Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Statistics say that about one in five Americans are losing their hair, and this percentage is only rising. Due to increased stress, poor diet, pollution, and other factors, we are starting to see earlier onset of balding in a higher percentage of people.
It is ironic that with such a high prevalence of hair loss in modern day society, scientists are still in the dark about a lot of information. Though it is still not entirely known, the most universally agreed upon mechanism that may cause hair loss, specifically androgenic alopecia, is the hormone DHT. This does not mean that there are not other causes that contribute to male and female pattern baldness such as poor blood flow, inadequate nutrient intake, and more. No matter what the cause may be, hair loss sucks, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about it.
There is a myriad of treatments available on the market for hair loss. Just about anything you can think of has probably been used to try to cure it, but that does not mean that they are all effective.
Fortunately, there are treatments that are FDA approved. Treatments that are FDA approved are your best bet when it comes to battling hair loss. This is because the FDA approval process is quite extensive and requires lots of testing, and any treatment that is approved will have lots of research and studies to back its efficacy. Even if you are new to the hair loss world you have probably heard of finasteride and minoxidil, both are FDA approved hair loss treatments and have been shown to be quite effective, but have you heard of the only other treatment that is FDA approved for hair loss? It’s called Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) and we are here to introduce you.
A brief background on LLLT
The discovery of low-level lasers effect on hair loss came as a happy accident. It was in the late 1960’s when a Hungarian physician by the name of Endre Mester was studying the potential cancer causing effects of lasers. Preforming his experiments on the backs of shaved mice, it was only by accident that he was able to observe that instead of contracting cancer, the mice were instead growing hair back at a rapid rate. This was just the start of modern day laser medicine.
Since Endre’s discovery lasers have been used throughout the medical field, including for hair loss. It was just recently in 2007 that the Hairmax Laser Comb became the first LLLT treatment to be FDA approved for the treatment of androgenic alopecia in men (it was later approved in 2011 for women). Since then several more laser systems have gotten approved by the FDA, including our personal favorite and the one we most recommend iRestore (more on that later).
What is low-level laser therapy and how does it work?
In short, low-level laser therapy is the process by which your scalp is exposed to a series of lasers that emit red light for a prolonged period of time (usually about 30 minutes) and promote hair growth.
Typically, whichever apparatus you are using will contain clinical strength lasers that shine at wavelengths between 630 and 670 nanometers, which is the optimal wavelength for hair growth according to available data (although no studies have compared it to other possible growth-promoting wavelengths).
Like just about everything in the hair loss world, the mechanism by which LLLT works is not entirely known. There are lots of theories floating around, but there are two that are the most commonly talked about and likely plausible:
It helps hair transition into the growth phase
One common speculation is that LLLT saturates the scalp with photons of light. These photons are used to create ATP in the body which is then subsequently used by the hair follicles to stimulate the metabolic processes responsible for hair growth. What does that mean?
Scientists speculate that when these metabolic processes are occurring the hair being affected is shifting into different stages of the hair cycle. By moving hairs that are in either the catagen (shedding) or telogen (resting) phase into the anagen (growth) phase they believe that this results in more coverage and density of hair. The increase in length of the growth phase, as well as prevention of hair prematurely moving into the shedding phase, may also contribute to the great results that people experience.
It increases blood flow
The lasers help release nitric oxide from cells in our blood vessels. This encourages vasodilation, or widening, of the blood vessels which allows oxygen and nutrients to more freely flow throughout the scalp.
Blood is responsible for carrying oxygen to the cells and hair follicles, this is likely why it has been shown that there is a correlation between both low oxygen levels and low blood flow to areas of balding. Your hair needs those vital nutrients and oxygen for support throughout the growth phase.
Although it is important to continue to research to find out exactly how LLLT promotes hair
growth, what is more important is that it does work.
