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Can you do a paternity test with hair?

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

By Casey Randall, Head of Genetics at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 21/02/2024

As a leading provider of paternity testing for members of the public, we are often asked whether paternity DNA testing can be performed with alternative samples, rather than with cheek swabs.

In this article, we discuss paternity testing with hair, whether it is possible to establish paternity using a hair sample, and why DNA testing using cheek (buccal) swabs remains the industry standard for at-home DNA relationship testing.

What is a paternity test?

Paternity testing is the scientific method used to determine a child’s biological father.

Using DNA profiling, paternity tests compare the child’s DNA with that of the alleged father to assess the likelihood of a biological relationship.

Paternity testing is usually performed using cheek (buccal) swabs. These swabs are used to collect cheek cell DNA from the alleged father(s) and the child.

These samples can then be analysed and compared in the laboratory to identify matching DNA markers (loci) in the DNA samples. When testing the biological father, both the man and the child will share DNA at every tested marker, confirming a biological relationship. If the tested man is not the biological father, this will not be the case.

How does paternity testing with hair work?

Traditionally, DNA for paternity tests is collected via cheek (buccal) swabs. This is the method used to perform an AlphaBiolabs paternity test. However, it is scientifically possible to use alternative methods, such as hair testing, to establish paternity.

While not as conventional as cheek swab tests, hair paternity testing can be used when it is not possible to collect cheek swab samples for analysis.

A paternity test with hair can be performed by extracting DNA from the hair samples. The hair must contain the root, as this is where the DNA is present.

The testing process involves isolating and analysing the DNA found in the hair roots of the alleged father and comparing it with those of the child.

This type of test is not offered by AlphaBiolabs, as cheek swab DNA testing remains the industry standard, and the best sample type to obtain a high-quality DNA profile for testing for paternity.

Why are cheek swabs better than hair for paternity testing?

Cheek swab DNA testing is the preferred method for DNA relationship tests, including paternity tests. It is also the method we use for paternity testing here at AlphaBiolabs. ­­­­

There are many advantages to using cheek swabs instead of hair samples for paternity testing, including:

More reliability

Cheek swabs are renowned for their ability to yield high-quality DNA profiles, providing greater assurance when comparing the DNA profiles of sample donors. 

This is essential for paternity testing, where the results can have a profound impact on families.

Simplicity and ease of collection

One of the biggest advantages of collecting DNA samples usin­­­g cheek swabs, is the ease of sample collection.

The non-invasive nature of cheek swabbing makes it a quick, easy, and pain-free process. This means that paternity testing can be performed on anyone of any age using cheek swabs: from newborn babies and children to adults.

Lower risk of contamination

Because cheek cells are contained within the mouth, there is a much lower risk of cheek cell DNA degrading or becoming contaminated.

With hair, it is much easier for the sample to become compromised by external factors such as air pollution, environmental factors, or hair treatments, making it more difficult to obtain a usable DNA profile.

This makes cheek cell DNA a much more accurate and reliable form of DNA for testing.

Cost-effectiveness

Paternity testing using cheek (buccal) swabs is much more affordable than paternity testing using hair. This is because the process of extracting DNA from cheek cells is much simpler than extracting DNA from the hair root.

This affordability means that DNA testing is now much more accessible than ever before. In fact, the popularity of at-home DNA tests has risen significantly in recent years, driven by increased demand, and ease of use of home testing kits – like those offered by AlphaBiolabs.

Rapid results

Speed is essential for paternity testing, especially for legal cases where the results of the test are likely to impact the outcome of a case, or where a member of the public simply wants a quick answer to their questions.

The process of extracting and analysing DNA from cheek swabs is well-established and streamlined across the at-home DNA testing industry. This makes it possible to process samples much faster for rapid results.

AlphaBiolabs is proud to offer the fastest, most accurate DNA paternity test available for members of the public.

Once the DNA samples arrive at our laboratory, testing can begin. Secure results are then provided within 2-3 days.

Widely accepted and standardised

Cheek swab DNA testing is the industry standard and widely accepted in both legal and personal circumstances.

This widespread acceptance is backed by a long history of use and trust in its accuracy and reliability, making it the go-to method for paternity testing in most instances, including child maintenance and custody disputes, and immigration cases.

