Smoking and Toxic Metals: Accumulation in Hair Follicles

Accumulation in Hair Follicles


Smoking is a source of exposure to toxic heavy metals - and such exposures have many health implications to many cell types including hair follicles.

Metals have both an essential role in the body but can also be toxic. For example, iton plays a key role in many metabolic functions. Cobalt is the key metal in vitamin B12 molecules. Without certain metals, humans can not survive.

Toxic metals are metals that have the ability to accumulate in the body and affect a variety of normal functions. A variety of metals are studied with regard to effects on the human body. These include mercury, cadmium, lead and silver.

The effect of smoking on how heavy metals accumulate in the body has been studied for many years. Most studies focus on measuring the levels of these toxic metals in hair follicles. Generally speaking the level of these metals in hair follicles provides a surrogate measure of how the metal might be accumulating inside the body. One should not forget that these results also provide us with valuable information about how hair follicles themselves are affected by smoking.

A recent study by Zhu an colleagues in adults showed a positive correlation between nicotine and conitine (a metabolite of nicotine) and levels of mercury, cadmium, lead and silver in hair.

A recent study in 822 children by Li and colleagues showed that second hand smoke was associated with increase levels of cadmium and lead in their hair which correlates with the accumulation of these metals in the body.


There is little doubt that smoking is associated with an accumulation of certain toxic metals in both hair follicles as well as the body.


Secondhand smoke is associated with heavy metal concentrations in children. Li L, et al. Eur J Pediatr. 2018.

Association Between Chronic Exposure to Tobacco Smoke and Accumulation of Toxic Metals in Hair Among Pregnant Women.
Zhu Y, et al. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2018.

Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887

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