Journal of Analytical Sciences, Methods and Instrumentation, 2012, 2, 187-193 Published Online December 2012 (
Analysis of Heavy Metals in Human Scalp Hair Using
Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence Technique
Peter O. Onuwa*, Lami A. Nnamonu, Ishaq S. Eneji, Rufus Sha’Ato
Department of Chemistry and Centre for Agrochemical Technology, University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria.
Email: *
Received October 6th, 2012; revised November 18th, 2012; accepted November 27th, 2012
Analysis of six heavy metals (Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn and Mo) in human scalp hair was carried out among various occupa-
tional distributions to ascertain their heavy metal burden, using energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence technique (ED-
XRF). The result of the analysis shows that mean concentrations (mg/kg) of heavy metals obtained were as follows: Cr =
17.1 ± 12.7; Mn = 3.11 ± 0.50; Ni = 11.3 ± 9.3; Zn = 451 ± 128; Cu = 83.3 ± 35.8 and Mo is 9.16 ± 9.1.While the mean
concentrations of Cr, Cu, and Mo were higher in the females, that of Mn, Ni and Zn were more in the males. Statistical
analysis of the results for both genders at 0.05 probably shows significant difference for Ni, Zn and Mo while Cr, Mn
and Cu showed no significant difference. The relationships between age, body mass, height, and heavy metal concentra-
tions were also investigated. Statistical analysis of the results indicates that there was no correlation between the body
mass (R2 0.048), height (R2 0.002) and heavy metal concentration in hair. Zn showed the highest deviation among
other elements in the individual samples for both genders which reflect the individual variation in the concentration of
Keywords: Human Hair; Heavy Metals; X-Ray Fluorescence; Risk Assessment
1. Introduction
Hair is a site of excretion for essential, nonessential and
potentially toxic elements. The amount of an element that
is irreversibly incorporated into growing hair is propor-
tional to the level of the element in other body tissues [1].
Therefore, hair analysis may provide an indirect screen-
ing test for physiological excess and deficiency of ele-
ments in the body. Clinical research indicates that hair
levels of specific elements, particularly potentially toxic
elements are highly correlated with pathological disor-
ders. For such elements, levels in hair may be more in-
dicative of body stores than the levels in blood and urine.
Comparing hair-analysis with blood- or urine-analysis
with the same purpose, a couple of factors such as sim-
plicity of matrix, relatively high concentration of trace
elements, easier sample gathering, transfer and storage
should be considered [2,3]. Previous investigation has
shown that high concentration of heavy metal in the hair
indicates that the person is contaminated by that heavy
metal. Although, blood or urine analysis may exhibit
normal concentration level even though sample is gath-
ered in the same time as hair, the analytical results for
hair analysis should be observed more carefully [4]. Hair
is not only a good index of exposure to elements because
of the partitioning, it also allows for a non-invasive bio-
logical sample collection [5].
Heavy metal contamination requires adequate attention
because of sporadic outbreak of epidemics and other en-
demic illnesses.
Although, some heavy metals were required in trace
amounts to maintain the metabolism of the human body,
especially iron that is an important component of haemo-
globin—the pigment that transports oxygen in the red
blood cells. Others such as Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn etc are essen-
tial micronutrients for life processes in plants and mi-
cro-organisms. Deadly diseases like oedema of eyelids,
tumour, and congestion of the nasal membrane, muscular,
reproductive, neurological, and genetic malfunction were
caused by some of these heavy metals [6]. Apart from
natural sources, significant amount of heavy metals in the
soil come from anthropogenic activities [7]. Research has
shown that Cr concentration may be partly attributed to
the Cr content in tobacco leaves, from the soil and this
may be more in smokers [8]. Researchers have found
many correlations of essential elements to diseases, meta-
bolic disorders, nutritional status etc. [9]. Hence, moni-
toring of heavy metals from human hair has been of in-
terest to researchers in the fields of environmental chem-
*Corresponding author.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JASMI
Analysis of Heavy Metals in Human Scalp Hair Using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence Technique
istry and medical science because the amount of heavy
metals of hair samples can reflect the nutritional state of
the person or the environment where that person resides
or works [4]. Many analytical techniques such as atomic
absorption spectrometry (AAS), inductively coupled plas-
ma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES), x-ray fluo-
rescence, neutron activation analysis (NAA) and proton-
induced x-ray emission (PIXE) have been widely used
for analysis of hair samples [4]. In this research, energy
dispersive x-ray fluorescence technique (EDXRF) was
used for analysis of six (6) heavy metals (Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu,
Zn and Mo) in human scalp hair due to its high sensitiv-
ity, low detection limit and as well as minimal loss of
analyte of interest during digestion processes in the con-
ventional method of AAS.
