- FDA-approved for men and women
- Low risk of side effects
3-4 treatments per week
What Is LLLT?
What Is Laser Therapy Used For?
Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), also known as low-level light therapy or photobiomodulation, involves exposing tissues to certain wavelengths of light on the red and “near-infrared” side of the visible light spectrum. The term “low-level” is used because the energy densities of the lasers are comparatively lower than lasers used for cutting tissue or clotting blood. LLLT is also known as “cold laser therapy” because the power density of these lasers is not enough to cause tissue to heat up.
LLLT is constantly being studied to discover its utility. Still, it has already been applied to many applications, ranging from pain management to wound healing and even hair growth! (1)
What Is Laser Hair Therapy?
Laser hair therapy is the application of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) to promote hair growth. As early as 1967, scientists found that using laser light on shaven mice caused faster hair growth than in mice who did not receive laser light. (2)
The application of LLLT covers a multitude of conditions, including androgenic alopecia (commonly known as male pattern baldness). The use of LLLT to stimulate hair growth is known as laser hair therapy.
A wide range of laser devices for hair loss have been developed, including caps/helmets worn on the head, comb laser tools, brush laser devices, and a hood-style device that hangs over the patient’s head. These devices can use laser diodes, LEDs, or both to deliver low-level light. Although these devices are already being used to counteract the progression of androgenic alopecia, researchers are still exploring the ideal laser therapy configuration for hair growth. (3)
How Does LLLT Work?
How Does Laser Hair Therapy Work?
The exact mechanism laser hair therapy uses to work is not known. The most widely accepted theory for how laser hair therapy works is that laser light stimulates the stem cells responsible for hair growth.
It is believed that laser light, especially light in the visible red range wavelengths, increases the levels of specific enzymes. When applied to the head, the light causes a cascade of cellular events, allowing hair follicles to move from a dormant state to an active growth phase. Certain chemicals, like nitric oxide, are also released, increasing blood flow and promoting hair growth. (4,5)
A 2018 study reviewed the data and science of low-level laser therapy for the treatment of androgenic alopecia. Their review found that 10 out of 11 clinical trials conducted in humans showed significant improvement in hair growth. These researchers concluded that “LLLT appears to be a safe, alternative treatment for patients with androgenic alopecia.” (6)
What Is Cold Laser Therapy?
Unlike other lasers that heat, cut, and burn tissue, the lasers used in low-level laser therapy (LLLT) can penetrate the skin without heating or damaging skin. Thus, LLLT is also known as cold laser therapy.
When undergoing cold laser therapy, there is no sensation of heat, vibration, or pain felt by the patient. These procedures are non-invasive, which offers a possible alternative or addition for alopecia patients who are unresponsive to standard therapy and unwilling to undergo hair transplantation surgery. (3-6)
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Light exists as a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The light that we can see lies on the “visible light spectrum,” where the wavelengths range from 380 (violet) to 700 (red) nanometers. The smaller the wavelength, the higher the energy this light contains. We bear witness to this every time we see a rainbow, which occurs when rain breaks up white sunlight into the spectrum of colors we all know and love.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) also goes by the name red light therapy because the lasers used operate on the long wavelength, low energy side of the visible spectrum. Lasers operating on the other end of the spectrum (small wavelength, high energy) produce more energy. These are used for cutting or coagulating tissue.
A 2013 trial studied hair growth in men with androgenic alopecia using a 655-nanometer low-level laser, well within the red range of the visible spectrum. Male patients had a small patch of hair on the scalp cut to 3 millimeters and were split into two groups. One group received LLLT with a helmet-like device using 21 lasers and 30 LEDs, while the control group used an identical device but with incandescent red lights.
The hair counts in the control group barely changed, from 162.7 ± 95.9 at the start to 162.4 ± 62.5 after treatment. The LLLT group increased from 142.0 ± 73.0 to 228.7 ± 102.8, a 39 percent increase! This study showed the potential of red light therapy to stimulate hair growth in people with androgenic alopecia. (7)
Laser Hair Growth vs. Laser Hair Removal Treatments
There may be many people wondering, “Wait, does laser therapy work for hair loss? I thought lasers were to get rid of hair!” Both of these statements are true. Depending on the type of laser employed, light therapy can either stimulate hair growth or remove unwanted hair. The key difference between these lasers is the wavelength of light used, the power level these lasers operate at, and the amount of time a treatment session lasts.
