Influence of the cosmetic treatment of hair on drug testing

Int J Legal Med. 1997;110(3):159-63. doi: 10.1007/s004140050056.


An important issue of concern for drug analysis in hair is the change in the drug concentration induced by the cosmetic treatment of hair. The products used for this treatment are strong bases and they are expected to cause hair damage. As a result drugs may be lost from the hair matrix or, under conditions of environmental contamination, be more easily incorporated into the hair matrix. We investigated the effects of cosmetic treatment in vivo by analysing hair samples selected from people who had treated their hair by bleaching or dyeing before sample collection. All of the subjects admitted a similar drug consumption during the time period for which the strands were analysed. Samples were viewed under a microscope to establish the degree of hair damage. Treated and untreated portions from each lock of hair were then selected, separated and analysed by standard detection procedures for cocaine, opiates, cannabinoids and nicotine. In all cases the drug content in hair that had undergone cosmetic treatment decreased in comparison to untreated hair. The majority of the mean differences were in the range of 40%-60% (cocaine, benzoylecgonine, codeine, 6-acetylmorphine and THC-COOH). For morphine the mean difference was higher than 60%, and two cases (THC and nicotine) differed by approx. 30%. These differences depended not only on the type of cosmetic treatment, as bleaching produced higher decreases than dyeing, but also on the degree of hair damage i.e. the more damaged the hair, the larger the differences in the concentration levels of drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Hair / drug effects
  • Hair Dyes / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychotropic Drugs / analysis*
  • Substance Abuse Detection* / legislation & jurisprudence*


  • Hair Dyes
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Psychotropic Drugs