OK,this is embarrassing. Apparently my Elf hairpiece is perfectly fine. However, in the dull, rainy, early-dark evenings here in Oregon, and the lighting in by bedroom (where Christmas items hide), it was literally IMPOSSIBLE to distinguish the yellow paint on the ears. Even now, knowing that it is there, I STILL can't see it. It was only when I decided that I would need better light to attempt a photo that I finally discovered that it is, in fact, normal.
It will be even more embarrassing if LEGO actually sends me a new one. I submitted a request via the website, and am not sure how to rescind it (the email I got cannot be replied to). At this point I'm kind of hoping that, like I had heard with other Series, they don't replace bits from these.