What Kind of Sample Do You Need: The Efficacy of Paternity Test with Hair vs Cheek Swab

What Kind of Sample Do You Need: The Efficacy of Paternity Test with Hair vs Cheek Swab

  • Chris Powell

Need to know who the father is? You’re not the only one.

Each year almost 300,000 paternity tests take place in the United States. The tests determine if a man is or isn’t a child’s biological father. 

The reasons for paternity tests are as unique as the people who need them. People want answers for medical history, custody, child support, and inheritance issues. Not to mention peace of mind.

If the potential father is available, paternity testing is easy. Most samples come from a cheek swab or blood draw. The test takes place at home, in a doctor’s office or in a professional testing center.

But what if dad isn’t around for a direct test? In some cases, the person is dead, lost or unavailable. Does that make the test impossible?

Keep reading to learn how to get a paternity test with hair when someone isn’t available for other methods. 

DNA Samples for a Paternity Test

You may think one source of DNA is better than another for a paternity test. The truth is, DNA in a person’s saliva, blood, hair, and skin are all the same.

A good hair sample is equal to a cheek swab or blood sample for DNA testing. There’s no benefit to a blood test over a forensic sample for paternity tests.  The key with hair is the root or hair follicle of the hair is needed.  Cut hair will not work! 

Some testing centers prefer buccal swabs (cheek swabs). It's easy to collect and gives consistent results. When cheek swabs are not possible, hair samples work for a paternity test.

Buccal swabs use cells from the inside of the cheek and some saliva to extract DNA. Swabbing the cheek is simple.

Buccal paternity test results are 100% accurate when done according to directions. The most important thing is to let the swab dry in the open air to prevent mold.

When it isn’t possible to provide a buccal swab sample, you can extract DNA from elsewhere on the body. That’s why all those law enforcement agents on TV dramas search for hair on bed pillows.

If saliva isn’t available hair samples work for a paternity test. It’s also possible to perform a DNA test on non-standard samples. These samples include cigarette butts, fingernails, ear wax, and hair among others.

A Paternity Test with Hair

If a mouth swab or blood test isn’t possible, use a hair sample for the paternity test. The hair follicle must include the root.

The root of the hair holds enough DNA to identify a person. The stem of the hair doesn’t have enough DNA material to do the job. Examine hairs for roots before sending them to a lab for analysis.

Hair is sturdy and holds up over time. People lose at least 50 hairs every day. That’s the same amount that makes a good sample for a DNA test.

A close look at hair reveals a shaft and a root. The root is the small bump at the end of the hair where it enters the skin. The root holds the same DNA as a cheek or blood cell.

Hair from a brush works if there's a root attached. Hair found on clothes, bedding or a hairbrush often has a visible root. Hair removed in the recent past is best.

Cut or shaven hair isn’t helpful because it doesn’t include the root.

Getting a DNA profile or extraction from a good hair sample with roots has a 75-80% success rate.

Does DNA Testing Work on Older Hair?

What if the hair you want to test is several years old? The hair rod won’t degrade over time, but the follicles may.

Hair is solid protein. The follicles are weaker and are often degraded by mold. If the hair sample stays in high humidity it’s DNA can last for many years.

Labs can test hair that is very old. But, the success rate for DNA extraction may fall. If the DNA extraction test is successful, you can use the hair to test for a DNA comparison.

How Much Hair Do You Need for a Paternity Test?

The ideal sample has 5 to 10 hair bulbs. This provides enough material to extract DNA. Don’t contaminate the hair roots with your own DNA by touching them with your fingers.

Submit the hair in a paper envelope. A plastic bag is okay if you are positive the bag and hairs are dry.

Expect a charge for DNA extraction on top of the paternity testing fee.

Family Relationship Testing

In some cases, the only option to establish paternity is to test other family members.

It’s possible to establish a paternal relationship by testing relatives. Potential testing candidates include parents, other children, and siblings.

This type of testing isn’t as accurate as traditional father-child testing, but it works. If there are many relatives to test it increases the degree of accuracy. For example, testing both parents and several siblings produces the best results.

How to Proceed with a Paternity Test

You have options when you decide to have a paternity test.

You can ask a primary care doctor, specialist, or nurse practitioner to order it. Or, you can take the test at home in private.

Other options include a non-invasive prenatal DNA paternity test. The test requires a small blood draw from the mothers arm and buccal swab for the alleged father. There is absolutely no risk to the baby. A successful test is possible as early as 9 weeks into the pregnancy, providing an early and reliable result.

A paternity test after the baby is born reveals if someone is or isn’t the biological father. The collection kit includes buccal swabs for the mother, child, and alleged father. The results are 100% certain.

Next Steps for Your Paternity Test

If you use a paternity test with hair or another method, make sure everyone understands it.

It’s important that everyone knows the potential consequences of the test results.

DNA testing in real life is more complicated than it is on TV. The samples must have enough DNA on it to provide accurate results. 

If you have questions about prenatal paternity tests or post-baby tests, contact us. We're ready to support you with fast, accurate results that give you peace of mind.