How Does a Hair Follicle Drug Test Work?

Hair Follicle Drug Testing Frequently Asked Questions

How Does a Hair Follicle Drug Test Work?

So, your boss asked you to get a hair test. Or maybe your ex. Or your parent. Or your future employer. You have heard all kinds of rumors about what this test can detect and how far back it can go in those detections.

But what is true? And what is false? Let’s take a few moments to dispel the rumors, the myths, and clear up any confusion surrounding drug hair follicle testing, and while we’re at it, we’ll explain the truths too.

How long do drugs stay in your hair?

Hair follicles grow at a rate of approximately half an inch per month. In theory, if your hair was 18 inches long, and you tested the far ends of the strands, then you could find drugs consumed more than three years ago.

Hair drug testing goes back much, much longer than urine drug testing. When you ingest drugs, it goes into the hair follicle, and then into the strands themselves, where they stay, pretty much forever.

How far back can the hair follicle test go to detect drug use?

The hair follicle drug test, when using the standard 1.5 inches of hair, can detect previous drug use up to 3 months. If a longer piece of hair is selected, the drug test results can go back much further (in fact, years further) to detect drug use.

How long does the hair need to be for a hair follicle drug test?

There is only one standard for this test, which is 1.5 inches of hair, cut from the root. The non-root end is discarded. We recommend that you watch the technician perform the test and ask them to cut off and discard the length beyond the first 1.5 inches. This request ensures that the 1.5 inches equate to approximately three months of history.

What drugs can be detected in a hair drug test?

A hair drug test can detect the presence of virtually any drug or alcohol substance. Until recently, there were only a few drugs that could be tested through the hair, but the list is growing. Below is the expanding list of drugs that can be tested via hair follicle:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana (THC, cannabinoids)
  • Amphetamines (including methamphetamines)
  • Basic Opiates (heroin, morphine, codeine)
  • Expanded Opiates (hydrocodone, oxycodone)
  • PCP (Angel Dust)
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax)
  • Methadone
  • Barbiturates
  • Propoxyphene
  • Demerol
  • Tramadol
  • Fentanyl
  • Sufentanil
  • Synthetic Marijuana
  • Ketamine
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Alcohol

Can you test for different drugs at one time?

Yes. There are more than one dozen different Hair Testing Panels. A panel is the medical term for the type of drug screening. Think of the word panel as a package or a combination. Drug panels give you (or the person requesting the drug test) the option to include alcohol in the test, expanded opiates, synthetic drugs, Benzodiazepines, and more.

A few of the most commonly requested hair follicle drug testing panels include:

Can body hair be used for the hair follicle test?

We can test underarm, leg, or chest hair. Occasionally, beard hair can be used as well. And, no, we cannot get the hair from any other place on your body other than those previously mentioned!

Does body hair hold drug residue longer than head hair?

There is much debate about the pace at which body hair grows. Many people are concerned that an inch and a half of body hair will retain drug residue for a much longer period if the body hair grows much slower than the head hair.

The reality is that body hair and head hair grow at the same rate. The difference is that body hair tends to stop growing at a shorter maximum length. In both head and body, new hair replaces dormant strands and pushes them out.

Think about how you naturally shed hair. Shedding happens because a new hair pushed out the old one, which stopped growing and became dormant. When a hair is dormant (i.e., not growing), no new drug deposits can get into it.

It can stay there 1 to 4 months, so in theory, head OR body hair can reveal drugs that go back further than 90 days, depending on the person.

However, only 10 to 15 percent of your strands are in this dormant phase, so the risk is minimal.

On the other hand, there are many anecdotes (and a few labs) that report that body hair can pick up drugs for up to 12 months. Although there are no scientific studies that have shown this conclusively, you’d be wise to consider it when thinking about how to interpret the results.

The bottom line is: the 90-day mark is an educated estimate, but there is no calendar in your hair. Accordingly, a positive result doesn’t indicate the dates that the drugs were used. In conclusion, your hair retains your drug use history, but not in the same way that, say, an internet browser retains your search history.

What if I have no head or body hair?

Sometimes Health Street gets calls from people who want a hair drug test, but they have no head or body hair. A guy recently told us, “I shave from head to toe.” Well, how did he think we were going to perform the test? We are still trying to figure that one out! The bottom line: no hair means you can’t get a hair drug test.

Does the hair follicle drug test work if I’m an infrequent user?

Yes, the hair follicle drug test works regardless of how often one uses drugs. The frequency of drug use does not impact test results. It is the period in which the user used drugs that determines the outcome of the hair follicle drug test. Whether a person used once or 50 times in a three month period, the hair follicle drug test will indicate that drug use.

Can I “cleanse” my hair of drugs so I will pass the hair follicle drug test?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no way to cleanse your hair of any drug substance. Drugs enter your bloodstream and thus, become embedded in your hair, and it stays there until that hair is removed from your body.

