Low-Light Laser Therapy (LLLT), also known as laser therapy, is a growing trend in the hair loss community. With minimal side effects and positive growth results, it’s easy to see why!
In this post, I’ll discuss the latest in hair loss treatment methods – LLLT. This will include a look at how the treatment works, the scientific evidence to support its use, and how you can get started using it today.
Additionally, I’ll share a few tips to improve the effectiveness of your LLLT sessions.
What Is Laser Hair Growth?
Low-Light Laser Therapy (LLLT) is a treatment method used for a variety of ailments. More recently, LLLT has been introduced as a treatment for hair loss.
In simplest terms, LLLT is a method that uses low-level lasers to stimulate the hair follicles. This stimulation, through a variety of possible mechanisms (which we’ll explain further below), promotes hair growth.
Fun fact: LLLT was discovered accidentally by Hungarian physician Endre Mester. While attempting to treat tumors in mice, the laser level was set too low.
While the tumors remained without change, he did notice that the shaved hair was growing back much more quickly in treated areas than non-treated.
How Do Laser Hair Growth Treatments Work?
While there is much on the topic that still requires research, there are a few mechanisms that are believed to provide the growth seen with laser treatment. However, it’s first important to understand hair loss to better understand how LLLT works.
Hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons, but Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB) is the most common. This form occurs as a result of sensitivity to DHT, a natural hormone within the body.
As DHT is produced (through interaction between testosterone and 5-Alpha-Reductase (5AR)), the sensitive hair follicles inflame. As a result, the follicles miniaturize.
Through miniaturization, hair is less and less able to make its way from the bulge (at the bottom of the follicle) to the scalp. Eventually, the hair strand can no longer poke through the scalp, and the follicle withers and dies.
So, what does all of this have to do with laser treatment?
As I’ll show you more fully below, LLLT has actually been proven to promote hair growth in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look!
It Stimulates Epidermal Stem Cells
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that commonly take part in repair and restoration of organs and body structures. They also play a role in the proliferation of hair follicle cells and hair growth.
As lasers penetrate the scalp, they’re able to interact with the structures (such as cells) within. In this case, the light is absorbed by the stem cells and energy is released. This energy is then used to perform needed repairs and even stimulate the hair growth cycle.
With LLLT, you can stimulate the stem cells within each affected hair follicle. This means you can target hair regrowth.
It Promotes Anagen Phase Hair Growth
As mentioned above, light absorption can be used to interact with the cells and stimulate the hair growth cycle. This is an important step, as only hair in anagen phase can grow.
The hair growth cycle is split into three phases:
While the majority of your hair follicles should be in anagen phase at any given time, miniaturization and other issues can lead to premature transition. This means your hair transitions from active growth (anagen) to rest (telogen) before hair growth has reached its peak.
When this occurs, the anagen phase will shorten each and every time the cycle is performed. This means that, over time, you could be spending more time actively shedding hair in telogen than growing hair!
With LLLT, the hair follicles will spend more time in anagen. As such, you’ll see more hair growth and less telogen phase shedding.
It Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is a side effects of many types of hair loss, including MPB and Alopecia Areata (AA). Unfortunately, the presence of inflammation can then worsen the hair loss and the cycle continues.
With LLLT, though, it may be possible to reduce inflammation and stop hair loss in its tracks.
Inflammation is a sign that your body is attempting to heal itself. When it occurs temporarily, this is a good thing. However, chronic inflammation can be a sign that something isn’t right.
In the case of MPB, the presence of DHT is causing the inflammation. However, other causes can be autoimmune (in the case of AA) and even fungal (in the case of ringworm).
By targeting inflammation, then, LLLT can be a good treatment option for a myriad of hair loss forms. In fact, treatment of inflammation (and hair loss) was even proven in cases of AA.
The Scientific Evidence
LLLT for hair loss is still in its earliest stages, though there have been a few studies done on the treatment method in recent years.
The majority of these – including 2 in vitro, 7 animal, and 12 clinical studies – were featured in an evidence review in 2016:
Let’s look closer at two such studies.
United States, 2012
In this study, Alopecia Areata (AA) was induced in 14 mice. The diagnosis was confirmed in two mice, and the remaining 12 mice received treatment.
The first group (six mice) received laser therapy with the use of the HairMax LaserComb for 20 seconds, three times per week. This continued for six weeks. The second group (six mice) received the same “treatment”, but with the laser beam off.
Skin biopsies were then taken from all 12 mice and examined under a microscope:
As shown above, the biopsies to the left show very little in the way of hair follicles. This is the “sham” group, who received no laser treatment at all. On the right (treatment group), though, a multitude of elongated hair follicles are clearly seen.
As noted by researchers, the majority of hair follicles in mice from the treatment group after 6 weeks were in anagen phase (with a few already having entered catagen). However, the majority of the follicles in the non-treatment group were still in telogen.
Of course, results on mice don’t directly translate to similar results in human subjects. Fortunately, human subjects have been studied, too!
United States, 2014
This randomized, double-blind clinical trial consisted of 269 subjects altogether (128 male and 141 female). All were diagnosed with androgenetic hair loss.
The patients were randomly split into four separate trials.
The first trial consisted of 78 female subjects who received either treatment with a 9-beam lasercomb or sham treatment.
The second trial consisted of 63 female subjects who received either treatment with a 12-beam lasercomb or sham treatment.
The third trial consisted of 49 male subjects who received either treatment with a 7-beam lasercomb or sham treatment.
The fourth trial consisted of 79 male subjects who received either treatment with a 9- and 12-beam lasercomb or sham treatment.
