Of the 770,000 hairdressers and cosmetologists there are across the nation, 35% of them are self-employed. According to a recent study, this may be a good thing considering that the hair they work on may come back to haunt them, especially if they are African-American.
It all has to do with drug testing. Quest Diagnostics reported in September that the amount of workforce drug use has reached an all-time high, a conclusion they came to by analyzing more than 10.5 million drug tests performed nationwide. While most of those exams tested urine or saliva, 200,000 were performed on hair and this sector showed the greatest increase of all the tests.
Problem is, African American hair has been discovered to be a less-than-reliable form of drug testing. Not only that, but the federal government does not currently recognize hair as a reliable sample in federally regulated programs. Nevertheless, employers still continue to use this method.
Hair drug testing requires about 120 strands of straight hair, or a cotton ball sized amount of curly hair. Once it is washed, the hair is dissolved in solvents that produce a liquid, which is then analyzed using gas chromatography to find if any drug metabolites are present. Employers prefer this method because drugs can remain detectable in hair within 90 days of digesting.
However, there are plenty of problems with this technique. First off, the hair test cannot determine the difference between digested drugs or environmental exposure. This means that those who are around others who consume smoked drugs — such as marijuana, crystal meth, and cocaine — are at risk.
Secondly, different hair types hold onto drugs differently because of the darkness of their hair. Those with a higher amount of melanin, most notably African Americans, are at a higher risk of holding onto the drug, which could potentially skew results.
In one experimental study, those with darker hair had between two and 12 times as much cocaine in their hair than their Caucasian counterparts, even though all participants were given the same levels of the drug.
Additionally, African American hair tends to be more damageable, which allows drugs in the environment to penetrate easily.
Cases of hair discrimination have even reached the Federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit last month. It is currently awaiting a ruling.