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Hair strand testing is considered the gold standard for providing a history of drug abuse. Head hair grows at an average rate of 1 cm each month; therefore, drug use can be established over a defined period depending on the length of hair selected. Drug test results can be turned around within 3 days.

Comprehensive collection options

Hair strand samples are normally collected by a medical professional or trained sample collector. AlphaBiolabs has sample collectors that can visit any convenient address, including your home, place of work, a solicitor’s office, etc. Alternatively, clients can visit one of the 10 Walk in Centres located across the UK at a time convenient to them.

The sample of hair needs to be cut from the highest point of the scalp and needs to contain around 200 individual strands (about the width of a pencil). A trained sample collector will try to ensure that this is taken from a discrete area.

If head hair is not available alternative collection sites could be considered including chest, leg and beard hair. The growth rate of hair from these alternate sites differs from head hair and as such body hair cannot be used to determine a specific timeframe of drug use.

Types of hair strand tests

There are two types of hair strand tests available for drug analysis: overview or segmented.

An overview analysis can provide a general indication of drug use. This could range from 3 cm to identify drug use within that 3-month time period, 6 months (2 x 3 cm sections) or even 12 months (4 x 3 sections), dependent on the length of hair available. In an overview test, any episodes of drug taking are averaged out over the period being tested. For example, if an individual has not taken drugs for 2 months but then takes an excessive amount in the third month, drug markers will be found along the entire length of the hair in a 3-month overview test.

The episode of drug taking can be pinpointed to the actual month using the more detailed segmented analysis. In a 6-month segmented analysis, for example, hair samples can be sectioned into six segments of 1 cm to provide six individual monthly analyses. Segmented analysis is therefore especially useful if you need to obtain a trend in drug use, such as to see a decrease or increase, or to highlight intermittent use.

More information on hair drug testing can be read on our Learning Centre.

Hair alcohol testing

A history of alcohol consumption can also be achieved by looking at two metabolites of ethanol in head hair: ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs). These biomarkers are incorporated into the hair via sweat (EtG) or sebum (FAEEs). Depending on the length of hair, 3- or 6-month analyses can be performed. Some types of body hair can also be tested to give an overview of up to 12 months, although this test only measures EtG. AlphaBiolabs can provide hair drug testing to members of the public, employers, family law firms, courts and local authorities. Please click here for information on our Workplace Drug Testing, Legal Drug Testing and legal alcohol testing services. For expert advice on hair testing and other drug testing solutions, please call 0333 600 1300 or email us at