Not only is it FDA approved which requires rigorous testing and re-testing, but multiple studies have been able to low-level laser therapy’s efficacy. You see, when you are experiencing pattern hair loss your hair is undergoing the process of miniaturization. This means that your healthy (terminal) hair’s growth cycle is slowly being shortened which results in dying vellus hair (the hair you used to have as a kid that is thin and colorless). What LLLT has been able to show is that it is capable of putting the miniaturization process to a halt and encourage the process of terminalization, or transforming hair back into healthy terminal hair.
Why you should add it to your hair loss regimen
Like we stated earlier, although the cause of hair loss is likely DHT, it is still not completely understood. This is why scientists and manufacturers of laser helmets alike recommend that you use it alongside other treatments.
It is always best to have a multi-pronged approach if you want to overcome hair loss. Since other FDA approved drugs are understood in terms of what problems they address (i.e. finasteride blocks DHT and minoxidil increases circulation) and LLLT is not, there are a lot of possibilities of how it can contribute to helping your hair loss. Either way it is beneficial because if it is working in a similar manner to say, minoxidil, then it is just enhancing its effects, whereas if it is working in a different manner, it could be addressing a completely different issues. Again the point is that it has been proven to work.
Are there any drawbacks?
Laser therapy has been used to various medical conditions for over 50 years with no adverse side effects.
That being said, there is a shedding phase that may occur. Do not be discouraged though, the shedding phase is due to the fact that your hair in the resting phase is being pushed into the growth phase, which may cause hair to fall out. This is actually a good sign because it means that soon more of your hair will be in the growth phase. Also, be patient, results may take up to 6 months to occur (they sure did for me). Patience is a balding mans blessing.
Why we recommend a laser helmet
There are several ways you can undergo low-level laser therapy including a laser comb, an in-office doctors visit, or a laser helmet.
Each of those treatment options varies greatly in price. The lasercomb option is by far the cheapest at between $60-$100, but we do not recommend using this option (they do not cover the whole scalp, exposure times may vary, just don’t waste your money on these).
The second option is the complete opposite. In-office visits can cost people anywhere between $2000-$5000 a year depending on who you see, not to mention that you don’t get even close to as much treatment time as you would with…
Ding ding ding, you got it, the laser helmet. This is the treatment option that we most recommend. They are relatively affordable sitting between $500-$1000 (remember that this is a one-time cost), they cover a large percentage of the scalp including all of the important areas, and they are the most well researched option as well.
Now, there are a lot of laser helmets out there, but the one we most recommend is the iRestore laser system. When reading articles and reviews about the best laser system to get you will always find iRestore near the top of the list. Not only does it consistently get the highest ratings on Amazon (along with a lot of compelling before and after pictures) but is shines at the optimal 650nm wavelength too. One study was able to show that the iRestore showed a 100% improvement in both the men and women that the study was conducted on, with an average increase in hair count of 43% (it also comes with a 12 month, money back guarantee, so why not?)
The benefits and drawbacks of LLLT
-It is a non-invasive treatment option and drug free
-There have been no adverse side effects shown and it has been used in over 50 years for various medical conditions
-FDA approved for both men and women with various studies backing it
-Laser helmets are very easy to use, with the iRestore you just plug it in and relax for 25 minutes while it does its work
-Although the mechanism by which it works is unknown, it offers either enhanced effectiveness of other treatments, or a completely different angle of hair loss treatment
-Has many positive reviews and loyal customers who swear by it
-Laser helmets consist of one upfront cost and no recurring fees
-Targets both the hairline and the crown whereas some treatments don’t target both
-since the mechanism is unknown neither is the optimal time, number of sessions needed, number of lasers to include, or the optimal beam diameter, more studies are needed to find out this pertinent information
-besides the laser comb, treatment options still aren’t cheap with a likely minimum of $500 that will need to be spent
-shedding may occur
There really isn’t a downside to implementing LLLT into your hair loss regimen, besides the financial aspect of course, but if you can afford it we say go for it. LLLT is a viable hair loss treatment option with lots of evidence supporting it, not to mention the FDA stamp of approval. By using it alongside your other treatments you will likely see improved results in due time and could be well on your way to a full head of hair once again.