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Laser Treatment for Hair Loss: How Effective It Is According To Studies

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Have you heard about laser hair growth treatment, and now you wonder if it really makes your hair grow faster? And more importantly, does it actually add density and thickness to your hair while minimizing its shedding? We’ve done the research and found the answers to all questions surrounding laser hair growth treatment, under what conditions it works, and whether it reduces hair loss or not.

Without further ado, here’s what scientists have to say about the benefits of laser hair growth treatments.

What is laser hair growth treatment?

Laser hair growth treatment involves the use of low-level lasers to irradiate lights into the scalp tissues, which are absorbed by weak hair cells. Basically, it works by feeding hair follicles with light energy, triggering biochemical reactions that support the natural hair growth process.[1] This procedure is called low-level laser therapy (LLLT), and its hair growth-stimulating effects were discovered by Endre Mester in 1967.[2] Eventually, LLLT was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a non-surgical treatment that effectively treats various conditions of hair loss.

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As a side note, at first, it was thought that the treatment required laser light to stimulate hair growth. However, researchers confirmed that light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could perform as well as lasers.[3] For this reason, you’ll find LLLT associated with other terms such as photobiomodulation, cold laser, or low-level light therapy.

Low-level laser treatment is considered a great alternative for people whose condition hasn’t been changed by standard treatments such as finasteride or minoxidil.[1] In other words, there’s a good chance laser hair growth treatments will get you transformative results, especially if nothing worked until now.

How do laser treatments stimulate hair growth?

The benefits of laser hair growth treatment are primarily connected with the effects of light energy on stimulating cellular activity in hair follicles. Since laser therapy works at the cellular level, it is more likely to affect hair growth compared to topical treatments.

From extensive research, we found that low-level laser therapy possesses multiple mechanisms by which stimulate hair growth.

Increases blood flow

One of these mechanisms is the expansion of blood vessels caused by light energy, resulting in an increase in blood flow volume.[1] As blood flow is boosted, hair follicles receive more nutrients and oxygen needed for healthy hair growth. Not only that but reduced nutritive blood flow to the hair follicles is linked with premature hair loss.[4] So more reasons to keep your hair nourished.

Besides, laser hair growth treatment increases the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which delivers energy to the hair follicles, stimulating their cellular functions. Furthermore, this makes the hair grow thicker, which results in less breakage.

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Reactivates hair follicles

Laser hair growth treatment is also assumed to reactivate dormant follicles, causing the resting hair follicles to enter the anagen phase, aka the stage where the hair is growing.

In normal hair cycling, about 90% of follicles are in the anagen phase. However, those suffering from hereditary hair loss usually present a reduced duration of the anagen phase, meaning the time the hair actively grows is significantly lower.[5] Thus, they experience excessive hair shedding and thinning hair. What light therapy does is prolonging the anagen phase’s duration and prevent the premature hair follicles entry into the resting stage.[1] As a result, it stimulates hair growth as well as increases hair density and thickness.

Reduces inflammations 

The last mechanism through which low-level laser treatment induces hair growth is its anti-inflammatory effect. It seems that laser energy could reduce the inflammation that attacks and weakens the hair follicle.[6] This is especially effective in alopecia areata, an autoimmune inflammatory condition of hair loss.

How effective is laser treatment for hair loss?

Although the benefits of laser hair growth treatments are supported by scientific research, experts point out that it’s only effective in the right circumstances. It’s believed that low-level laser therapy is most effective in the early stages of hair loss and in cases of thinning hair. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the treatment decreases with the severity of the condition. The good news, though, is that laser hair growth treatments can improve the three main types of hair loss: androgenic alopecia, alopecia areata, and chemotherapy-induced hair loss.[7]

According to a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, low-level laser therapy of 650–900 nm wavelengths at 5 mW could effectively treat pattern hair loss in women and men.[8] It states that results obtained in the short-term (under six months) with LLLT are similar to those with 5% minoxidil, respectively 1 mg/day finasteride. During another research, light therapy increased the hair count by 35% followed by increased thickness and density.[9]

Finally, a scientific review published in 2020 evaluating the hair growth effects of low-level laser therapy based on ten clinical trials concluded the same thing: the treatment to be very effective and safe for managing androgenic alopecia.[10]

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How safe are laser hair growth treatments?

Overall, laser hair growth treatment is safe and tolerable. The procedure is also painless, easy to apply, and carries no long-term side effects. The only reported adverse effects using laser treatment for hair loss include dry skin, scalp tenderness, and irritations.[1] It’s also common to experience a slight hair shedding in the first two months of the treatment. This allows stronger and healthy hair to replace the thin one.

How to perform laser treatment for hair loss?

People can follow a laser hair growth treatment either in professional clinics or at home. For the last mentioned, you’ll need a laser-based hair growth device for home use. Most at-home devices have been cleared by the FDA as meeting all safety and efficiency parameters. At-home laser devices can use low-level lasers, LEDs, or both and are found in multiple formats, including caps, helmets, headbands, or combs.