Can secondhand smoke make me fail a hair follicle drug test?

No. While secondhand smoke is inhaled, there is not enough of the substance that causes the “high” (THC) in secondhand smoke to cause you to fail a drug test. This “passive exposure” will not impact your hair follicle drug test results.

Is hair follicle testing accurate?

Yes, hair follicle testing, is, indeed, accurate. In fact, it is more accurate today than it ever has been.


Hair Follicle Drug Testing: Everything You Need to Know

How Does a Hair Follicle Drug Test Work?

By:Ashlee Arnold

Hair follicle testing has proven to be one of the most effective ways to ensure the safety and security of employees and employers.

While it's a slightly newer development in the drug testing industry, the reliability and thoroughness of hair follicle testing make it the preferred option for detecting substances — alcohol and drugs — for employee services, DOT services, and other court-ordered requirements child custody, DUI, and probation.

But what exactly is hair follicle testing? And why should employers choose hair follicle drug testing over the other common testing methods? Let's dive into all the details.

Hair Follicle Drug Testing: What is it?

A hair follicle is a structure below the scalp that contains protein cells and connective tissues from which the hair strand grows. A hair test entails cutting about 90 to 120 strands of hair from the crown of the head at a length of a minimum of two inches. This is taken as close as possible to the scalp, so only the strands and not the hair follicle itself are tested.

For donors with little to no hair, hair from the arms and legs may be used as samples, if deemed appropriate for the test.

How Does a Hair Follicle Test Work?

After the hair strands have been obtained, the collector aligns the samples and follows a specific documentation process to prepare to send the shipment to a testing laboratory. The samples are taken under the direct supervision of the collector, so this nearly eliminates the opportunity to alter or substitute any specimen.

A hair follicle test is a quick, non-invasive drug test that's almost impossible to cheat. Humans have millions of hair follicles, each with blood vessels that drive the growth of hair strands. When someone uses drugs, traces of these substances get absorbed or metabolized in their bloodstream and carried into the hair follicle.

That's why even though there are numerous myths about how to beat the hair follicle test – shaving your head and using special hair products to cleanse the hair follicles – they still won't take away the drug metabolites from within the hair strand.

Hair Follicle vs Urine Drug Testing

Hair follicle testing offers a number of benefits over more common methods, urine drug testing. As such, it has become more popular among employers who want to establish and maintain a drug-free workplace program.

Here are just a few of the benefits of hair follicle testing.

Better Detection Time Frame

Un urine drug testing, which will screen for substances consumed up to three to five days prior, hair follicle tests can detect drug use and metabolites for up to 90 days prior, depending on the length of the hair sample.

This means that compared to urine drug testing, employers can get more accurate data with hair follicle testing if the applicant or employee has been using drugs on a long-term or repeated basis.

More Accurate Specimen

As we mentioned, hair follicle testing is nearly impossible to prepare for or cheat. The test searches for drug traces within the hair shaft, so chemicals and external products will have no impact on the results.

This means even if the tester dyes, treats, or washes their hair using special products, it will not affect the test results. The same goes for cutting your hair or shaving your head, as samples can be taken from your arms or legs.

As mentioned, the specimen is taken under the direct observation of the collector.

Un urine drug testing, it's impossible to substitute or alter a hair sample during the entire collection process with the official on-site all throughout the process.

Although it's possible to take a sample from a hairbrush, this will be considered an «anonymous donor» and not legally defensible, so a direct sample is needed.

It Detects Other Substances, Too

Beyond illicit drugs, hair follicle tests can pick up on alcohol, using EtG testing. wise, it detects other substances, THC in marijuana.

As an employer, having a hair follicle test for your workers can save you valuable time and resources, as a number of substances may come up from one test.

Urine testing has been the most common drug testing used by employers (and for legal purposes) because it's accessible and affordable. And more recently, hair follicle testing has been quickly catching on. It has provided employers with an option that has a longer detection window, is more accurate and harder to cheat, and is still non-invasive.

Plus, it allows employers to detect other illicit substances and get a better look at a person's history of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

Employee drug testing has a lot of moving parts that can make it confusing and overwhelming. That's why US Drug Test Centers is here to help streamline the process for you.

We offer numerous hair testing panels depending on your needs. We also have a wide range of drug testing options – testing new hires, random testing, reasonable suspicion testing, and numerous drug test panels. We can help you develop a solid drug-free workplace policy and offer employee education, supervisor training, and employee assistance testing.

With more than 20,000 locations nationwide, user-friendly software, and proven industry expertise, we make drug testing easy and convenient for you. If you're interested in hair follicle drug testing, other drug testing services, or customized drug test panels, US Drug Test Centers can cater to your specific needs.

Contact us today to learn more or order your drug test online.


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