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Hair As A Drug Testing Option

Hair Testing

Hair testing is an easy, non-invasive, and reliable way to conduct drug testing. It certainly has its place among the options for testing. Today more and more interest is being given to hair testing by lawyers, medical professionals, individuals, and employers to determine if a person has used illicit drugs or abusing prescription medication.

Why Would You Need a Hair Test?

There are several reasons a person might need a hair test.

Employers are utilizing hair test instead of, or in addition to, the standard urine test to determine a potential employee’s usage. Even if a potential employee lays off drug use for a few days, preceding a urine test, a hair test can still show a pattern and any potential problems. Some companies require testing as part of the onboarding process, and others utilize it as part of an ongoing random testing program.

Lawyers and courts use hair testing, and may require it, as a means of testing individuals and demonstrating a client’s history of use or non-use in criminal cases, probation settings, child custody suits, divorce, and other proceedings.

Health care professionals, and such can request a person be tested that is at risk of using drugs or alcohol.

Individuals may want to confirm or deny drug use to family members, courts, trusts, etc. that they have not been using for a period of time and are on the path of sobriety.

However, the donor usually has to give written consent for submitting to the test and release of the results to interested third parties.

Sample Collection

hair being cut for testingStandard hair test specimens require a small section of hair, usually 90-120 strands, and be cut as close to the scalp as possible. Typically, hair is cut near the crown of the head from underneath layers if possible, to avoid being noticeable. The area cut may come from one place or it may require a few smaller cuts to achieve the desired specimen size and still not be noticeable.

If a donor has no head hair or the hair is less than a ½ inch long, then body hair can be used for the test. Typical collections for body hair include, chest, underarm, leg, or facial hair. Body hair samples can be combined from multiple areas to achieve an adequate sample, but head hair and body hair can not be mixed for testing.

Detection Time

When compared with a standard urine test, both urine and hair can detect substance use for an extended period of time, but hair tests provide a much larger window. Due to this longer window hair testing tends to provide a greater number of positive test results.

A standard hair test can provide up to a 90-day history for the most common drugs of abuse. A good rule of thumb is that for the average person every ½ inch of hair is a 30-day history segment. Standard testing only utilizes the first 1 ½ inches of any hair sample. Upon request, the test can be segmented for shorter windows or if the hair is longer it can be tested further back giving even longer windows of detection.

One of the reasons that a urine test is sometimes used in conjunction with a hair test is the time of detection. Once a substance enters the system it takes an average of 7 days for the hair to grow out beyond the scalp and be detected in the hair shaft. The combination of a urine drug test and hair test can bridge the 7-day gap and give a more definitive picture overall.

Hair Testing Benefits

Hair testing can provide many benefits over traditional means of drug testing.

  • The extended window of detection, usually a 30-90-day history of drug use or non-use is determined by a hair test.
  • Easy, non-invasive, and reliable testing method. The collection process is quick and easy. Small sample of hair cut near the scalp is all that is required.
  • Adulteration is nearly impossible. With the subject under supervision and the sample collected by a trained and certified technician, the sample has very little means of being tampered with, switched, or adulterated, making hair test reliable.
  • Cost effective means for long term drug testing efficiency. Hair tests may have a larger out of pocket costs upfront, but with the longer detection times and accurate, reliable, results it is a more cost-effective means in establishing a history of use.

Drugs Tested

Most common drug tests are the 5-panel and 10-panel tests. There are options to have a 5-Panel plus extended opiates, or a 7-panel as well. If more extensive testing is required, comprehensive tests up to an 18 panel can be conducted, and specialty tests looking for a specific drug can be done such as ETG for alcohol, LSD or Psilocybin (Mushrooms). The most common drugs in a 10-panel test include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana/THC
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Extended Opiates (Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone)
  • Phencyclidine


The typical turnaround time for test results varies based on the test and panels chosen. While most test results fall within a 72-hour window, specialty test can take up to 5 days for test results to be returned. However, a standard 5 panel test can have results in as little as 24 hours. Specimens that are tested go through an initial ELISA screening and if needed will go through a second test (GC/MS), in order to confirm the presence of metabolites in the specimen. Non-negative results can then be sent to a Medical Review Officer to verify any prescription medications before releasing the final report.