Can body hair be used for drug testing?

Gail Evans, Alphabiolabs

By Gail Evans, Technical Trainer at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 09/15/2023

Hair drug testing is a highly effective and reliable method of determining an individual’s drug use over a period of time.

One question that many people ask is whether body hair can be used instead of head hair, and whether this has an impact on the overall drug test results.

In this article, we look at body hair versus head hair drug tests and highlight the differences between the two.

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How can drugs be detected using drug testing?

When a person uses drugs, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream, with a small amount being excreted by the body in a variety of ways. This makes it possible to analyze a variety of samples for the presence of drugs including hair, nails, saliva (oral fluid) and urine.

Even after the ‘high’ has worn off, drug use can be detected by a drug test long after the drug was first consumed, depending on the type of test you take.

The most common types of drug tests include urine drug tests, saliva (oral fluid) drug tests, hair drug tests and nail drug tests, with each offering a different insight into a person’s drug use. Oral fluid tests can detect drugs for up to 48 hours, while urine drug tests can detect drugs and their metabolites up to four days after drugs were consumed.

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The rate at which hair grows means that hair drug tests provide a wide window of detection for drug use, making it possible to detect drugs and their metabolites in the hair for up to 12 months after drug use. Similarly, nail drug testing can be used to provide an overview of up to 12 months for drug use (six months for fingernails and 12 months for toenails).

What is hair drug testing, and how does it work?

A hair drug test, also known as a hair strand test or a hair follicle test, involves analyzing samples of head hair or body hair for the presence of drugs and their metabolites.

When a person consumes drugs, they are passed into the bloodstream, and the parent drug and a proportion of the drug’s metabolites enter the hair follicle.

When the hair is subjected to analysis, the parent drug and its metabolites can be identified within the hair.

Can body hair be used for drug testing?

If head hair is not available, body hair can be used as a sample.

This can be collected from the face, leg, arm, chest, back or underarm.

Whereas head hair can be segmented to provide month-by-month profiles for drug use, body hair cannot be segmented because of the variable rate of growth. For this reason, body hair can only be used to provide a drug use overview of up to 12 months. Body hair is also collected by weight, rather than the length of the head hair strand.

In what circumstances might you use body hair for a drug test?

Body hair drug testing is typically used when insufficient head hair is available.

It can also be used where only an overview is required, as opposed to a month-by-month profile.

Both body hair drug testing and head hair testing are extremely effective and reliable.

What types of body hair can be used for drug testing?

Body hair samples are taken from the arm, leg, face, chest, back or armpit.

Unlike head hair, these areas are less likely to be chemically treated through dyeing or perming.

How is body hair drug testing different from a head hair drug test?

While both head hair drug testing and body hair drug testing are highly reliable and are frequently used in court proceedings, there are several differences between the two types of tests:

Sample collection

Head hair samples ideally need to be collected from the highest point of the scalp as this area has the least variation in growth rates. A trained sample collector will cut around 200 individual strands. Two samples are required, an A sample and a B sample. In contrast, body hair samples are removed from the leg, chest, arm, back, underarm or face, and have a weight requirement, instead of a length requirement.

Detection window

Head hair samples can be segmented to provide a month-by-month analysis of drug use for up to 12 months. This is beneficial for those who want a more detailed picture of someone’s drug use over a defined period. Body hair, however, cannot be segmented and can therefore only provide an overview confirmation on whether or not there are drug markers in the sample. Body hair cannot be used to determine when the drugs were taken.

Accuracy

Both body hair and head hair samples are completely accurate when it comes to determining an individual’s drug use. However, head hair can be segmented to provide a more detailed, month-by-month view, whereas body hair analysis provides a general overview.

Types of drugs

Head hair and body hair can both be used to test for the same wide range of drugs, including but not limited to: Amphetamines, Benzodiazepines, Marijuana, Cocaine, Ecstasy (MDMA), GHB, Ketamine, LSD, Methadone, Methamphetamine, Opiates, Phencyclidine, Steroids, Tramadol and Zolpidem. However, head hair can be segmented to provide a more detailed, month-by-month view, whereas body hair analysis provides a general overview.

 

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Gail Evans AlphaBiolabs

Gail Evans

Technical Trainer at AlphaBiolabs
A professionally-trained forensic scientist, Gail joined AlphaBiolabs in 2012 and holds the role of Technical Trainer. Her day-to-day responsibilities include delivering in-depth training sessions both internally and externally, covering DNA, drug, and alcohol testing. Before joining the company, Gail was a practising forensic scientist, attending scenes of crime, and analyzing physical and biological material with potential evidential value. Gail also holds qualifications in chemistry and is a Lead Auditor for the ISO 9001 standard, the international standard for quality management.

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