Hair analysis

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Hair analysis
Human hair SEM.svg
Schema depicting how human hair appears in a scanning electron microscope
HCPCS-L2 P2031

Hair analysis may refer to the chemical analysis of a hair sample, but can also refer to microscopic analysis or comparison. Chemical hair analysis may be considered for retrospective purposes when blood and urine are no longer expected to contain a particular contaminant, typically a year or less.[1] Its most widely accepted use is in the fields of forensic toxicology and, increasingly, environmental toxicology.[2][3] Several alternative medicine fields also use various hair analyses for environmental toxicology but these uses are controversial, evolving and not standardized.

Hair analysis can refer to the forensic technique of assessing a number of different characteristics of hairs, usually consisting of hairs from "known" sources and those recovered during forensic examinations or "questioned" hairs in order to determine whether they have a common source; for example, comparing hair found at the scene of the crime with hair samples taken from a suspect. Typically, examinations of this type are conducted using stereo-microscope(s) for initial preparation, and a comparison microscope for detailed analysis (comparison).

Use in forensic toxicology[edit]

Hair analysis is also used for the detection of many therapeutic drugs and recreational drugs, including cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines and amphetamines.[4][5] In this context, it has been reliably used to determine compliance with therapeutic drug regimes or to check the accuracy of a witness statement that an illicit drug has not been taken. Hair testing is an increasingly common method of assessment in substance misuse, particularly in legal proceedings, or in any situation where a subject may have decided not to tell the entire truth about his or her substance-using history.

In December 1995 the Society of Hair Testing was founded to promote the research in hair testing technologies in forensic, clinical and occupational sciences, to develop the international proficiency tests, to organize meetings and workshops and to encourage the scientific cooperation and exchanges among members. The Board of the Society of Hair Testing agreed upon the latest version of a Consensus in Sevilla, Spain, in 2004.[citation needed]

Drug test[edit]

Main article: drug test

Hair samples are increasingly being used to detect the presence of illegal drugs both by the state and also by private employers who test their employees. The advantages of hair analysis include the non-invasiveness, low cost and the ability to measure a large number of, potentially interacting, toxic and biologically essential elements.[6] The judicial admissibility of the test is guided by the Daubert standard. A precedent of national reference has been United States v. Medina, 749 F.Supp. 59 (E.D.N.Y.1990).[7][8]

Use in environmental toxicology[edit]

Analysis of hair samples has many advantages as a preliminary screening method for the presence of toxic substances deleterious to health after exposures in air, dust, sediment, soil and water, food and toxins in the environment. The advantages of hair analysis include the non-invasiveness, low cost and the ability to measure a large number of, potentially interacting, toxic and biologically essential elements. Hence, head hair analysis is now increasingly being used as a preliminary test to see whether individuals have absorbed poisons linked to behavioral or health problems.[2]

Use in detection of long term elemental effects[edit]

There appears to be genuine validity to the use of hair analysis in the measurement of lifelong, or long-term heavy metal burden, if not the measurement of general elemental analysis. Several interesting studies including the analysis of Ludwig van Beethoven's hair have been conducted in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to name a few.

A 1999 study on hair concentrations of calcium, iron, and zinc in pregnant women and effects of supplementation, it was concluded that "From the analyses, it was clear that hair concentrations of Ca, Fe, and Zn could reflect the effects of supplementation... Finally, it could be concluded that mineral element deficiencies might be convalesced by adequate compensations of mineral element nutrients."[9]

Use in occupational, environmental and alternative medicine[edit]

Hair analysis has been used in occupational,[10] environmental and some branches of alternative medicine as a method of investigation to assist screening and/or diagnosis. The hair is sampled, processed and analyzed, studying the levels of mineral and metals in the hair sample. Using the results, as part of a proper examination or test protocol,[11] practitioners screen for toxic exposure and heavy metal poisoning. Some advocates claim that they can also diagnose mineral deficiencies and that people with autism have unusual hair mineral contents.[12] These uses are often controversial, and the American Medical Association states, "The AMA opposes chemical analysis of the hair as a determinant of the need for medical therapy and supports informing the American public and appropriate governmental agencies of this unproven practice and its potential for health care fraud."[13] A recent review of scientific literature by Dr Kempson highlighted analysis of metals/minerals in hair can be applied in large population studies for researching epidemiology and groups of chronically exposed populations, however any attempt to provide a diagnosis based on hair for an individual is not possible.[14] An exception to this can be in advanced analyses for acute poisoning.[15]


  • Pragst F., Balikova M.A.: State of the art in hair analysis for detection of drugs and alcohol abuse; Clinica Chimic Acta 370 2006 17-49.
  • Auwärter V.: Fettsäureethylester als Marker exzessiven Alkoholkonsums – Analytische Bestimmung im Haar und in Hautoberflächenlipiden mittels Headspace-Festphasenmikroextraktion und Gaschromatographie-Massenspektrometrie. Dissertation Humboldt-Universität Berlin 2006.
  • Pragst F., Auwärter V., Kiessling B., Dyes C.: Wipe-test and patch-test ror alcohol misuse based on the concentration ratio of fatty acid ethyl esters and squalen CFAEE/CSQ in skin surface lipids. Forensic Sci Int 2004; 143:77-86.