2. Materials and Method
2.1 Sampling
Freshly cut human scalp hair samples were collected
from 50 individuals between the ages of 7 - 55 years
(male and female) and across several occupational dis-
tributions within Makurdi town in Central Nigeria (lati-
tude 7˚44' N and longitude 8˚31' E). The samples were
quickly put in a pre-coded polythene bag, sealed tightly
and kept for pre-treatment. A questionnaire was given to
each respondent which contained a highlight of informa-
tion on gender, age, occupation, population density of re-
sidential area, type of food consumed, water source, pre-
sence of refuse dump, behavioural pattern etc. prior to
sample collection. Height and body mass of respondent
were also measured and recorded alongside sample hair
code at the time of collection.
2.2 Sample Cleaning
The hair samples collected were cut to about 200 - 250
mg by using stainless steel scissors rinsed in ethanol,
then coded and stored. The stored samples were further
cut into approximately 0.3 cm pieces and mixed to allow
a representative sub sampling. These were washed ac-
cording to the recommendation of International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) [10]: first in ethanol once, then
three times in distilled water, once again in ethanol and
followed finally in distilled water, accordingly. They
were placed in crucibles and dried in the oven at 75˚C ±
5˚C for 15 - 25 minutes. About 0.1065 g of pre-treated
hair sample was weighed using analytical balance (AB
54-S METTLER TOLEDO Model from Switzerland)
and stored in an inert plastic container of about 10 cm3
capacity, corked tightly and kept for EDXRF analysis.
3. Instrumentation and Procedure
The analysis was carried out in the XRF laboratory at the
Centre for Energy Research and Training (CERT), Zaria,
Kaduna State, Nigeria, using a Minipal 4 PW 4030/42B
x-ray fluorescence with molybdenum tube and spinner.
Minipal is a compact energy dispersive x-ray spectrome-
ter designed for the elemental analysis of a wide range of
samples. The system is controlled by a PC running the
dedicated Minipal analytical soft ware. The Minipal 4
version in use is an energy dispersive micro processor
controlled analytical instrument designed for the detec-
tion and measurement of elements in a sample (solids,
powders and liquids) from sodium to uranium. The weighed
samples for EDXRF analysis were ground in an agate
mortar and a binder (PVC dissolved in toluene) was
added to the sample, carefully mixed and pressed in a
hydraulic press into a pellet. The pellet was loaded in the
sample chamber of the spectrometer and voltage (30 kV)
and a current (1 mA) applied to produce the x-rays to
excite the sample for a preset time of 10 minutes. The
spectrum from the sample was then analysed to deter-
mine the concentration of the elements in the sample.
The Minipal 4 x-ray had an excitation system of 30 KV
maximum, a minimum and maximum current of 1 µA, 1
mA respectively with a power rating of 9 W. It is fitted
with thin film circle sample support (cup) with diameter
of 63.5 mm where the pelletised hair sample was placed.
The primary beam filters were arranged in twelve posi-
tions for optimum function across the periodic table.
Eleven beam filters were filled with hair sample while
the twelfth position the certified reference material (CRM)
hair. The XRF had silicon-lithium (Si-Li) diode detector.
The collimator, the target and the source of radiation had
close coupling to the detector which increases the versa-
tility, and high x-ray output with lower power tube [10].
Quality assurance energy calibration was first performed.
A quality control system was employed to ensure data
quality by using a certified reference human hair (GBW
09101) obtained from Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Re-
search, Academia, Sinica, Shanghai 201849, China. The
CRM was placed in the twelfth position and run concur-
rently with each running of the hair sample for individual
elemental concentration.
4. Results and Discussion
Variation of concentration of heavy metals in human hair
can be attributed to human history [11]. Hence, individ-
ual’s burden of heavy metal concentrations reflects the
extent of the person’s exposure to atmospheric pollutants,
intakes of food and metabolism. The distribution pattern
of various heavy metals among the males hair samples
investigated is shown in Figure 1 while that of female is
presented in Figure 2. The total mean concentration of
individual heavy metals in males and females hair sam-
ples is presented in Table 4, which showed that the con-
entration of Zn is comparably higher than all the other c
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JASMI
Analysis of Heavy Metals in Human Scalp Hair Using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence Technique
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JASMI
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
(e) (f)
Figure 1. Mean concentration of individual heavy metals in hair samples from males.
