeats the point of having long hair, which has prompted some to have theirs cut short preemptively. How this will continue will depend on how heavy the crackdown is on hair theft. Venezuela's law enforcement already has a wide range of crime on its hands already - in addition to the aforementioned black market and gang activity, the country has the fifth highest murder rate in the world. This could make hair theft a simple petty crime - but a crime it is, both by national standards and by international human rights standards.

Will these crimes fall behind others of a higher priority? And if so, what becomes of Venezuela's beauty industry? This could potentially affect women's faith in salon-applied extensions, their approach to long hair and could even shift the trend across to crops and bobs if the risk of having your hair stolen simply becomes too high.