Impact of hair type, hair sample weight, external hair exposures, and race on cumulative hair cortisol

Shannin N. Moody, Lotte van Dammen, Wen Wang, Kimberly A. Greder, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, Patience A. Afulani, Auriel Willette, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The biomarker cortisol assesses the impact of biopsychosocial stressors that activate the stress response system. Hair has emerged as a valid and non-invasive means of gauging cumulative cortisol deposited over month-long periods of time. Established protocols for the extraction of hair cortisol are being validated and refined in humans, yet methodological information about hair characteristics on cortisol remains limited. In addition to external hair exposures (e.g. dye, time spent outside), we examined hair categorization or type (e.g. kinky, straight) by extending a hair typing methodology for scientific use that is currently popular among hair care professionals. We then examined the interaction between hair type and race on cortisol levels with a hair questionnaire. Three studies were pooled to investigate how sample weight, hair type, race, heat exposures, and hair treatments impacted cumulative hair cortisol concentrations. Study 1 consisted of Adult Kenyan Medical Workers (N = 44); Study 2 Mexican and Mexican Americans (N = 106); and Study 3 American Youth (N = 107). We found significantly higher cortisol in 5 mg of hair when compared to larger sample weights, and higher cortisol in those who spent more time outdoors. Cortisol concentrations differed between racial groups and varied by hair type; moreover, there were directional differences in cumulative cortisol from straighter to curlier hair types which depended on racial group. In addition to demonstrating the impact of relatively novel control factors like hair sample weight, outdoor exposure, and hair type, the present study illustrates the importance of disentangling hair type and race to understand variability in cumulative hair cortisol. These influences should be included in future studies that measure hair cortisol.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105805
StatePublished - Aug 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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