Cheating on forensic hair testing? Detection of potential biomarkers for cosmetically altered hair samples using untargeted hair metabolomics†
Hair analysis has become an integral part in forensic toxicological laboratories for e.g. assessment of drug or alcohol abstinence. However, hair samples can be manipulated by cosmetic treatments, altering drug concentrations which eventually leads to false negative hair test results. In particular oxidative bleaching of hair samples under alkaline conditions significantly affects incorporated drug concentrations. To date, current techniques to detect cosmetic hair adulterations bear limitations such as the implementation of cut-off values or the requirement of specialized instrumentations. As a new approach, untargeted hair metabolomics analysis was applied to detect altered, endogenous biomolecules that could be used as biomarkers for oxidative cosmetic hair treatments. For this, genuine hair samples were treated in vitro with 9% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for 30 minutes. Untreated and treated hair samples were analyzed using liquid-chromatography high-resolution time-of-flight mass spectrometry. In total, 69 metabolites could be identified as significantly altered after hair bleaching. The majority of metabolites decreased after bleaching, yet totally degraded metabolites were most promising as suitable biomarkers. The formation of biomarker ratios of metabolites decreasing and increasing in concentrations improved the discrimination of untreated and treated hair samples. With the results of this study, the high variety of identified biomarkers now offers the possibility to include single biomarkers or biomarker selections into routine screening methods for improved data interpretation of hair test results.