The goal of laser therapy for hair growth is to stimulate the underlying hair follicles to enter a growth phase without causing damage to the skin or underlying structures. On the other hand, laser hair removal directly targets pigments in hair, causing heat to the skin and damage to the hair follicles, which can be painful for some.
Laser hair removal is typically done by a medical professional in a clinic or spa setting using gun-shaped or other handheld devices. In contrast, laser therapy for hair growth is almost always done on the scalp using a helmet or cap, a laser comb, or a stand-up hood device. It can be done at home or in a clinical setting. (3-6)
How Long Does It Take For LLLT to Work?
LLLT has been studied using all kinds of different time frames. Researchers are still trying to figure out the details of what makes a laser hair therapy session the most effective. There are many factors to consider, including:
- The wavelength of light
- How long sessions last
- The number of sessions a week
- How long it takes to expect results
It is also important to note that LLLT may need to be continued indefinitely. Clinical trials testing LLLT for hair growth range from 14 weeks to over 6 months. (7-10) Based on these studies, the recommended treatment length is 6 to 12 months. (11) By this time, hair density, hair count, and hair thickness can improve.
Is Laser Hair Therapy Permanent?
For those wondering, “does laser hair growth work?” the question is not only about its effectiveness but also whether the improved hair growth will last. Laser hair therapy is similar to exercise or brushing your teeth. It works so long as you keep doing it!
The changes that laser hair therapy makes on the cellular level are reversible, which means that when the stimulus causing these changes goes away, so does the desired effect. Hair growth without medications or surgery is possible using laser hair therapy, but consistency is key. (12)
Are Home Laser Therapy Devices Effective?
Laser hair therapy does not need to be done in a clinic or salon. At-home laser hair therapy devices are available and allow patients to enjoy the benefits of low-level light therapy without visiting a professional’s office. These devices include products like the laser hair growth cap, laser comb, laser hair band, and laser hair regrowth helmet. (12)
People with more extensive hair loss may benefit from seeing a trained professional at a clinic to explore combination treatment options. However, these devices generally offer a good alternative to medications and surgeries and can be comfortably used at home.
At-home devices are effective as long as they are used consistently. The increased hair growth can disappear once the machine is no longer used, so keeping up with your hair care regimen is essential.
How Do You Get Laser Hair Therapy?
Laser hair therapy can be done at home, in a salon, or in a clinical setting with a trained professional such as a dermatologist. Treatments done in a salon or clinic can be done with larger “hood” devices that patients sit underneath, while at-home treatments are accomplished with laser helmet devices, laser caps, laser hair bands, and even laser brushes!
These devices work by emitting low-level light through either laser diodes or LEDs on the inside of the devices. The devices are used for 15 to 20 minutes, allowing adequate time for the laser light to penetrate the skin. You’ll likely start to see results after repeating this process about three times a week for 6 months. (12)
Can You Do Laser Therapy at Home?
Laser hair therapy is available at salons and clinicians’ offices, but a cheaper alternative is to perform laser therapy at home! There are many FDA-cleared laser hair growth devices available on the market, and these allow patients to sit back and relax at home while undergoing low-level laser therapy for hair growth.
With devices such as laser hair growth caps, helmets, combs, and hair bands, you can enjoy the benefits of laser hair growth while at home or on the go. Of course, consistency and patience are essential. These devices require regular use to improve hair regrowth and only show improvement after several months. (18-20)
Can You Use LLLT With Other Hair Loss Treatments?
Laser hair therapy is painless, non-invasive, and has few side effects. This makes it a fantastic solution that can be used independently or combined with other hair loss treatments. A clinician might advise combining laser hair therapy with topical minoxidil, which improves blood flow to the scalp. They might also consider prescribing finasteride, which blocks the production of the hormone responsible for pattern hair loss.
