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Drug and alcohol nail testing: an overview

By Angharad John, Reporting Scientist Team Manager


There are many forms of drug testing available, including blood, saliva, urine and hair. However, blood, saliva and urine have a very small window of detection, usually only a few days. As such, when testing is needed to evidence historical drug use hair testing is considered the test of choice. This is because hair testing can go back many months.

However, in some cases a donor may not have any hair, or a donor may be apprehensive about having a hair sample collected and may therefore decline permission to provide such a sample. In cases such as these nail testing can be helpful.

What is it?

Nail is a keratinous matrix like hair, and much the same way as drugs can be incorporated into hair following drug use, they can also be incorporated into nails. As such, a nail drug test can also be used to test for evidence of historic drug use.

As with all forms of drug testing, there are some considerations; firstly, nail testing can only provide an overview analysis (6 months for finger nails and 12 -18 months for toe nails) and cannot be broken down into monthly sections; secondly, as only one alcohol marker is tested in nails*, it is always recommended that blood testing such as phosphatidylethanol (PEth) is also undertaken when alcohol testing is required.

Dependable results?

However, there are also many positives; the testing is undertaken in the same way as with hair, providing accurate, dependable results. In addition, Lextox are able to undertake testing on both fingernails and toenails and can undertake testing for the same range of drugs as we offer for hair. In addition, Lextox also provide alcohol nail testing for evidence of alcohol consumption. Furthermore, the collection of nails is not invasive, and the donor is able to clip their own nails for collection under the guidance of a Lextox collector. Nail alcohol testing and nail drug testing is therefore a useful alternative to hair testing when testing for historical use is required and hair testing is not an option.

If you require nail testing or would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact our customer support team.

*When utilising nail test for alcohol, nails are not tested for the alcohol marker EtPa as this can be elevated in nails when products containing alcohol (ethanol), such as hand creams and hand sanitisers, are used on the hands.

Published 30/11/23 – All information correct at time of publication