The detection of cortisol in human sweat: Implications for measurement of cortisol in hair

Evan Russell, Gideon Koren, Michael Rieder, Stan H.M. Van Uum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND:: Hair cortisol analysis has been shown to be an effective measure of chronic stress. Cortisol is assumed to incorporate into hair via serum, sebum, and sweat sources; however, the extent to which sweat contributes to hair cortisol content is unknown. METHODS:: Sweat and saliva samples were collected from 17 subjects after a period of intensive exercise and analyzed by salivary enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Subsequently, an in vitro test on exposure of hair to hydrocortisone was conducted. Residual hair samples were immersed in a 50-ng/mL hydrocortisone solution for periods lasting 15 minutes to 24 hours, followed by a wash or no-wash condition. Hair cortisol content was determined using our modified protocol for a salivary ELISA. RESULTS:: Postexercise control sweat cortisol concentrations ranged from 8.16 to 141.7 ng/mL and correlated significantly with the log-transformed time of day. Sweat cortisol levels significantly correlated with salivary cortisol concentrations. In vitro hair exposure to a 50-ng/mL hydrocortisone solution (mimicking sweat) for 60 minutes or more resulted in significantly increased hair cortisol concentrations. Washing with isopropanol did not affect immersion-increased hair cortisol concentrations. CONCLUSIONS:: Human sweat contains cortisol in concentrations comparable with salivary cortisol levels. This study suggests that perfuse sweating after intense exercise may increase cortisol concentrations detected in hair. This increase likely cannot be effectively decreased with conventional washing procedures and should be considered carefully in studies using hair cortisol as a biomarker of chronic stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-34
Number of pages5
JournalTherapeutic Drug Monitoring
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • HPA
  • cortisol
  • hair
  • stress
  • sweat


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