Lasers for Hair Growth?
25 Jun | 2019
Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) involves directing near-infrared light wavelengths at the scalp to encourage cell regeneration and ultimately hair growth. The exact way this happens is technically unclear, though the general consensus for now is that this low-energy light likely stimulates extra production of ATP (the energy used by cells). Basically, the theory is the more energy available to your cells, the harder they can work at replicating and producing things like hair.
With regard to the small amount of scientific research that exists, this is a very promising treatment method for thinning hair or hair loss. One review shows multiple clinical trials with positive results in both hair regrowth density and overall quality of the hair. After treatment, patients reported slowing of hair loss, hair that felt shiner and thicker, and an improvement in scalp health. LLLT also shows some positive clinical results for patients who have non-scarring alopecia (hair loss not caused by or related to scarring). Some level of hair growth or increased hair density has been reported in patients with male or female pattern hair loss, alopecia related to chemotherapy, or difficult to treat alopecia areata after consistent applications of LLLT. Also, as this treatment uses nothing but light, there are few known or speculated side effects for healthy adults as long as the lasers or LEDs are not directed into the eyes.
The downside? LLLT treatment was only discovered (by accident) in the 1960s and research regarding its effectiveness as a treatment for hair loss has only been conducted in the past few decades. A majority of devices and treatments studied to date use light at wavelengths ranging from 635 to 650 nanometers which is still in the visible light spectrum and explains why we can see the red light emitted from LLLT devices with the naked eye. However, less energetic infrared wavelengths closer to the infrared spectrum (around 810 nm) have not been tested even though these wavelengths can penetrate much deeper into the body than red light. LED light has also not been compared to that emitted from a laser, nor has any comparison between the effectiveness of continuous and pulsing light for treatment. This means the greater scientific community does not yet know the most effective wavelength for treatment, the best frequency of use, potential side effects, or even long-term effectiveness. For now, there are a huge number of unknowns.
The cost of LLLT is also a barrier for many hair loss sufferers. In-office appointments for ‘cold laser’ therapy are done by some medical professionals, but the price of appointments can be staggering. As for at-home use, the equipment necessary to perform these treatments can be quite costly. LLLT brushes and helmets begin around £100 and high-end models break the bank with prices upwards of £900. Even with these price tags, it is incredibly difficult to know for certain if a device purchased online is actually producing a wavelength of light that could be beneficial. One study suggests that devices cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are effective treatments for male and female pattern hair loss, so if you are interested, make sure to find out if the device you want to purchase has been cleared by the FDA.
So, should you try Low-Level Laser Therapy?
We recommend always consulting with your GP before pursuing any non-prescription treatment, including LLLT. If you do decide to purchase an LLLT comb or helmet, be sure to look for the certification and wavelength of the light emitted from the helmet (prioritise FDA registered devices that emit wavelengths between 630 nm and 650 nm). Also, have reasonable expectations regarding results and how quickly you will see them (remember, hair grows slowly at around half an inch every month). While more expensive than other over the counter hair loss treatments, LLLT is relatively low-risk as long as you keep the lasers away from your eyes.