  1. ^ Eastern Research Group. Section 5, Choosing the Best Biological Marker. SUMMARY REPORT, HAIR ANALYSIS PANEL DISCUSSION: EXPLORING THE STATE OF THE SCIENCE. ATDSR. June 12—13, 2001
  2. ^ a b Masters RD. Validity of Head Hair Analysis and Methods of Assessing Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Dartmouth College. accessed 9 Dec 2006.
  3. ^ Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program. A Metals Primer. Center for Environmental Health Sciences at Dartmouth. accessed 9 Dec 2006.
  4. ^ Welch, M.J., Sniegoski, L.T., Allgood, C.C., and Habram, M. Hair analysis for drugs of abuse: Evaluation of analytical methods, environmental issues, and development of reference materials. J Anal Toxicol 17(7):389-398, 1993.
  5. ^ Balikova, Marie, "Hair Analysis for Drugs of Abuse: Plausibility of Interpretation", Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2005, 149(2):199–207.
  6. ^ "What Companies Use Hair Follicle Tests for Pre-Employment?". 2010-01-22. Retrieved 2012-07-14. 
  7. ^ Atlantic reporter: Second series, Volume 681. West Pub. Co. 1996. p. 44
  8. ^ "NEVADA EMPLOYMENT SECURITY DEPARTMENT v. Cynthia Holmes", Kamer Zucker Abbott. 1996. Accessed March 21, 2011
  9. ^ Leung, PL; Huang, HM; Sun, DZ; Zhu, MG. "PMID 10468164 Hair concentrations of calcium, iron, and zinc in pregnant women and effects of supplementation". Biol Trace Elem Res. 1999 Sep;69(3):269-82. 
  10. ^ Niculescu, T; Dumitru, R; Botha, V; Alexandrescu, R; Manolescu, N (February 1983). "Relationship between the lead concentration in hair and occupational exposure. Br J Ind Med." 40 (1). pp. 67–70. 
  11. ^ Bass DA, Hickok D, Quig D, Urek K.Trace element analysis in hair: factors determining accuracy, precision, and reliability - Statistical Data Included. Altern Med Review 2001;6(5):472-481.
  12. ^ Lathe, Richard, and Michael Le Page. "Toxic metal clue to autism: a study has revealed startling differences in mercury levels in the hair of autistic and normal children. (This Week)." New Scientist 178.2400 (June 21, 2003): 4(2).
  13. ^ Hair analysis: A potential for medical abuse. Policy number H-175.995,(Sub. Res. 67, I-84; Reaffirmed by CLRPD Rep. 3 - I-94)
  14. ^ I.M. Kempson & E. Lombi, "Hair analysis as a biomonitor for toxicology, disease and health status" Chemical Society Reviews, 2011 doi:10.1039/C1CS15021A.
  15. ^ I.M. Kempson & D.A. Henry, "Synchrotron Radiation Reveals Arsenic Poisoning and Metabolism in Hair: The case of Phar Lap" Angewandte Chemie – Int Ed (2010) 49, 4237-4240.


  • Gaillard, Y., Pepin, G., Testing hair for pharmaceuticals, J. Chromatogr. B 733 (1999) 231–246.
  • Henderson, G.L., Harkey, M.R., Jones, R.T., "Analysis of Hair for Cocaine", in (eds. Edward. J. Cone, Ph.D., Michael. J. Welch, Ph.D., and M. Beth Grigson Babecki, M.A.), "Hair Testing for Drugs of Abuse: International Research on Standards and Technology", 1995, p. 91-120. NIH Publication No. 95-3727.
  • Kintz, P., Bioanalytical procedures for detection of chemical agents in hair in the case of drug-facilitated crimes. Anal Bioanal Chem. 388, 7 (2007) 1467-74.
  • Nakahara, Y., Hair analysis for abused and therapeutic drugs, J. Chromatogr. B 733 (1999) 161–180.
  • Romolo, F.S., Rotolo, M.C., Palmi, I., Pacifici, R., Lopez, A., Optimized conditions for simultaneous determination of opiates, cocaine and benzoylecgonine in hair samples by GC-MS. Forensic Science International (2003), 138(1-3), 17-26.
  • Sachs, H. Kintz, P., Testing for drugs in hair. Critical review of chromatographic procedures since 1992, J. Chromatogr. B 713 (1998) 147–161.

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