What is Hair Analysis?

Very simply, Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (or HTMA for short), is the analysis of hair tissue to determine its chemical content.

Such content may include:

  • Minerals – such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium etc.

  • Trace Elements – such as lithium, vanadium, rubidium

  • Toxic Metals including arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead

Because of the chemical make-up of human hair, it traps and stores all these elements between strands of keratin, the protein that comprises around 95% of hair tissue. Minerals become trapped within salt bonds, whilst heavy metals attach to sulphydryl (-SH) groups between adjacent cysteine molecules, that form part of the protein structures of individual keratin strands.

These constituents remain attached to the keratin for the life of that individual hair, enabling them to be analysed when a hair sample is submitted for testing. On average, human hair grows at a rate of about 1cm per month; therefore the analysis of an 3-4 cm cut sample represents what that growing hair has absorbed over the last 3-4 month period.

By contrast, fingernail samples typically represent growth over a 5-6 month period, whilst toenail samples accumulate minerals and metals over a 10-12 month time-frame. By comparing the results of both hair and nail samples, we can check whether exposure to a toxic metal has occurred recently (hair) or over a longer period (nails).

Consultation Fees & Test Costs

Why should l get my hair tested ?

For quite a number of reasons:

  1. So that l can understand more about how my body works
  2. So that l can know whether or not l have been exposed to or am accumulating various heavy metals, which might seriously affect my health
  3. So that l can find out if l am getting too much of one mineral and not enough of others

And for most people, that third reason is probably the most important.

You see, minerals either regulate or are involved with virtually every chemical process that goes on within our bodies.

Different kinds of minerals are needed to facilitate different types of chemical reactions.

For example, Chromium (Cr3+) is needed at insulin receptors, to ensure that insulin is effective at moving sugar (glucose) into cells to be used for energy production. Many diabetics, for example, are deficient in chromium that results in poorer blood glucose control. Lithium (Li+), Magnesium (Mg), Vanadium (V) and Zinc (Zn) are also required for proper glucose control.

Magnesium (Mg2+) is also essential for the normal functioning of muscle & nerve tissue (amongst many other things!). Low tissue magnesium levels may be felt as muscle cramps, or in the heart express itself as disturbances of heart rhythm (arrhythmias). Magnesium deficiency can prove fatal!

By knowing one’s mineral status, you can increase or decrease the types of foods in your diet that are rich (or poor) in particular nutrients, or alternatively take specific nutritional supplements to correct particular deficiencies. For example, a chromium deficiency is an excellent excuse to increase one’s intake of rich, dark chocolate! However, some people become so depleted that they need to take a chromium supplement as well. I therefore advocate the use of both approaches for maximal benefit, depending on each individual’s circumstances.

How much hair do l need?

Not a great deal, but sufficient for the laboratory to run the analysis, and have enough left-over for re-checking any particularly unusual results. In practice, the lab supplies us with a small envelopes which have all the instructions on them. It’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

Will any old hair do?

The simple answer is NO! Hair samples are best taken from the nape of the neck, closest to the scalp. This way, a 3-4 cm sample will give us the best & most reliable results. Pubic and axillary hair can also be used, but are not as good in terms of relating the mineral levels detected to what’s actually happening within your body. However, they are just as accurate as regards heavy metal exposure.

Do perms, coloring and bleaches affect the results?

Yes, they sure do! Therefore, if you have had your hair colored, bleached or permed within the last 4-6 months, do NOT use that hair for testing. Please use only unbleached, natural hair from close to the scalp for testing purposes. If needs be, ask your hairdresser to cover growing hair with foil, to protect it from the products he/she uses, then let it grow out and harvest that portion once it is 3-4cm in length. Furthermore, if you have ever used BLACK hair dyes, some of which may contain lead, please indicate this on the request form.

What about Shampoos and Conditioners ?

Normally, these are not a problem. However, there are two major exceptions:

  1. The use of Selsun shampoo will cause a false elevation of the selenium level
  2. The use of anti-dandruff shampoos containing zinc pyrithione or related compounds may artificially increase the hair zinc levels by up to 30-40%, and therefore affect the important Zinc: Copper ratio, as well as other ratios between zinc and other metals

Similarly, if one works in an environment that is laden with dusts or fine particulate matter, then part of the test result will reflect true occupational exposure whilst part will reflect contamination of your hair sample. If you think this might be the case, then a pubic hair sample is preferred. Alternatively, one may send an equivalent weight of fingernail or toenail cuttings in the test envelope, and mark the appropriate spot on the request form accordingly.

How long do my results take ?

On average, around 3 – 4 weeks from the date you forward the sample to the laboratory.

What does the test cost?

The Laboratory charges $120.00 for a standard hair test, providing two pages of data in the form of charts and various ratios between minerals and metals. This fee does NOT include any interpretation of the data. This is best done as part of a follow-up Consultation.

Alternatively, one may order a Hair test with an individualized written report. The cost for this service is $225.00 within Australia or $240.00 from overseas.


Some Important Questions & Answers


Q – Who performs the test?

A – The samples are analysed by Trace Elements Inc. (TEI) in Addison, Texas.

Q – How reliable are these tests?

A – Extremely reliable. Each sample is processed by a strict methodology called ICP-MS (Inductively-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry). The laboratory recently upgraded its analytical equipment to include two state-of-the-art Perkin Elmer Nexion 1000 ICP-MS systems. ICP-MS has been used worldwide by Research and Analytical Chemists for over 30 years to ascertain the chemical composition of the substances they are investigating.

Q – Can l mix hair from different body parts to make up the required quantity?

A – No. The reference ranges have been specifically calculated for scalp hair obtained from both adults and children. The reference ranges do not apply to pubic hair or nail samples; however these samples are still useful for the detection of heavy metals.

Q – Can I accumulate heavy metals that don’t show on a hair test?

A – Yes, most certainly! Firstly, the lab does not record metals such as cerium, cesium, gadolinium, gallium, gold, indium, iridium, palladium, rhodium, silver, tantalum or thorium that can be assayed by means of a urinary challenge test.

Secondly, some people either inherit or acquire Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (or SNPs for short) in their DNA that codes for heavy metal transport proteins. For example, SNPs in the gene coding for the Mercury (Hg) Transporters: MDR1 & MRP2 result in significant accumulation of mercury within body tissues, without showing much (if any) Hg in their hair reports. However, clues can invariably be found in one or more of the toxic ratios, and can be readily detected by means of a Challenge Test. In such cases, very little Hg is excreted in the first, early morning sample, but large amounts are subsequently excreted attached to the chelating agent. This is because, as the chelating agent passes through kidney tissue, it binds to any heavy metals present, and “escorts” them from the body into the urine container provided. The volume is recorded and samples of urine are then sent to the testing laboratory for analysis.

Q – I’ve heard that  Copper can cause lots of problems, just like Mercury. Can people accumulate the two together?

A – Yes. Around 30% of the Australian population accumulate excess copper, whilst around 5-10% are deficient for various reasons. Furthermore, a subset of the excess copper group also retain significant quantities of mercury, and this combination causes some serious biological disturbances. Hair copper is generally a reliable indicator of tissue copper status, with the Copper: Molybdenum ratio being especially important. However, patients with the genetic disorder Wilson’s disease may have low-normal copper levels on an hair analysis, but excrete vast quantities of copper in their urine.