The use of light including lasers are widely used in medicine, industry, the military and recently more specifically to treat hair loss. The light energy used to stimulate hair growth is visible in the red light spectrum. The specific use of Laser Light in treating hair loss and other medical conditions is defined as Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT).
LLLT is sometimes also defined as of phototherapy called “Low-Level Light Therapy” where the light source may be a laser or LED (Light Emitting Diode). The LLLT lights are called “cold lights” because although their light is absorbed it does not heat the tissue.
It is very important to note that only laser energy (independent or in conjunction with LEDs) has been reported effective in the treatment of hereditary hair loss. The use of LED light without Laser light has not been proven to re-grow hair. Nearly all devices being sold and used today use a combination of LASER and LED lights.
These devices which are designed and marketed in versions for home or clinic use and can look like caps, combs, helmets or hoods.
How does it work?
Although the exact mechanism by which LLLT stimulates hair growth is still unknown, possible mechanisms may include increasing the blood flow, cellular energy and delivery of growth factors to the hair follicles when the specific wavelength of light is absorbed.
Is it effective? If so, how effective is it?
In 2007, the FDA cleared the use of low-level lasers for the treatment of androgenetic hair loss in men. It is important to note that this clearance was based only on the device’s safety and not on effectiveness.
Light therapy seems to be effective in persons with minimal to moderate hair loss but is less effective for those with major hair loss.
LLLT can be preferentially used by women for whom medical treatment or surgical options may be limited. Propecia, the most effective hair loss medication approved by the FDA, is not safe for use by women.
Although one study in 2003 showed hair count in some patients increased by as much as 120% with use of LLLT another study in 2014 showed only a 39% percent hair increase. Other studies and observations have failed to duplicate the same positive results.
As with many other medical therapies, LLLT is not a “one time” treatment for pattern hair loss. Treatment must be repeated at intervals to maintain any possible gains.
The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) has no official stand on LLLT as a treatment for hair loss as it believes that there is currently a lack of good support from large, well-designed double-blind studies to support the effectiveness of LLLT as a treatment for hair loss. Some ISHRS member physicians believe that this lack of evidence should make us cautious about recommending LLLT to our patients until more good scientific studies are performed
At this time, Hair Transplantation remains the only permanent treatment for genetic hair loss.
Are there restrictions for it? Is it advisable for everyone?
Since there has been no proven adverse reaction to their use, LLLT devices are thought to safe for both men and women of all ages. As noted earlier, since women cannot use Propecia to combat their hair loss and are usually not great candidates for Hair Restoration Surgery, the use of LLLT may sometimes be their only option. Some women also seem to more open to such interventions which require ongoing treatments.
Is it best to do it at home or with a professional?
The products used in office settings are typically more powerful. Clinic based treatments have another benefit since they usually require a physician consultation to assure that the hair loss is not caused by anything other than typical hair loss. The clinic can also assess the potential effectiveness of the treatments more accurately.
One disadvantage of the office based system is significantly higher cost of treatment over use of home used machines over time. Another disadvantage is the obvious inconvenience of having to go to a clinic or facility several times per week or month.
Would you recommend it?
When considering a treatment option for any medical or cosmetic problem, the cost, effectiveness, inconvenience and possible side effects must be evaluated to decide on a specific treatment option.
Although most hair restoration doctors agree that LLLT may be considered as a possible treatment option, there have been not enough large studies to show that LLLT is an effective and permanent treatment of hair loss for majority of patients.
In my practice we only recommend LLLT therapy to patients who are not candidates for the more proven treatment options such as hair transplantation.