Analysis of Heavy Metals in Human Scalp Hair Using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence Technique
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
(e) (f)
Figure 2. Mean concentration of individual heavy metals in hair samples from females.
elements while Mn has the least. There was however an
outlier in the heavy metal concentration in sample code F
in the males’ hair sample for Cr, Ni, Zn and Cu which
were 151.2, 107.9, 1,850.1 and 460.1 (mg/kg) respec-
tively as shown in Figure 1. This might be related to the
nature of the individual’s work, which also has the long-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JASMI
Analysis of Heavy Metals in Human Scalp Hair Using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence Technique 191
est exposure time based on the completed questionnaire.
Sample AM showed higher peaks for Cr, Ni, and Cu;
samples AH was higher in concentration of Mn and Zn
while AG was higher for Mo concentration in females’
hair samples as shown in Figure 2.
The analytical process for the analysis of heavy metals
in human hair was carried out successive to the analysis
of the certified sample with each cycle of beam filter
arrangement. The adjusted value was used as a factor for
converting the concentrations of other samples analysed.
The relationships between age, body mass, height and
heavy metal concentrations were investigated. Statistical
analysis of the results indicates that there was no correla-
tion between the body mass (R2 0.048), height (R2
0.002) and heavy metal concentration in hair. However,
it is generally believed that the amount of heavy metals
in human body should correlate with age as a result of
bioaccumulation [11,12]. These toxic metals have rela-
tionship with duration of exposure (age) since their ef-
fects are cumulative [13]. Tables 1 and 2 indicate the
age distribution for concentration of heavy metals under
investigation between male and female genders. The
mean concentrations of heavy metals for the fifty sam-
ples are presented in Table 3.
Zn showed the highest concentrations (mg/kg) in both
genders between ages 7 - 20 with values of 646 ± 297
(mg/kg) and 384 ± 361 for males and females respec-
tively. While Mo has the lowest value of 2.47 ± 2.1 (mg/
kg) for males and Mn was 2.88 mg/kg for females. Table
4 shows their total distribution in which Zn has the high-
est over all concentration of 451 ± 128 mg/kg while Mn
has the over all lowest value of 3.11 mg/kg for this ana-
lysis method. Afridi et al. [14] reported values of 224.0 ±
7.07 and 214.14 ± 8.2 mg/kg for Zn between the ages 30 -
45 and 46 - 60 years respectively using flame atomic
absorption spectrometer (FAAS) to analysed scalp hair of
non hypertensive group. The value of Ni within age
range of 32 - 42 years for this work is 7.54 mg/kg. Ni
was also reported to be 6.79 mg/kg for ages 30 - 45 years
in a similar biological matrix i.e. human hair [14]. Table
4 shows heavy metal distribution (mg/kg) in 50 human
hair samples. Some elements such as Zn, Cr, Mn, Cu
and Mo are important in human nutrition. These elements
are also present in pharmaceutical products. This is be-
cause a wide variety of metals mostly transition elements
are employed as complexes or salts to act as catalysts,
therefore, any pharmaceutical excipient whose synthesis
involves the use of one or more metal catalysts may
Table 1. Age distribution and level of heavy metals in male hair samples.
Heavy Metals (mg/kg)
Range (years) Number of male Cr Mn Ni Cu Zn Mo
7 - 20 4 5.77 ± 1.1 3.27 ± 0.5 5.59 ± 2.2 50.9 ± 43.4 646 ± 297 20.3 ± 20.3
21 - 31 19 14.8 ± 21.5 3.16 ± 0.6 5.55 ± 5.4 57.6 ± 66.4 356 ± 341 8.9 ± 16.8
32 - 42 7 10.3 ± 5.7 3.16 ± 0.6 7.54 ± 5.1 85.0 ± 61.4 523 ± 579 2.47 ± 2.1
43 5 39.2 ± 63.0 2.92 ± 0.1 7.54 ± 5.1 140 ± 181 600 ± 707 3.71 ± 2.9
Table 2. Age distribution and level of he avy me tals in fe male hair sample s.