Studies have shown that both minoxidil and low-level laser therapy (LLLT) work for hair loss and that combining the two yields even better results! A 2020 study split 90 women with female pattern hair loss into three groups:
- One group treated with topical 5% minoxidil
- One group treated with LLLT
- One group treated with both
The combination group had significantly greater improvements in hair diameter and hair density than either of the single treatment groups. (13) Other hair loss treatments may also benefit from the addition of LLLT!
In-Office Laser Therapy
Laser hair therapy (LLLT) can be provided by a professional in an office setting such as a salon or dermatology clinic. Most in-office LLLT sessions are done using hood-style devices, such as the Capillus272 Office Pro or the Sunetics Clinical Laser. (18)
These sessions typically last around 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the device used and the level of hair loss treated. LLLT can also be combined with other hair loss solutions, like topical minoxidil, to enhance hair growth further and stop or slow hair loss. A dermatologist or trained aesthetician can help guide you in making the best choice for your specific hair needs.
As with all devices, in-office LLLT must be done continually and is a lifelong treatment. This is important since the accumulated cost of in-office treatments may far exceed the price of an at-home device in the long run.
What Kind of Laser Hair Therapy Devices Are Available?
Laser hair therapy devices come in all shapes and sizes. Devices available include laser hair caps or helmets, combs or brushes, headbands, and “hood”-style devices. As of 2020, 29 LLLT devices received FDA approval for the treatment of pattern hair loss. (3,14)
Hood-style devices are primarily found in salons and clinics. They look a lot like the hood dryers that are commonly used in hair salons. Other devices can be used at home and offer a portable, easy-to-use, and discrete method of treating hair loss.
Laser Therapy Caps
Laser hair caps are a laser hair therapy option that offers patients mobility and discreteness. These devices are baseball caps with a rechargeable battery that powers rows of laser diodes or LEDs lining the interior of the cap.
Laser therapy caps work particularly well for people who want hands-free hair loss treatments. They can be worn virtually anywhere, which is not that common compared to other treatment options.
FDA-approved laser caps for hair loss include the Dermascalp Laser Cap, the CapillusPlus cap, and the Lasercap LC series, among others. These caps come in different varieties and prices depending on the number of lights built-in. For example, the Lasercap by Transdermal Cap, Inc. comes in 80, 120, 224, and 304 diode versions.
Most laser devices can be purchased over the counter. However, versions with larger amounts of diodes typically require a prescription from your doctor because they output a great deal more energy. Typically, the more advanced the hair loss, the higher the recommended “strength” of the low-level laser therapy device. (14,15)
Laser Combs and Brushes
The HairMax LaserComb® was the first low-level laser therapy (LLLT) device to receive FDA approval in 2011, after an impressive study showing significant improvement in hair growth in 110 men with androgenic alopecia using the device. (1,16) Since then, a great deal more have been approved and marketed to the public, including the NutraStim Laser Comb, LaserBrush from Sunetics, and the Yeamon Laser Comb.
These devices also benefit from increased portability and ease of use. The lasers embedded within the comb are thought to improve absorption as they are brushed through the hair over the scalp. Like other devices, they should be used about 3 days a week for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. (3) Not a bad time commitment for possible hair growth!
Do Laser Therapy Helmets Work?
Laser therapy helmets include the Theradome Laser Helmet, the iRestore Hair Growth System, and the HAIR UP Laser Helmet. Like laser hair therapy caps, these devices fit over the head and deliver low-level laser therapy (LLLT) to the scalp via rows of laser diodes or LED lights. With continued use and patience, laser hair therapy helmets can provide relief to those suffering from hair loss.
A 2020 study assessed the efficacy of the HAIR UP Laser Helmet system on 60 patients with androgenic alopecia. They were split into two groups, one that received LLLT from the HAIR UP device and the other that looked identical but only delivered simple red light.
After 16 weeks, the laser therapy group saw an increase in hair density of 41.90 hairs/cm² compared to 0.72 hairs/cm² in the control group, with no reported side effects. Hair thickness also increased in the experimental group by 7.50 µm (micrometers), as opposed to a decrease of 15.03 µm in the control group. Quite the difference! (17)
Laser hair therapy hoods work in the same way as helmet devices. Rather than wear the device, patients simply sit underneath a laser device on a stand, similar to hairdryer hoods at hair salons. The scalp is then treated with low-level lasers for 10 to 15 minutes, and this is repeated roughly three or four times a week.
