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A hair follicle drug test is one of the newer types of drug testing available and is quickly becoming the preferred drug testing for employers, as well as court-ordered probation testing.

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When it comes to drug testing, you need to know each of the facts: Does it work? How far back does it go?

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Richmond, Va. Hair can be collected from several areas on the body, and drugs can be detected several days after use. Drug use can continue show up in hair up to a year after use, depending on the length of the hair strand [1]. For this reason and others — including that hair is difficult to adulterate or substitute [2][3] — hair testing in substance use monitoring is becoming more common.

An important factor in hair testing to consider is how the drugs got into the hair strand. Drugs can be deposited from the blood by diffusion into a hair follicle, where they then grow into the hair shaft and bind to hair proteins. Drugs may also integrate into the hair through sweat or even through environmental exposure e.

To reduce the likelihood that are due to environmental contamination, Averhealth washes all hair samples prior to testing. The extent to which a drug incorporates itself into hair depends on the drug, amount used, amount of exposure, color and texture of hair, whether hair is damaged or subjected to coloring or chemical processes, or how much of the drug is lost from leaching due to normal hygiene routines.

A positive result indicates drug exposure, but it may not be possible to say how that exposure occurred.

Children, teenagers, and young adults typically have faster hair growth rates than older adults. This can alter the window of detection due to growth rate, growth cycle, and length of hair. However, hair does not keep growing indefinitely.

After a growth period called the anagen phasethe follicle goes into a transient period catagen phase in which it begins to shut down. Eventually, the follicle degenerates and the hair falls out telogen phase [4]. The cycle begins again, and a new hair shaft is produced.

These phases are ongoing and do not necessarily align — different strands of hair may be in different growth phases. Head hair grows faster than body hair and may grow for several years before entering the catagen transient phase.

Everything you need to know about a hair follicle drug test

A time-course of drug use can be determined by performing a segmental analysis [5]. Hair closest to the head represents the most recent drug use.

For example, a segment of head hair 1. For very long hair, segmental analysis can give a broader timeline. Body hair can represent anywhere from a few months to a year of drug use, though this varies between individuals.

It is possible for head hair and body hair from the same individual to provide differing test due to growth cycles and environmental factors [7]. Interpretation of hair test is generally positive or negative. While some studies have shown correlations between dose and amount of drug in hair, are not conclusive enough to rely on in substance use monitoring [8].

Types of hair drug test panels

While positive represent cumulative exposure over the applicable time frame, a positive head hair result indicates drug use or exposure within the 90 days unless segmental analysis was performed on a long hair specimen. A positive body hair result indicates drug use or exposure within the several months to a year. A negative result could indicate no drug use or exposure. However, negative could also appear if:.

Hair test may not correlate exactly with urine, blood or oral fluid test. Some drugs, such benzodiazepines or THC, do not partition easily into hair or oral fluid but can be detected in urine for extended periods.


April International Journal of Toxicology, 41 3 June International Journal of Toxicology, 25 3 DOI: Pharmaceutical Press. ISBN However, negative could also appear if: Hair has been treated or damaged Hair is very light in color Exposure to a drug only happened on a single occasion A drug that does not partition well into hair was used Hair test may not correlate exactly with urine, blood or oral fluid test .

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