Hair loss laser treatment is becoming a popular therapy, with devices on the market declared safe for home use. But does laser therapy REALLY help restore hair?
Of all the hair loss therapies out there, the one that seems to cause the most debate among experts is hair loss laser treatment!
There are doctors who will flat out tell you that it absolutely does not work, whilst others will insist it's effective. There is medical research available that shows promising results... but there are also studies indicating that people treated with lasers showed little improvement in hair growth.
Yet the claims made by proponents of laser therapy persist and – whilst still costly – devices intended for home use make it more affordable than ever before.
So is it worth giving it a try?
On this page I'll take a look at the pros and cons of tackling hair loss with lasers, which will – I hope – help you decide if it MIGHT work for you.
Note: this information is given for guidance purposes only. It should NOT be taken as medical advice and it's very important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing hair loss, or before starting any course of treatment.
In 1967, a Hungarian scientist using lasers to treat cancer in mice noticed something he hadn't anticipated.
The mice he was studying had been shaved in order to receive treatment, then divided into 2 groups. One group received laser treatment for cancer and one group did not.
The hair grew back more quickly on the mice that had been treated with the lasers.
This discovery led to the development of low level laser therapy (LLLT) - a safe treatment that is used for various medical conditions, including the restoration of hair after hair loss.
Also known as bio stimulation, red light therapy, soft laser and cold laser, LLLT involves the use of devices that emit a light that can penetrate the scalp.
The scalp is exposed to the light several times a week, for anywhere between 8 to 15 minutes at a time. This is believed to trigger hair growth. Some practitioners pair the therapy with scalp massage or another form of scalp treatment.
There are a variety of ways that this therapy can be administered.
It is available
Hair loss laser treatment is now seen by some as a safe alternative therapy for people whose only options previously were a costly hair transplant, or other medication like Minoxidil.
Manufacturers of laser devices intended for home use attempt to explain how this type of therapy works to restore hair. The truth, however, is that no one knows for sure quite how or why hair growth might be triggered by lasers.
The generally accepted theory is that the therapy increases blood flow to the scalp, stimulating the follicles and encouraging them to produce more hair. In the same vein, experts say that the lasers rejuvenate ageing cells, helping the hair to regrow.
In cases of alopecia areata, it is believed that the lasers help reduce inflammation, thereby allowing the healthy growth of hair.
This type of therapy isn't suitable for everyone with hair loss.
In fact, at this point it's important to note that you MUST initially speak to your doctor, rather than spend money on an expensive treatment or device you can use at home.
If your hair loss is caused by a thyroid problem, for example, or by very low iron levels, laser treatment will do nothing to help you whatsoever. Your symptoms will persist until your doctor has diagnosed and begun treating the cause of the problem.
The primary type of hair loss that laser therapy can potentially treat is genetic hair loss (also known as pattern balding or androgenetic/androgenic alopecia).
There are also a limited number of studies suggesting it may help in cases of alopecia areata.
Even so, there are other factors to take into consideration. Doctors using LLLT have found it to be less effective for people with major hair loss – it seems to work best for those with little to moderate loss. So the extent of hair loss is usually determined prior to treatment, using something called the Ludwig-Savin Scale.
This question is incredibly difficult to answer, since there is so much conflicting evidence and such a wide variety of professional opinion.
Some of the research (below) is certainly compelling.
In short, it seems it works for some and not others. Furthermore, it appears there is no 'ideal' type of laser to use, no 'perfect' wavelength for optimum results, and no proven recommendation as to how long or frequent the treatment should be.
So it doesn't seem too surprising that results are mixed, particularly those shared online by men and women who've tried the 'home use' devices.
Below I've shared some of the published research I encountered when investigating laser therapy...
Studies showing possible benefits of hair loss laser treatment
*It's important to note that some research in favor of laser therapy was sponsored by the companies selling the devices that customers can buy to use at home.
Evidence questioning the effectiveness of hair loss laser treatment
"Laser and light therapies have also become popular despite the lack of a profound benefit." From: Female pattern alopecia: current perspectives
Online reviews are as mixed as professional opinion - some people say they found laser treatment a waste of money, others swear by its success.
Whilst I've pointed out that much of the research supporting the use of laser therapy was funded by the manufacturers of laser devices, it's also necessary to treat online reviews with caution!
Truly impartial reviews can be invaluable when looking for hair loss solutions but – as we all know – it is very difficult to tell whether a review is genuine or not!
For that reason, my personal opinion is that it's wise to seek the opinions of hair loss sufferers AWAY from the websites of the companies selling the devices.
(NOTE: there is a comments section at the end of this article where I would LOVE you to share your experiences with hair loss laser treatment if you have any!).
There are lots of reasons for this!
If there is something all the medical experts agree on, it's that this treatment is safe. No serious side effects have been reported by those receiving it.
That being said, please note that you should not receive laser therapy or use a laser device at home if you are taking photosensitizing drugs, because this may trigger a reaction in the skin. Here's a list of photosensitizing drugs, but you should consult your doctor before having laser therapy if you are taking ANY medication.
Please also note that it's important to only visit a reputable salon, or use a home device that has been cleared for safe use at home. The most popular are the iGrow, the Theradome and the HairMax LaserComb
Lasers should be treated with respect – after all, some are used for hair REMOVAL. My recommendation is to avoid cheaper units that have not been tested for safety in treating hair loss.
As this article has shown, results are so mixed that it's a hard question to answer.
If you are suffering from genetic hair loss or alopecia areata – and your doctor has given you the go-ahead – then it may be worth a try.
Laser therapy is considered safe, so you have nothing to lose in that respect.
However, it is NOT cheap. Clinic/salon treatments can run into thousands of dollars, and even home devices can cost several hundred.
My personal inclination would, however, be to opt for a home device over a salon treatment. If the therapy didn't work for me, I would – at least – be left with a device that could be passed on to someone else!
Benefits of hair loss laser treatment
Drawbacks of hair loss laser treatment
Have you tried any kind of hair loss laser treatment, either at home or in a clinic/salon?
Did it work for you? Did you experience any problems?
Do you have any advice for anyone considering this type of therapy?
Whatever your experience, I'd love to hear from you! Please share your story by completing the simple form below...