Like helmets, hoods are an appealing, non-invasive alternative with limited side effects. Compared to medications that may cause systemic side effects or costly surgical procedures with long recovery times, they’re a great choice.
LLLT Side Effects
Does Laser Hair Therapy Have Side Effects?
All treatments come with their benefits and their possible side effects. Low-level laser therapy appeals to consumers as it’s effective and causes few side effects. In the studies evaluating low-level laser therapy (LLLT) for hair loss, most patients reported no issues or mild side effects like itching, acne, and scalp tenderness. These side effects were not severe enough to cause the patients to discontinue treatment and were mostly resolved within two weeks. (14)
A 2003 study involving the HairMax® LaserComb saw some patients experience a rare adverse effect known as telogen effluvium (TE). TE occurs when a stressor causes hair to enter the telogen (resting) phase, leading to substantial shedding. This is typically temporary, and in the study, resolved after continued use of the device. A similar effect is also common in other treatments. For instance, when using minoxidil, some hair shedding occurs when people start using the product but stops after continued use. (9)
In general, LLLT offers an effective and safe treatment option for those suffering from hair loss. Long-term effects and ideal treatment protocols are still being researched, but the evidence available supports the use of LLLT as safe.
Is Laser Hair Therapy Dangerous?
Laser hair therapy does not use needles or chemicals the way other hair loss treatments do. It is non-invasive and offers a favorable side effect profile compared to other treatment options. It’s very rare for laser hair therapy to cause serious problems.
If you are using medications that increase skin sensitivity, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) may need to be discussed with a trained professional beforehand. As the skin is more sensitive, laser absorption can become less productive and more damaging. LLLT devices should also not be used around the thyroid gland or on skin growths/cancers, as the effects of the lasers can cause changes in thyroid function or cause skin growths to develop further. (21)
It is important not to look directly at or inside laser devices. Some devices recommend goggles to avoid potential damage to the eyes. Keep these devices away from children who may accidentally look directly at the lasers housed inside.
LLLT devices have not been assessed in pregnant patients and are generally not recommended for those who are expecting. It is important to note that issues only occur in rare cases. LLLT may not be for everyone, but it is an incredibly well-tolerated, non-invasive treatment method for hair loss patients.
How Much Does Laser Hair Therapy Cost?
The cost of laser hair therapy depends on your location, the type of laser hair device used, and the severity of hair loss. At-home devices generally have a high up-front cost that ranges from the hundreds to the thousands. (18) On average, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) sessions can cost between $100 and $200 USD per session. This can significantly add up over time, especially since LLLT must be done every 2 to 3 days, and months of sessions are required before results become noticeable. (19)
However, LLLT in an office setting may be worth the cost, particularly for people who want to maximize hair regrowth. It allows access to individualized treatment from trained professionals, higher-powered medical-grade lasers, and the incorporation of prescription medications into customized combination therapy treatments. This can be especially useful for people who have extensive hair loss.
How Much Are At-Home Laser Therapy Devices?
At-home laser hair therapy devices can cost considerably less than the price of long-term in-office treatments. However, depending on the device, they can be quite costly as well. They can range from $200 USD (HairMax LaserComb) to $3,000 USD (Capillus 304 Laser Therapy Cap)! In general, devices with LEDs are cheaper, as LEDs themselves cost considerably less than lasers. (18)
In general, the price of at-home devices correlates with both the size and number of lasers or LEDs. For example, the HairMax® Ultima 9 Classic LaserComb retails for $199 USD, and has nine medical-grade lasers. The upgraded version, the Ultima 12 LaserComb, sells for $399 USD with its twelve lasers. Laser Hair Bands are larger and sell for $549 USD (LaserBand 41) and $799 USD (LaserBand 82). Finally, laser hair caps start at $799 USD for the Flip 80 Laser Cap, an eighty laser device, and rises to $1,899 USD for the PowerFlex Laser Cap 272. (20)
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Last updated July 2021