The main measurement of efficacy was the change of terminal hair density at 26 weeks from baseline. Digital imaging was then examined by an experienced hair transplant surgeon who was blinded to the patients’ trial statuses. The results were as follows:
In every study, the results of lasercomb treatment significantly outweighed the sham treatment results.
In short, the 2016 evidence review states “overall, the studies summarized here have moderate to high quality of evidence”. Of course, researchers would like to see more studies done, specifically those that use randomized, controlled methods.
Side Effects and Considerations
While adverse reactions to treatment were minimal, a few of the most common side effects include:
- Skin pain and burning
- Mild numbness
Out of all studies considered in the 2016 review mentioned above, only one case of telogen effluvium was noted. As such, this was likely unrelated to the treatment.
One thing to keep in mind is the presence of growths or malignant lesions on the scalp. Stimulation with low-light lasers may increase their incidence of growth and should be avoided.
The Best Laser Hair Growth Products On the Market
LLLT is offered by health professionals and estheticians alike. However, you can also practice this method of hair growth stimulation at home.
The only at-home LLLT product that is currently approved by the FDA, laser therapy combs are available online and at many health and beauty stores.
Laser therapy combs work by targeting the hair follicles directly, and this can be done on a regular basis. In fact, a study done on mice showed that laser combs actually increased the number of hair follicles in anagen phase.
How to Use
The laser comb should be used at least three times per week, and each treatment session will take about 15 minutes.
To begin, place the comb (with all teeth directly touching the scalp) on the very front of your hairline. Move the comb through your hair very slowly, moving only about one-half inch every four seconds.
Pay special attention to areas with considerable hair loss (such as the hairline and crown), and repeat the process over these areas for the duration of the session.
It’s very important that all the teeth are making contact with your scalp, as this ensures that the lasers are penetrating completely.
Cost and Availability
LLLT combs can be purchased online or at a variety of stores. The cost varies, though keep in mind that you do get what you pay for. See this useful review guide here.
On the lower end, quality combs will cost about $200. However, they can easily go up to $1000.
While not FDA-approved, LLLT helmets are quickly becoming a popular alternative to the laser comb.
LLLT helmets are laser devices that resemble a typical bicycle helmet. They are placed on the head and remain there for the duration of the treatment session. A 2013 study shows that the use of such helmets can result in a 35% increase in hair growth when used regularly over a period of time.
How to Use
As the product is not FDA-approved, there aren’t any clinical guidelines for use. However, we can get a few use ideas from the studies that have been carried out.
In the study above, patients used the helmet every other day for 25 minutes each session. No adverse effects were reported at this frequency, but it was only carried out for 16 weeks total.
Cost and Availability
LLLT helmets are not as widely available as combs, though you can find some online and at health and beauty stores.
Similar to the comb, a good quality helmet will cost anywhere from a few hundred to one thousand. However, this is a one-time purchase.
While wands seem to be the least popular laser treatment device, you can purchase one as an alternative to a comb or helmet.
The laser wand is just as it sounds – a device that emits laser beams that can be “waved” over the scalp. As direct contact is not made (as it is with the comb and helmet), it’s safe to say this isn’t the most effective device.
How to Use
A laser wand can be used as often as the comb or helmet (so, about three times per week).
For best results, I recommend separating your hair into sections and targeting the scalp of each section specifically. However, only keep contact for a maximum of 20 seconds for each section.
Cost and Availability
You’ll likely have better luck finding a laser wand online than in store. In addition, the cost will vary greatly.
A high-quality wand can easily cost a few hundred dollars, but you may also have a few options in the below $100 range.
How to Add Laser Hair Treatment To Your Regimen (3 Tips for Effectiveness)
One of the greatest things about LLLT is that it can be used with virtually any other hair loss treatment method. In fact, many hair restoration surgeons even recommend it following transplants!
Here are a few tips for most effective use of the treatment method.
1. Remove All Hair Product Prior to Use
Whether a styling agent (gel or mousse) or a medicated treatment method (Rogaine), it’s recommend that the laser treatment be done on a dry, clean scalp. This means you’ll need to plan the treatment around your usual daily routine.
This can be done in the morning or night. If done in the morning, do it before applying any product or styling your hair. In addition, wait at least 20 minutes following treatment before applying any product, including Rogaine.
If done at night, be sure that your hair is clean and fully dry.
2. Keep Treatment Consistent
While LLLT is not performed daily, you should aim to keep your weekly treatment regimen consistent. This will ensure the best results over time.
It’s recommended to perform LLLT at least three times weekly. However, more frequent treatments haven’t been shown to offer any additional hair growth benefits.
To ensure you stick to your routine, I recommend you perform treatment the same days of the week at the same time. This makes LLLT easier to fit into your weekly schedule.
Overall, keep in mind that beneficial results require commitment. As with any other hair loss treatments I recommend, you cannot expect results with minimal effort.
3. Don’t Expect Miracles
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment method. More importantly, though, no one treatment method will offer perfect results, even when used consistently.
Prior to beginning LLLT, it’s a good idea to have realistic results in mind.
For example, don’t expect to see a full head of hair within a few months, especially if you’re Norwood V. Instead, understand that the process takes time, and LLLT is just one tool in your hair growth toolkit.
Is laser treatment a good option for hair loss sufferers? The answers is, it depends.
Many hair loss sufferers – both those with AGA and AA – have seen positive results from consistent treatment. Of course, these results do take time, and results will vary widely from person to person.
However, LLLT is certainly a treatment method that I think can be beneficial. This is especially true when it’s combined with other natural methods for combatting hair loss.