Patchy bald spots and receding hair lines can quickly lead to full-blown hair loss, which affects millions of men and women throughout the country. The good news is that there are a wide range of different treatments that may promote hair growth and support better hair health, including low-level laser light therapy. Read on to learn more about LLLT and whether laser hair growth might be the solution for you.
What is Low-Level Laser Light Therapy?
Alternately known as low-power laser therapy, photobiomodulation, and soft laser biostimulation, low-level laser light therapy (LLLT) goes by many names. Unlike other forms of laser therapy, LLLT uses a low-intensity laser and/or laser emitting diodes (LEDs). These low-level lights are applied directly to a targeted area of the body at varying wavelengths and outputs. The skin and body tissues absorb the light, resulting in physiological reactions. Tissue is particularly reactive to lights in the red and infrared range, potentially promoting regeneration in damaged cells.1
The actual intensity of the light depends on the application of use, but it typically lies in a range between 1 to 1,000 mW. The wavelength also depends on the application. Wavelengths between 600 to 700 nm are more optimal for superficial tissue, while longer wavelengths between 780 to 950 nm penetrate deeper tissues. Wavelengths in the 700 to 770 nm range have been found to offer limited biochemical activity and are generally omitted from use.2
Unlike other forms of laser therapy that are used to coagulate tissue, LLLT is completely noninvasive and painless, emitting no heat or vibrations. The ease of use has even led to LLLT devices that can be used at home.1
What is Low-Level Laser Therapy Typically Used For?
LLLT is most often used for wound healing and general tissue repair. This general application has led to medical professionals in various disciplines using LLLT in a variety of ways, including:
- Reducing inflammation
- Relieving general aches and pains
- Reducing swelling and promoting healing of joints and soft tissues
- Providing relief for minor sprains and injuries
- Rejuvenating skin1
Does LLLT Work for Wound Healing?
One meta-study published in 2006 suggests that LLLT may not be as effective in wound healing as suggested. The meta-study reviewed literature on LLLT from 1965 to 2003. While some articles reported an increase in collagen production and cell proliferation with helium neon and gallium arsenide lasers, none of the studies addressed any sort of active mechanism involved with the LLLT. Furthermore, some of the studies reported improvements in surgical wound healing in rats, but these results could not be duplicated in pigs and other animals. This is important as the structure of pig skin more closely resembles human skin. Although some human studies involving LLLT showed beneficial effects on superficial wound healing, these studies were often relegated to small case series. Larger studies failed to replicate these results. This all suggests that LLLT requires more comprehensive clinical studies that investigate the actual mechanisms that may correlate biologic processes and cellular effects in wound healing.3
The effects of LLLT on wound healing have also been studied specifically in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. People with diabetes have about a 25 percent chance of developing diabetic foot ulcers, and up to one in six of those patients requires a limb amputation. In a systematic review published in 2016, researchers looked at four randomized control trials involving the use of LLLT for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. This comprised 131 participants in total and used a variety of measurements, including time to complete healing and ulcer size. Follow-ups in each trial ranged from two to 16 weeks. Overall, the systematic review did find that LLLT has the potential to become a cost-effective, non-invasive, and easy-to-use treatment for diabetic foot ulcers with no known adverse effects. However, each of the studies had some noticeable limitations, including small sample size, lack of subject screening phase, short follow-up periods, and ambiguous treatment settings, which makes it hard to fully recommend LLLT for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.4 Currently, there are no medical guidelines for the use of low-level laser light therapy in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.
Does Low-Level Laser Light Therapy Work for Laser Hair Growth?
Some experts suggest that LLLT may be an effective treatment for hair loss. In one double-blind, randomized trial, 110 male patients with androgenic alopecia were treated with either a sham device (acting as the control) or the HairMax LaserComb. The sham device was identical to the LaserComb, but the laser light was replaced a non-active incandescent light. By the end of the 26-week trial, the subjects who had used the HairMax LaserComb showed a statistically significant increase in average terminal hair density that those in the sham device group. Subjective assessments also showed significant improvements in overall hair growth with the HairMax LaserComb with no serious adverse effects.5
Another randomized, controlled, double-blind trial was conducted on 128 male participants and 141 female participants. Participants were randomized to receive treatment from one of three different models of the HairMax LaserComb or a sham device. Participants received whole scalp treatments three times a week for 26 weeks. Researchers evaluated hair density before treatment, at the 16-week mark, and at the 26-week mark. By the end of the study, 122 female participants and 103 male subjects finished and could be evaluated. Results showed an increase in average terminal hair count among all groups who had received lasercomb treatment. This increase in hair loss density was independent of the subjects’ age or gender and the lasercomb model. In self-assessments, a larger percentage of subjects treated with the lasercomb also reported improvements hair thickness and fullness as well as overall hair loss condition.6
Another randomized, double-blind, controlled trial aimed to study the effects of visible red light lasers and LEDs in laser hair growth. Forty-four men with androgenic alopecia were given a bike helmet-like device containing either 21 lasers and 30 LEDs or non-active incandescent red lights. Patients received at-home treatment with their respective devices once every other day for a period of 16 weeks. Forty-one subjects finished the study. Results showed that the group that had received LLLT treatment had a 39 percent increase in hair count from their baseline measure with no known adverse effects.
Although these studies appear to be promising, it’s important to note that all of these studies were funded by the respective device manufacturers, so even with the precautions taken, there is some inherent bias involved. Furthermore, all current medical guidelines recommend the use of minoxidil (an ingredient that promotes circulation in the scalp) and finasteride (an ingredient that blocks DHT) as the first line of treatment for most forms of hair loss or androgenic alopecia.
Low-level laser therapy certainly has potential as a treatment for hair loss, and its ease of use, cost-effectiveness, and non-invasive properties make laser hair growth appealing. However, most studies still are not sure of its mechanisms, nor is there enough unbiased, comprehensive research to definitively recommend using LLLT for hair loss. If you are suffering from androgenic alopecia, your best bet is to stick with the current medical guidelines that favor using the DHT-blocking ingredient finasteride and the circulation-boosting ingredient minoxidil as first line treatments to promote healthy hair growth.
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