(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 individuals.

In 1974, the American Medical Association on Cutaneous Health and Cosmetics noted:

"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. p.1041-1045.

Fenner, Louise. Hair Analysis: may just as well be bald. FDA Consumer, April 1983.

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.