Hair Analysis: Your hair tells the truth about you… but not all of it

Author -  Dr. Susan Pandian | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Sunil Shroff, MBBS, MS, FRCS (UK), D. Urol (Lond) on Sep 25, 2020
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What is hair analysis?

In 1982, microscopic hair analysis of strands found on the body of a victim was used and Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were framed for the murder. Seventeen years later, DNA analysis of the same hair fragments was used to prove that these men were innocent.


As this case shows, hair analysis has come a long way the past thirty years.

Hair Analysis

Hair analysis, basically, is the scientific examination of a hair sample. It can be hair from a crime scene examined to find out who committed the act, or it can be hair taken from the back of your head and sent to a laboratory where it is checked for signs of health problems.

Hair analysis is still an evolving science, and while it has a lot of potential, we need to be careful about what we expect hair analysis to tell us about the person whose head it used to grow on.

The scientific basis of hair analysis

The scientific basis of hair analysis is simple: when new hair cells are forming in the hair follicle, they take in traces of substances going through the blood stream of the individual. As hair grows, the new cells push out the older ones, and as cells come out of the bulb, they die and harden - and thus create a long lasting record of whatever was in the blood of the person when they were forming.


Besides the hair stand itself, the sebum that coats the hair (from the sebaceous gland connected to the hair follicle) also contains traces of the drugs and minerals flowing through your body. And if the root or the root sheath is attached to the hair, it also provides a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) record.

Hair can thus keep a more long-lasting record of what passes through the body of an individual than either blood or urine – the body fluids which are usually used for such tests. Each hair lives about 5-6 years before it falls off the scalp.

Hair analysis techniques

A trichogram is a physical macro- and microscopic examination of hair and the scalp – the kind of hair analysis which was used to convict Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson. Today doctors use this mainly to find out why a person is losing hair, or how much of his hair are in the growing or resting or falling phases.

Modern, more sophisticated, hair analysis uses gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to chemically test hair or find its DNA composition. Usually, a pencil-tip thickness of hair close to the body (from the region behind the head just above the neck) is cut out. The hair closest to the scalp is used because it is the most recent growth, and it can be expected to show the most recent condition of the body.

The hair is usually dissolved for this procedure and the extract is analyzed for minerals, drugs, toxins or heavy metals. This data is also used, more controversially, to diagnose diseases and deficiencies/excesses in your system.


Modern methods are sensitive enough to find traces of minerals/metals/drugs that are a thousandth of a gram (microgram), or a nanogram (one billionth of a gram) or even a picogram (one thousandth of a nanogram) per gram of hair.

Hair analysis for minerals, drugs and toxins

Hair analysis is a standard medical test for chronic arsenic poisoning – the stuff of whodunits, but in real life more often seen in agricultural workers who inhale fumes containing arsenic from insecticide sprays or dust.

Another accepted use of hair analysis is to show if someone has been taking illegal drugs – cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, or alcohol. The analyst checks for the presence of the substances themselves or their metabolites (the products of the body’s metabolism of these substances) in the strand of the hair. The results of such tests have been acceptable in courts of law a long time.

But there are a few problems with this analysis –

1. False positive or negative results are possible, so results always need to be confirmed by another technique.

2. If hair analysis shows a positive result for a substance, it is difficult to say where it came from especially if it is quite commonly found. For example, for illegal drugs like marijuana a positive result might mean the person consumed the drug, or it might only mean he was physically close when someone else was smoking it.

Hair analysis in forensics

One hair analysis case in Germany in 1990s involved a dog suspected of causing a traffic accident. Later this particular dog was found innocent of the crime because DNA taken from the dog did not match DNA taken from dog hair fragments stuck to the car.

A physical examination of the hair found in the crime scene, sometimes under a microscope, can show details like the race a person belongs to, and it be used to rule out possibilities. At this level, evidence cannot be used to identify a single person. But this can be done if the hair has root or root sheath material attached, which can be used for DNA analysis of the hair. DNA fingerprinting is accepted as definitive evidence.

Hair analysis is also used in forensics to check if a person has been sticking to a drug regimen (or a no-drug regimen). A person’s hair keeps a record of amphetamines, opium, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol ingested for months. While hair analysis will not show if someone was driving under the influence or smoked pot yesterday (because even the hair closest to the scalp can be weeks old), it can show if he has been taking alcohol or pot the last month (or three or four or more months, depending on the length of hair available for analysis).


Hair analysis potential and limits

Where testing for long-term consumption of drugs is concerned, hair analysis is becoming more common than blood or urine analysis. It’s easier, less invasive of privacy, and there is less chance of tampering so long as the ‘chain of custody’ is carefully maintained.

Hair analysis in these forms has long been acceptable in courts of law, but its limits must always be kept in mind:

  • It can show false positives through environmental exposure (for example, to marijuana smoke). The samples are usually washed in water as well as an organic solvent to prevent this.
  • We don’t know yet what the normal range in hair is for most drugs. We also don’t know what is the relation between the amount of the drug or alcohol someone may consume and the amount of it, or its metabolite, that should turn up in his hair.
  • Washing with shampoos and bleaching and dyeing remove some substances and deposit others - even heavy metals. There has been no research so far into this.
  • Age, sex, the seasons, the geographical area, and even the place from which the hair was taken (head or body) can have an effect on the concentration of any substance found in hair.

