Can You Actually Get Sick From Eating Stray Hair In Food?

It's happened to all of us before — in our homes, at restaurants, at a friend's house – that moment when your stomach plummets and you feel slightly (or more than slightly) queasy after finding a stray hair in your food. Now, if it happens in your own home and it's something you prepared, you might be overreacting a little bit. After all, it's most likely your hair. But, at a restaurant is a totally different story, when there's something totally unsettling about pulling a long hair from your food that you know for a fact doesn't belong to you. We're getting the shivers just writing about it, frankly. 

While we know it's unsanitary and more than a little disconcerting finding these stray hairs in what was, moments before, a very delicious meal, the question is: Can you actually get sick or experience any bad side effects from eating these hairs, other than feeling a little grossed out?

The truth is, it's very unlikely that you'll get sick

Not only is finding hair in your food a common occurrence, but it's so benign that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't even have a limit on how many strands can safely be found per plate, according to Popular Science. Maria Colavincenzo, a dermatologist at Northwestern University who specializes in hair, explains in the article why we needn't worry. "Hair is made of a densely-packed protein called keratin, which is chemically inactive in hair and won't cause any problems if digested," she said.

Still not convinced? Colavincenzo explains that the only realistic scenario where hair would pose a threat "is if you ate a whole head's worth ... Large quantities of the stuff can do to your digestion what it does to your shower drain." Uh, gross. We sincerely hope none of you are eating hair in that sort of quantity. What's more, a lot of food manufacturers actually use hair to derive "L-cysteine, an amino acid in keratin, to stabilize dough and perk up the taste buds that detect salty, savory flavors," the article added. It's totally clean, as the piece says, "they "boil it in hydrochloric acid to extract the L-cysteine from the keratin." So, yes, you have probably eaten a lot more hair in your life than you even realize — and are still alive and well!