For example, AlphaBiolabs’ legal DNA test results are court-approved and accepted by Family Court and specialist immigration solicitors.

Members of the public also use the results of our legally-instructed DNA tests for child maintenance and custody disputes, child welfare cases, inheritance disputes, immigration cases (supporting citizenship or naturalisation applications and appeals), and probate.

Comprehensive DNA profile

Cheek swabs provide a more comprehensive DNA profile than hair samples.

This thorough profiling is crucial in paternity testing, as it allows for a more detailed comparison between the alleged father and child, ensuring that the results are as conclusive as possible.

An AlphaBiolabs DNA Paternity Test can analyse up to 45 DNA markers (loci) in a cheek swab sample, making it the most powerful DNA relationship test available.

What are the challenges of paternity testing with hair?

Although it is possible for some laboratories to analyse hair samples to establish paternity, this method is much more challenging and far less reliable than using cheek swab samples for DNA testing.

Challenges of paternity testing with hair include:

Extracting DNA from the hair root

For a hair paternity test to be effective, the hair sample must contain the root, where the DNA is present.

However, hair roots are only present when hair has been plucked from the scalp. This means that hair on a hairbrush or hair that has been shed or fallen out naturally, will not contain a root.

Hair strands without roots are inadequate for testing, which can pose a challenge in sample collection and can lead to inconclusive results.

Sample contamination

Hair samples are more prone to environmental contamination and degradation compared to cheek swabs. Exposure to chemicals, hair treatments, and environmental factors can compromise the integrity of the DNA in the hair, potentially leading to difficulty in obtaining a DNA profile from the sample, meaning it is not possible to generate results.

Cost

Paternity testing with hair is often more expensive than cheek (buccal) swab DNA testing. This is because extracting DNA from hair follicles is a more complicated process, as there is much less DNA available than in a buccal (cheek) swab sample.

This makes DNA testing with cheek swab DNA samples much more cost-effective, making DNA testing more accessible for the public.

Lower accuracy and reliability

While hair paternity tests can provide accurate results, they are generally considered less reliable than cheek swab tests.

The quality of DNA obtained from hair can vary significantly, and the potential for contamination caused by hair treatments and other environmental factors further impacts the ability to produce a reliable DNA profile.  

This means that DNA profiles from hair samples are likely to be of a much lower quality than a cheek swab sample.

Cheek swabs consistently yield a high-quality DNA sample, for a much more accurate and conclusive result.

Limited DNA quantity

Biological samples such as cheek cells or blood often contain more DNA than hair samples.

The limited quantity of DNA in hair samples can impact analysis in the laboratory, sometimes requiring multiple hair samples or the need to retest. This delays the testing process significantly and can impact the speed and reliability of the test results.

Overall, cheek swab DNA testing is a much more accessible, affordable, and reliable form of DNA testing for members of the public looking for answers to their questions regarding paternity. It is also trusted by family law professionals and social workers who rely on DNA testing for child maintenance, custody disputes, immigration cases and other legal matters.

Where can I get a paternity test?

AlphaBiolabs excels in offering fast, accurate, and reliable paternity testing using cheek (buccal) swabs – the go-to method for relationship DNA testing, industry-wide.

Our DNA Paternity Test is the fastest and most popular DNA paternity test in Ireland, analysing up to 45 DNA markers for a 100% accurate result.

You can order an AlphaBiolabs Paternity Test online now, direct from our ISO 17025-accredited laboratory, to receive results in 2-3 days.

Got questions about our paternity testing? Call our friendly and discreet Customer Services team on 01 402 9466 or email info@alphabiolabs.ie to discuss your requirements.

Order your home paternity test

Buy an AlphaBiolabs home DNA Paternity Test now from just €135.

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

Casey Randall

Head of Genetics at AlphaBiolabs

Casey joined the AlphaBiolabs team in 2012 and heads up the DNA laboratory.

An expert in DNA analysis and a member of the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG), Casey holds an MSc with Distinction in DNA Profiling and a First-Class BSc with Honours in Forensic Science.

Casey is responsible for maintaining the highest quality testing standards, as well as looking for ways to further enhance the service that AlphaBiolabs provides and exploring new and innovative techniques in DNA analysis.

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