How long do laser treatments take to increase hair growth?

Laser hair growth treatment is assumed to increase hair density and reduce shedding within 12-14 weeks with regular use, providing the best results after 24 weeks. Most research on the hair growth-stimulating effects of LLLT reported the first improvements in eight weeks. The treatment was applied daily or once every two days with sessions of 10-25 minutes.[1]

Can you use laser hair growth treatment with minoxidil?

Using low-level laser therapy in combination with minoxidil was actually found to enhance the hair growth effects of LLLT and minoxidil when used alone. One clinical report published in 2017 concluded that using a combination of LLLT and 5% minoxidil significantly increases the number of active hair follicles.[11]

The verdict

As long as you are in the early stages of hair loss (whether it is a hereditary or inflammatory condition) or have thinning hair, low-level laser therapy is a great option to regrow your hair and increase its thickness. On the other hand, for severe or advanced conditions of hair loss, it will most likely not bring you the expected results.

Last but not least, the health and quality of the hair come from within. No matter how many topical treatments you use, your hair will have to suffer if your intake of proteins, vitamins, and minerals is low. Nutritional deficiencies are often associated with hair loss, especially in vitamins A, B, C, D, E, iron, selenium, and zinc.[12] More than that, laser hair growth treatment actually increases the transport of nutrients to hair follicles, which helps them produce stronger hair.

References
  1. Avci P, Gupta GK, Clark J, Wikonkal N, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) for treatment of hair loss. Lasers Surg Med. 2014;46(2):144-151. doi:10.1002/lsm.22170.
  2. Suchonwanit, P., Chalermroj, N. & Khunkhet, S. Low-level laser therapy for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in Thai men and women: a 24-week, randomized, double-blind, sham device-controlled trial. Lasers Med Sci 341107–1114 (2019). 
  3. Anders JJ, Lanzafame RJ, Arany PR. Low-level light/laser therapy versus photobiomodulation therapy. Photomed Laser Surg. 2015 Apr;33(4):183-4. doi: 10.1089/pho.2015.9848. PMID: 25844681; PMCID: PMC4390214.
  4. Klemp P, Peters K, Hansted B. Subcutaneous blood flow in early male pattern baldness. J Invest Dermatol. 1989 May;92(5):725-6. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12721603. PMID: 2715645.
  5. Burg D, Yamamoto M, Namekata M, Haklani J, Koike K, Halasz M. Promotion of anagen, increased hair density and reduction of hair fall in a clinical setting following identification of FGF5-inhibiting compounds via a novel 2-stage process. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:71-85. Published 2017 Feb 27. doi:10.2147/CCID.S123401
  6. Torres, AE, Lim, HW. Photobiomodulation for the management of hair loss. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2021; 37: 91– 98. https://doi.org/10.1111/phpp.12649
  7. Hamblin MR. Photobiomodulation for the management of alopecia: mechanisms of action, patient selection, and perspectives. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019 Sep 6;12:669-678. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S184979. PMID: 31686888; PMCID: PMC6737896.
  8. Jimenez, Joaquin J., Tongyu C. Wikramanayake, Wilma Bergfeld, Maria Hordinsky, Janet G. Hickman, Michael R. Hamblin, and Lawrence A. Schachner. 2014. “Efficacy and Safety of a Low-level Laser Device in the Treatment of Male and Female Pattern Hair Loss: A Multicenter, Randomized, Sham Device-controlled, Double-blind Study.” American Journal of Clinical Dermatology 15 (1): 115-127. doi:10.1007/s40257-013-0060-6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/ s40257-013-0060-6. 
  9. Lanzafame, R.J., Blanche, R.R., Bodian, A.B., Chiacchierini, R.P., Fernandez-Obregon, A. and Kazmirek, E.R. (2013), The growth of human scalp hair mediated by visible red light laser and LED sources in males. Lasers Surg. Med., 45: 487-495. https://doi.org/10.1002/lsm.22173
  10. Egger A, Resnik S, R, Aickara D, Maranda E, Kaiser M, Wikramanayake T, C, Jimenez J, J: Examining the Safety and Efficacy of Low-Level Laser Therapy for Male and Female Pattern Hair Loss: A Review of the Literature. Skin Appendage Disord 2020;6:259-267. doi: 10.1159/000509001
  11. Esmat, S.M., Hegazy, R.A., Gawdat, H.I., Abdel Hay, R.M., Allam, R.S., El Naggar, R. and Moneib, H. (2017), Low level light-minoxidil 5% combination versus either therapeutic modality alone in management of female patterned hair loss: A randomized controlled study. Lasers Surg. Med., 49: 835-843. https://doi.org/10.1002/lsm.22684
  12. Almohanna HM, Ahmed AA, Tsatalis JP, Tosti A. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019;9(1):51-70. doi:10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6
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