Heavy Metals (mg/kg)
Range (years) Number of female Cr Mn Ni Cu Zn Mo
7 - 20 4 5.74 ± 2.1 3.27 ± 0.7 5.52 ± 2.8 40.2 ± 18.5 384 ± 361 23.8 ± 19.9
21 - 31 10 23.8 ± 26.3 2.95 ± 0.3 9.72 ± 21.9 98.8 ± 83.7 113 ± 91 9.17 ± 7.7
32 - 42 0 - - - - - -
43 1 11.0 2.88 8.97 88.4 40.7 -
Table 3. Age distribution and level of heavy metals in the 50 hair samples.
Heavy Metals (mg/kg)
Range (years) Cr Mn Ni Cu Zn Mo
7 - 20 5.75 3.27 5.55 45.5 515 22.1
21 - 31 17.9 3.09 6.99 71.8 269 8.99
32 - 42 10.3 3.16 7.54 85.0 523 2.46
43 34.6 2.92 25.2 131 506 3.09
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JASMI
Analysis of Heavy Metals in Human Scalp Hair Using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence Technique
Table 4. Heavy metal distribution in 50 hair samples.
Heavy metals
(mg/kg) Male Female Total average
Cr 17.52 ± 14.9 13.81 ± 9.18 17.1 ± 12.7
Mn 3.13 ± 0.15 3.03 ± 0.21 3.11 ± 0.5
Ni 6.56 ± 19.14 8.07 ± 2.24 11.3 ± 9.3
Cu 83.4 ± 40.5 75.8 ± 31.3 83.3 ± 35.8
Zn 531 ± 127 179 ± 181 451 ± 128
Mo 9.26 ± 8.18 17.6 ± 8.18 9.16 ± 9.1
contain residual metal(s) in form of the original catalyst(s)
or as derivative [13]. This may accumulate in human
body when taken which may add to this metal content in
the body.
Zinc showed the highest deviation among other ele-
ments in the individual samples for both genders which
reflects the individual variation in the concentration of
Zn. Mo showed the highest coefficient of variation while
Mn indicated the least. This implies that Mn is more
closely distributed among the individual samples than Ni
and other elements discussed. The mean concentration of
heavy metals in both males and females were compared
statistically at 0.05 probability for the method used. Sig-
nificant difference was found between both genders (P >
0.05) for Ni, Zn and Mo while Cr, Mn and Cu showed no
significant difference.
There was observed variations in the concentration of
individual elements in both genders with the highest
found among the females for Mo and Ni but Cr, Mn, Cu
and Zn were more distributed in the male population.
The exposure of hair to the environment and the chemi-
cal treatment of hair for cosmetic purposes, which leads
to increase or decrease in metal concentration (external
contamination) could account for this observation [15,16].
It was also asserted that there is personal difference in
concentrations of heavy metals in the human hair ac-
cording to human life or history such as occupation, sex,
age, food, habit, social condition [11]. Individual’s de-
viation of heavy metal concentrations reflects the degree
of environmental pollutants exposure to the human body
and intakes of food. Meaning that, there is potential for
human exposure to heavy metals from drinking con-
taminated water or eating fish from contaminated water
bodies [17-19]. They are finally transferred to other ani-
mals including humans through the food chain.
5. Conclusion
Analysis of Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn and Mo in human hair
has been carried out to ascertain the accumulation of
heavy metals. The mean concentrations of heavy metals
showed that all the 50 hair samples were contaminated
with the elements investigated. The mean concentrations
of Ni and Mo were determined to be higher in the fe-
males’ samples while that of Cr, Mn, Cu, and Zn were
more in the males. Samples F showed higher values for
Cr, Ni, Zn, Cu and D for Mo respectively among male
gender while samples AM, AH and AG also showed
higher values for (Cr, Ni, Cu), (Mn, Zn) and Mo respect-
tively among female gender. These samples use the same
means of cooking i.e. fire wood and similar sources of
drinking water (well, bore hole, tap) and consume the
same class of food, which actually reflect the life history,
nutritional pattern as well as the environmental content
of the individuals. The pattern of concentration of the
heavy metals in the hair samples were in decreasing or-
der of Zn > Cu > Cr > Ni >Mo > Mn.
6. Acknowledgements
Our appreciation goes to all the people that volunteered
their hair samples for this research work without hesita-
tion. We are also grateful to Centre for Energy Research
and Training (CERT), Zaria, for opportunity given to us
to use their XRF equipment. Finally, we thank all the
anonymous reviewers for their useful comments.
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