Hair Analysis

Background information

Forensic analysts are often asked to compare hair found at a crime scene with hair from a particular individual. The examiner compares a variety of factors, including color, coarseness, granule distribution, hair diameter and the presence or absence of a medulla.

Each hair grows out of a tiny pocket in the skin called a follicle. The base of the hair--the part attached to the follicle--is called the root hair. A strand of hair has three layers: cuticle, cortex and medulla. The cuticle is the outer covering. It consists of tough overlapping scales that point toward the tip end. The cortex contains pigment granules. These give hair its color. The color, shape, and distribution of the granules provide important points of comparison between the hair of different individuals. Generally, African American hair is curly and contains unevenly distributed pigment granules. Caucasian hair is usually straight or wavy, with more evenly distributed pigment granules. The medulla is a hollow tube that runs the length of the hair. Sometimes it is present, sometimes not. Sometimes the canal is continuous, while in other cases it is fragmented. For example, except for the Asian race, human head hairs usually have fragmented medullae or no medullae at all. Among Asians, head hair generally have continuous medullae. Sometimes the hair found at a crime scene is from an animal. This too may be helpful, for it is possible to identify the species. Different species have different scale patterns on the cuticle of the hair. Animal hair has a characteristically thicker medulla and cuticle than in a human, since their hair is their means of warmth.

Procedure: Case 96-3337

  1. Obtain labeled bags of hair (Exhibits A, B, C, X)
    Sign on the label that you handled the bag.

  2. Examine the strands under a microscope. Look for medulla, cuticle and scales. Look for distribution of pigment granules.

  3. Make drawings and record observations on your data sheet.
    Determine if the hair is human or animal.
    Determine if the hairs at the crime scene are from the victim or from one of the suspects.

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