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Hair analysis can be used to check if people are blood relatives. Forensic hair analysis can be done to help identify a criminal by evaluating hair structure and DNA. Hair samples are tested with specific chemicals and looked at under a microscope. Hair analysis can also be used to check for poisoning caused by metals such as lead or mercury. But hair analysis alone usually is not used for this type of testing.
Hair is a protein that grows out of hair follicles in the skin. Normally, a hair grows in the hair follicle for many months, stops growing, and falls out. A new hair then grows in the follicle. It takes weeks for a hair sample to show changes in the body, because hair grows slowly. Hair samples do not show recent changes in the body, such as drug use within the past few days. But a hair analysis may show drug use or exposure to chemicals that occurred over the last few months.
Hair analysis is used to provide DNA evidence for criminal and paternity cases. For DNA testing, the root of one hair is needed to analyze DNA and to establish a person's genetic makeup.
Hair analysis is less commonly used to test for heavy metals in the body, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic.
If you have a hair analysis done, the laboratory will give you specific instructions on how to prepare your hair. Hair preparation and the part of your body from which the hair is taken varies. In general, your hair should be washed and free of any hair care products.
You may be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
Hair analysis is done by collecting a hair sample and sending it to a laboratory.
Hair samples are taken from a specific part of the body, such as from the back of the scalp by the neck or from the pubic area. Hair samples are generally collected from the section of the hair closest to the skin. Hair close to the skin or scalp includes the most recent growth, which provides the most accurate information about what has occurred recently in the body.
Hair samples are washed in special chemicals before testing.
Hair samples for DNA analysis will be gathered by laboratory personnel or law enforcement officials or a forensic examiner. For DNA testing, the hair must include the root. This requires that the hair be plucked, not cut.
If you are collecting your own hair sample, follow the instructions given to you by the laboratory. In general, you will be asked to:
There is generally no pain or discomfort associated with this test. But if you have to pluck a hair for a DNA test, this may cause some minor discomfort.
Hair analysis itself has no risks or complications.
Hair analysis uses samples of hair for DNA analysis or to look for heavy metals, such as lead or arsenic.
The results of hair analysis are usually complete within 3 weeks. You or your doctor will receive a report listing the levels of minerals and heavy metals in your hair. Several things need to be considered before testing for heavy metal exposure.
There is no standard procedure for cutting, washing, and analyzing hair. Different labs may report different results from the same hair sample. In fact, the same lab may report different results for separate hairs from a common sample. Standards for testing do not exist. Any hair analysis to detect the presence or absence of minerals, nutrients, or toxic metals in the body should be confirmed by testing blood and urine samples.
What the hair sample contains is determined not only by nutrition and internal metabolism but also by external substances. Air pollution, mineral content of the water supply, exposure to industrial waste, shampoos, hair dyes, hair sprays, permanents, and bleaches may raise or lower the levels of certain minerals in the hair. Also, the use of medicines such as birth control pills can change the mineral concentration of hair.
Things that can interfere with your test and the accuracy of the results include:
Other Works Consulted
- Curtis J, Greenberg M (2008). Screening for drugs of abuse: Hair as an alternative matrix: A review of the medical toxicologist. Clinical Toxicology. 46: 22–34.
- Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Vassiliki BA, et al. (2006). Hair as a biological indicator of drug use, drug abuse or chronic exposure to environmental toxicants. International Journal of Toxicology. 25: 43–163.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology|
|Last Revised||November 7, 2011|
Last Revised: November 7, 2011
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