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 like child custody, DUI, and probation.
But what exactly is the difference between hair tests and hair follicle tests? And why should employers choose hair follicle drug testing over the other common testing methods? Let's dive into all the details.
Hair Follicle vs Hair Drug Test
A hair follicle is a structure below the scalp that contains protein cells and connective tissues from which the hair strand grows. In a hair follicle test, the collector would need to pluck the hair from the scalp to get the sample with the follicle. Typically, the testing only needs 1.5 inches of hair to render the results.
For donors with little to no hair, hair from the arms and legs may be used as samples, if deemed appropriate for the test.
On the other hand, 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.
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 – like 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, like 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
Unlike 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. Unlike 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. Likewise, it detects other substances, like the 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 – like 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.