There are lots of ways to make extra money aside from picking up a second (or third) job. Selling your body for scientific or medical purposes is a legitimate and legal way to earn a little bit of extra cash.
Despite advances in medicine, doctors and scientists still rely on donors to supply certain biological materials such as plasma, sperm and eggs. These things can be legally sold for a profit, while giving you the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping others. While some can bring in extra money quickly, others require a lengthy time commitment. Read on to discover 7 ways you can legally sell your body for money.
Artisans, beauticians and wig makers will be happy to take those lengthy tresses off your hands — er, heads — and fork over a pretty penny in the process, says Marlys Fladeland, owner and founder of the Victorian Hairwork Society website.
“The hair that is most qualified for the highest price would be hair in good condition, very long and straight,” says Fladeland, adding that “virgin hair” that has never been dyed is the most attractive to buyers. “Anything under 10 inches, I wouldn’t even post online. I think the best-selling hair is at least 15 to 35 inches, and some have been sold at 54 inches.”
Color counts, too. Gray hair may not sell at all, whereas natural blondes and brunettes with natural chestnut tinges sell well, with redheads financially faring the best, says Fladeland.
Though hair prices can reach into the thousands — a Valparaiso, Indiana, woman banked $4,000 by selling 31 inches of her hair in 2013, according to Fladeland — many sellers only get a few hundred. Fladeland’s website isn’t the only player in the international hair-selling market. You can also hawk your luscious locks through sites such as HairSellon.com, BuyandSellHair.com or Craigslist.
“A donor is not being paid for eggs,” says Nazca Fontes, CEO of ConceiveAbilities, an egg donation and surrogacy agency headquartered in Chicago. “She’s being paid for her time and her energy, and her eggs are a result.”
Potential donors must be age 21 to 35, though facilities such as ConceiveAbilities limit the age to 29, and in good health. Those who smoke, use drugs, have high body mass indexes or mental health issues generally aren’t eligible.
According to New York State’s Department of Health, donors must pass initial eligibility screenings, take fertility drugs, check in for regular medical evaluations and undergo a minor surgical procedure to have the eggs extracted. ConceiveAbilities donors can spend 25 to 100 hours undergoing medical treatments throughout the process, on top of at-home recovery time, Fontes says.
Dr. Mitchell Rosen, fertility expert at the University of California San Francisco Center for Reproductive Health, says that there are also risks such as ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, complications which can cause patients “discomfort where they can’t eat; there could be kidney failure and they potentially need to be hospitalized.”
If you’re considering donating, the New York Department of Health offers a free guide.
“There’s this myth that a surrogate is carrying her child and giving it away,” Fontes says.
In reality, gestational surrogates carry the sperm and egg from another couple until the child is born. Because the surrogacy process usually lasts 15 to 18 months from initial application through birth, ConceiveAbilities’ screening process is much lengthier and includes medical and psychological evaluations, along with a criminal background check, home visit and information on the applicant’s financial status.
Surrogates can be older than egg donors — anywhere from early 20s to early 40s is the industry range, Fontes says — and many clinics require applicants to have already experienced at least one uncomplicated pregnancy. In addition to adhering to strict medical recommendations while carrying, surrogates also sign a gestational surrogacy contract with the intended parents and may also need to follow additional requirements on diet or lifestyle.
They will also need to be clear on the terms of the arrangement. Since health care costs associated with the procedure can be high and complications are common, surrogates should read the fine print of their contract carefully and be absolutely sure of what’s required before signing on.
You can legally sell your own breast milk, but please don’t, says Sarah Keim, a principal investigator for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. For a study published in October 2013, Keim’s team purchased more than 100 samples from an online vendor and found that nearly 3 out of 4 were contaminated with either abnormally high levels of bacteria or with bacteria linked to disease.
“I imagine people are generally well-intentioned and do want to be compensated for their time and effort; however, there isn’t really a good way for people to ensure that even their own milk is safe and clean,” says Keim.
Keim’s team also found that in 2011, there were more than 13,000 postings from people looking to exchange breast milk across just 4 breast-milk sales sites.
“People that want to help out someone else — someone who has excess breast milk and really doesn’t want to see it go to waste — there are other alternatives, like donating to one of the nonprofit milk banks,” which screens donors and donations, Keim says. “That way, you can know that your milk is processed and made available to a baby that needs it.”
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Going rate: up to $5,000 per project
Available through drug companies, medical facilities and the federal government, clinical trials use the healthy, as well as those suffering from specific conditions, to test new drugs and therapies. It’s possible to make money by participating in clinical trials, but there may be risks, says Arthur Caplan, division of medical ethics director at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.
“Most clinical trials that are going to pay you are going to be studies early on in the development of the drug or vaccine. There won’t be much safety information except from animals,” he says. “Those risks are something you have to ask about, take very seriously and to some extent, you’re in the unknown.”
Testing facilities are required to inform participants about any known risks, but Caplan also advises participants to ask about what the animal trials of the treatment show.
“You need to also know if something goes wrong, who’s going to pay for (your) medical care?” he says, adding that health insurance rarely covers effects of clinical trials. “If there is a side effect or problem, who is paying for that?”
Men age 18 to 39 in good health may donate sperm, reports the Mayo Clinic, but it’s not a one-time affair. Many clinics require donors to commit to making regular deposits at least once per week — in some facilities, the requirement is 2 to 3 times per week — for at least 6 months to 1 year. There are also genetic requirements for donors. Some facilities require donors to meet certain height requirements — usually 5 feet 10 inches or taller — and smokers, drug users and those with genetic histories of certain diseases aren’t eligible.
Caplan says there are no physical risks to donating sperm, but donors who want to stay anonymous may face problems.
“There is always a risk that if you (donate sperm), you’re going to have children that may be created that would find out or seek you out or learn your identity despite promises of confidentiality,” he says.
Even with legally binding confidentiality agreements in place, some clinics, like The Sperm Bank of California, include disclaimers about donor identification. It warns that the internet and new technologies such as DNA testing services “increase the ability for donor-conceived offspring to identify their donors.”
Going rate: $25 to $50 per donation; up to $300 each month
If you’re getting paid to donate blood, your donation may not be used the way you think. The federal government prohibits the use of blood collected from paid donors for transfusions in hospitals. According to the nonprofit blood collection group Blood Assurance, material gathered from paid donors is oftentimes used by pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies.
Risks for donating blood are extremely low and donors can oftentimes contribute twice per week. A list of more than 450 licensed plasma donation centers throughout the U.S. and Europe is available at DonatingPlasma.org.