(Investigator 170, 2016 September)
Commercial hair analysis is (as distinct from forensic analysis)
according to advertisements in popular health magazines, a diagnostic
aid for detecting "heavy metal accumulations in your body" or an
improper "nutritional balance of essential minerals".
Analyses by the testing laboratories usually result in a detailed
report of abnormal conditions, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Supplement recommendations available from the laboratories to correct
these "imbalances" are also offered for purchase.
Although hair analysis has a limited value as a screening device for
heavy metal exposure, science-based health practitioners do not
consider it reliable for evaluating the nutritional status of
In 1974, the American Medical Association on Cutaneous Health and
"The state of health of
the body may be entirely unrelated to the physical and chemical
condition of the hair. Although severe deficiency states of an
essential element are often associated with low concentrations of the
element in hair, there is no data that indicates that low
concentrations of an element signify low tissue levels nor that high
concentrations reflect high tissue stores. Therefore hair metal levels
would rarely help a physician select effective treatment".
Other problems noted with hair analysis interpretation include the
effect on hair mineral content by exposure to everyday substances such
as cosmetic toiletries. Age, gender, season and environment can also
have an effect.
Because the hair grows slowly, even hair close to the scalp may not
reflect current body conditions for the purposes of health diagnosis.
For most elements, no correlation has been established between hair
level and other known indicators of nutritional status. It is possible
to have a concentration of an element in the hair even though it may be
deficient in the body.
In a study by Dr. Stephen Barrett, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association
(1985), hair samples from two healthy teenagers were sent under assumed
names to 13 commercial laboratories performing multi-mineral hair
analysis. The reported levels of most minerals varied considerably
between identical samples sent to the same laboratory and from
laboratory to laboratory. The laboratories disagreed about what was
"normal" or "usual" for many of the minerals. Most reports contained
computerised interpretations that were voluminous, bizarre, and
potentially frightening to patients. Six laboratories recommended food
supplements, but the types and amounts varied widely from report to
report and from laboratory to laboratory. Literature from most of the
laboratories suggested that their reports were useful in managing a
wide variety of diseases and supposed nutrient imbalances.
Dr. Barrett concluded that the commercial use of hair analysis in this
manner is unscientific, economically wasteful, and probably illegal.
ACSH News and Views. Hair
analysis: useful diagnostics tool or waste of money? March, 1982.
Barrett, Dr. Stephen. Commercial Hair Analysis: Science or Scam? JAMA, 1985, Vol. 254, No.8.
Fenner, Louise. Hair Analysis: may just as well be bald. FDA Consumer, April 1983.
H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing,
Australian Skeptics Inc.