RECEIVING LASER HAIR THERAPY FROM IN-STUDIO PROFESSIONALS IS A DIFFERENT APPROACH THAN USING A HOME HAND-HELD LASER DEVICE.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light in 2007 to what actually is a red light — low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or laser hair therapy — as a safe means to address hair loss. This only indicates the technology is safe, not necessarily effective at stemming hair loss, but it was an important indicator that the method and its equipment cause no harm.
One of humankind’s oldest quests is to stop androgenetic alopecia (also called androgenic alopecia, or pattern hair loss in men and women). Laser hair therapy appears to be a new tool with which to do it.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is, “Does it work?” The more inquisitive among us may also ask, “How does it work?” “What does it cost?” and “Will it work for me?” We try to address the primary questions here.
What is in-studio laser hair therapy?
Most LLLT proponents believe that the technology effectively reduces, halts and (sometimes) reverses hair loss. And most of them believe that the treatment is best delivered by professionals who are trained in the administration of the therapy. Clients (some call them “patients”) typically get twice-weekly treatments, which consist of about a 15-minute concentrated exposure of the scalp to light-emitting diodes under a “bonnet” or head cap. In some situations, a handheld comb or brush that emits the lasers is used. Some studios add scalp treatment and massages that promote blood circulation as part of the program.
How does laser hair therapy work?
Laser therapy is used for all kinds of medical conditions (“phototherapy”). Depending on what condition and part of the body are being addressed, the equipment used varies the light wavelength according to the intended purpose and effect. This includes light that is visible to the human eye — the color spectrum — as well as infrared, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. In the case of hair restoration therapy, the wavelength is 630-670 nanometers (the color red) and administered at low power (low wattage).
Where light comes in contact with human physiology is known as photobiology. In the case of hair restoration and the red range in the color spectrum, hair follicle molecules are able to absorb the light. A photobiological reaction then occurs in an intracellular enzyme, cytochrome c, which sends signals throughout the hair follicle. Those signals enhance gene activity and decrease programmed cell death (called apoptosis).
Is laser hair therapy effective?
There are no peer-reviewed scholarly studies that report success or failure with laser hair therapy because no controlled studies (i.e., with a placebo group) have been conducted to determine if it does or does not work. A team of physicians associated with the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgeons (ISHRS) advise on their website, “Experience has shown that stimulation of hair regrowth by LLLT is more likely to occur when hair loss is minimal to moderate, less likely when hair loss is major and/or long-standing.” They also say, “LLLT does not stimulate hair regrowth in every person. If intracellular molecules are unable to absorb laser light, or unable to adequately respond to absorbed light, no stimulation of hair regrowth will occur.”
What should be noted is LLLT therapists report that use of this therapy in conjunction with minoxidil (Rogaine and other brands) or finasteride (Propecia) typically yields more effective results. The physicians associated with ISHRS, mostly hair transplant surgeons, say that laser hair therapy “may enhance hair growth and reduce inflammation after hair transplantation.”
Is there an alternative to doing laser hair therapy at a studio, such as in the home?
Handheld laser combs are available for about $500 to $600. These are marketed as the at-home alternative to the more expensive in-studio approach. Ed Gawerecki, general manager and clinic director at Hans Wiemann Hair Replacement in Creve Coeur, Missouri, says they advise some clients to use handheld combs as a maintenance tool once they have completed their 12-month in-studio protocol.
Is it appropriate for all types of hair loss or just certain types?
For the most part, laser hair therapy is effective with androgenetic alopecia (the most common type of hair loss in adulthood, with genetic roots). Reputable therapists insist that the cause of hair loss be identified before beginning treatment, so as not to exacerbate underlying medical conditions.
Is laser hair therapy safe?
The 2007 approval by the FDA determined LLLT equipment to be safe for human use.
How widespread/widely available is it?
Not every city has a dedicated hair regrowth studio with LLLT. Handheld laser light-emitting combs are of course sold everywhere.
What does it cost?
Anecdotally, we know that full-year LLLT programs cost between $2,000 and $6,000 for a 12-month program. Costs vary by market and the number of add-on services provided, such as scalp massages, deep cleaning, and topical treatments.
What is required on the part of the client to achieve results?
Proprietors of LLLT services speak about the importance of regularity, which includes frequent appointments (twice a week, more or less) over a long duration (typically one year). Gawerecki is critical of hairstyling salons that offer laser hair therapy in a lower-cost program as a service add-on to clients who commit to the program one month at a time. “When they quit because they don’t see instant results, it reflects poorly on everyone,” he says. “You have to give it time, and it helps to get a full before-and-after analysis.”