LASER HAIR THERAPY TO STIMULATE HAIR GROWTH AND TO SLOW OR PREVENT HAIR LOSS IS ACTUALLY A WELL-ESTABLISHED USE OF AN FDA-APPROVED INSTRUMENT.
If it sounds like something from the space age, well, it is. Men and women who have undergone laser therapy claim it halts their hair loss and makes their remaining hair thicker and fuller. The promise of hair regrowth is enticing to millions. And yet with so many products spamming our in-boxes and cluttering late-night television with commercials, it is easy to understand the degree of skepticism that exists.
If something actually can regrow hair, why is this apparent modern miracle not headline news? And why are there so many people who seem not to know about it and endure their own hair loss?
The fact of the matter is hair loss and regrowth tactics are all a matter of degree. The 24-year-old male who sees excess hair in the shower drain on a regular basis may be catching his hair loss early enough. The regrowth medications and treatments will work better on him than on his 45-year-old uncle, who decided to address his hair loss 15 years after it started. The middle-aged woman who endures hair loss caused by medications or chemotherapy experiences a whole different kind of hair thinning than does her 25-year-old female co-worker, whose genetically caused thin hair is something she’s struggled with since high school.
And this is why hair regrowth tends to be approached holistically. Each patient has his own genetics, own type of hair loss and own expectations for what he hopes to accomplish.
To get to the heart of where hair regrowth therapies function — and how well they really work — we interviewed professionals working on the front lines, in salons (more appropriately sometimes called clinics) that largely serve this function. We thank Melissa Green at Transitions of Indiana (Indianapolis) and Ed Gawerecki at Hans Wiemann Hair Replacement (near St. Louis, Missouri) for sharing their decades of experience at providing hair regrowth services to their customers for this story.
The type of hair regrowth therapy depends on the hair loss condition
The most common form of hair loss is androgenic (or androgenetic) alopecia, otherwise known as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness. This is a progressive, age-related and largely irreversible condition that can begin as early as the 20s for many individuals. A simple way to understand how it works is that the roots of the hair follicles are adversely affected by male hormones (DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, present in both men and women), which leads to shrunken follicle size.
Other forms of hair loss include alopecia areata (patchy baldness), hair loss caused by medications (including chemotherapy as a cancer treatment), traction alopecia (hair literally pulled out from wearing too tight of a hair style) and trichotillomania, a psychologically based habit of intentional hair pulling. Starvation, bulimia, anorexia and gastric bypass surgery can so deplete the body of essential nutrients that hair quality and quantity can suffer as a result.
To a certain extent, improved blood circulation can slow the loss of hair. The use of laser and massage therapies accomplishes this. In the case of early androgenic alopecia, by using a topical application of minoxidil (Rogaine and other brands) or the use of an internal medication, finasteride (Propecia), some hair loss is halted because these medications block DHT from being active in the scalp area. With other forms of hair loss, hair often grows back on its own.
If the causes of hair loss can be blocked, the hair could grow anew. So how well do regrowth therapies work?
Hair regrowth therapy using lasers can halt the loss
As Ed Gawerecki at Hans Wiemann Hair Replacement, near St. Louis, Missouri, explains, the therapeutic process begins with questions.
“We talk about what they’re looking for,” he says. “We try to figure out within reason what we can do within the bounds of rationality.” The facility he has helped to manage for many years sees more than 125 people every day, most of whom receive cool laser treatments twice a week as the lynchpin to their program.
The clinic sees a 3-to-2 ratio of men to women, ranging in age from 13 to 87 years old, with the male patients largely in the cohort of 25-45 years old and women skewing a bit older, ages 35-55. The men predominantly suffer from male pattern baldness. Women come to the clinic to address female pattern baldness or hair loss caused by menopause or a thyroid disorder.
Gawerecki says it’s important to assess each patient realistically, since some will see more results than others. “We are brutally honest,” he says. “We would rather undersell and overdeliver.”
Laser therapy stimulates skin tissue around the hair follicles, increasing cell function and blood flow. The treatment is complemented with scalp massages known as scalp stimulation and what they call “mediceuticals,” nutrients and vitamins said to improve overall health and appearance of the scalp and hair. A yearlong program (costing $4,200 to $6,200) will involve twice-weekly visits of 20 minutes or more, with one of four visits including a 40-minute scalp massage.
On a quarterly basis, the salon uses a photo scanner tied to software that helps analyze hair-thickening progress for each patient. In most cases, a hair thickness improvement of 26-30 percent is seen through this program. “What most of our customers want is to halt the loss,” says Gawerecki. Some laser therapy programs count follicles within sample regions of the scalp to demonstrate this feature.
Melissa Green (of Transitions of Indiana) sees primarily women between the ages of 40 and 70 years old, with some men of various ages in the mix. “Laser hair therapy is also a very effective and safe treatment protocol for individuals who have been through chemo or radiation,” she explains. “There is an 85 percent success rate with laser hair therapy,” she claims. “Typically, most all men and women have success because even if that person looks the same after a program, that is great. Hair loss is progressive, and if that person would not have done a treatment, they understand that [their hair loss would] worsen.”
Green provides perhaps the most ringing endorsement of laser treatments. “I would do laser hair therapy if I had a general thinning and was not bald.” A general thinning is typical of androgenic alopecia in women, versus the patterns of baldness that cause the male hairline to recede and the crown to thin. However, she cautions, “Laser isn’t designed to regrow hair if the follicle is no longer producing hair.”
In other words, it’s best to get your regrowth therapy early — before hair production is shut down for good.