Hair analysis for health evaluation

This is the kind of hair analysis most of us may be persuaded to try out – and it is also the most unreliable and controversial form of hair analysis. Dr. Stephen Barrett called it ‘the cardinal sign of quackery.’ Laboratories, websites, and health care ‘consultants’ claim to examine your hair and diagnose diseases and deficiencies from autism to fibromyalgia. Based on what your hair tells them, most of them will also try to sell you ‘specially formulated’ supplements or medicines.

Here are some signs that your hair analyst is not trustworthy:

  • He tells you to depend only on his hair analysis results. This goes against the accepted medical principle that laboratory results should always supplemented by physical and other examinations.
  • He tests for 20 or 30 minerals and vitamins in a single hair test.
  • He tries to sell you medicines based on his hair analysis.

Several studies (including one by Dr. Barrett and another one in 2001 in Germany) which sent samples of hair from a single healthy person or two healthy people to many commercial laboratories found wild variations in the results and reference ranges in the laboratory reports.

The American Medical Association calls this - hair analysis for medical therapy - an ‘unproven practice with potential for healthcare fraud.’ Most insurance companies do not pay for this kind of hair analysis (except for arsenic tests).

So if anyone offers to analyze your hair to find out what disease you suffer from, Dr. Barrett’s advice is to run for your state attorney general!

Hair analysis: can it help you?
So far, hair analysis has been used by toxicologists and by law enforcers. But as an aid to therapy or diagnosis, hair analysis is not necessary - yet. The American Medical Association says hair analysis “will remain limited until validation by the standard methods of clinical investigation is achieved.”

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Can a comparative hair analysis be used to prove or disprove maternity? My friend could submit some of her hair along with strands of her mother's hair [circa 1995] and a large sample from a braid of her grandmother's hair cut before she died in 1950. She would like to know whether she is a natural daughter or adopted. If possible to determine, advice as to who could make such a test would be greatly appreciated.


The hair analysis results only varied when they were sent to labs that washed the hair sample before testing it. It was also shown that hair close to the scalp and then ends of the hair were sent in which obviously will show different results as the hair growth is from two different periods of time. As long as the lab does NOT wash the hair sample before testing, results have been demonstrated to be consistent and reliable. Hair mineral analysis testing is not meant to be looked at as a "diagnostic" test rather it shows various stress patterns in the body. It can be used as a guide to help balance the body which in turn makes the body healthier so it can deal with what it needs to. Along with eating the right foods, getting enough rest, drinking enough of the right kind of water, it can make a huge difference in someone's life. [I stumbled across this years ago when nothing else I tried had worked for the fatigue and other issues I had. Turns out I was copper and manganese toxic among other things and balancing my body based on hair mineral analysis helped sort out those issues and changed my life.] If approached in the right way (looking at stress patterns and balancing the body) it can be an immensely helpful tool in increasing energy and vitality levels. It is not a quick fix for most people but done consistently over time can make a huge difference.


This article is very damaging to the few practitioners that take Hair Mineral Analysis very seriously. The information provided in the article is misleading and incorrect. I was very ill and mainstream medicine had made my case even worse by prescribing medication that had absolutely no relevance to what was making me sick in the first place. A simple hair test provided me with very important information about what was actually wrong with me. I was full of lead from different sources. [work related] The hair test revealed my grossly elevated levels and the group at Test Your Hair made recommendations to lower and release the lead. I feel amazing now. So the hair test probably saved my life. So like the other person mentioned below arming yourself with a hair test is definitely an option you don't want to miss out on.


Would you please give me the official name of the lab you used for your hair analysis. I am female and I have thinning hair for quite a few years. I want to do something about it, and I believe that hair analysis would be the best place to start.


I am interested in doing the same thing. Did you get a response on your post? from Walter J? or anyone else? Or did you find out anything else along those lines? Would love some information!


I need information about hair analysis. I almost died from ammonia poisoning in August. I had been sick on and off for about a year and I know I was being poisoned with other chemicals or gasses. Can anyone help me?


I used the Carlson Company they have a great web site they are out of Colorado. They will test your hair for what you need. just let them know what you suspect also I tested for what they suggested and found more than I was looking for. It was money worth spending. After seeing doctor after doctor that was not helping me the Carlton Company helped me.


I look at it this way getting a test done from a reputable lab can only benefit you and add to your ability to choose for yourself what treatments you feel you need and do not. There is nothing wrong with supplementation and if the test tells you that you are low on something that has also been confirmed by blood work then you are probably low. If the test shows something that hasn't been tested for in blood or tissue samples it also gives you another avenue to take toward ruling out potential problems or correcting them. Blood work doesn't tell the truth either not alone anyway. Why not be armed with as many options that are available to you.

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