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Laser hair restoration: here’s what the science says about laser hair regrowth

Thinking about trying out a laser cap for hair growth? We look into the science behind laser hair restoration.

The use of laser therapy in the treatment of hair loss is a subject that is being more and more widely studied.

In recent years, there have been many different clinical studies which have demonstrated the efficacy of laser treatment in the regrowth of hair, to varying degrees.

Below, we look at some of that research, and also provide some background about hair regrowth more generally.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: What Is Laser Hair Restoration And How Does It Actually Work?

Laser hair regrowth is a process where light emitted by a laser stimulates cells to produce new hair.

It’s not yet fully clear how Low-Level Laser Therapy (or LLLT) works, but it’s considered to be one of most promising forms of so-called photobiomodulation therapy.

The use of laser hair restoration is a treatment that has grown in popularity in recent years.

It’s been clinically proven to increase the rate of hair production and density, as well as stimulate natural hair growth.

And the regrowth or restoration of thinning hair isn’t just a trivial or superficial concern: low self-esteem due to a receding hairline or thinning scalp may lead to an unhealthy focus on one’s appearance, or even social withdrawal.

Low-level laser therapy: laser caps to the rescue

Recent research (September 2021) from Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University has found that LLLT works: it does indeed stimulate hair follicles and hair growth.

As the university’s Professor Ratchathorn Panchaprateep explains, people who suffer from thinning hair, hair loss, and baldness often struggle to find the right treatments.

And this can involve frequently changing shampoos, cutting their hair short, taking supplements, avoiding any chemicals on the scalp. All to no avail. 

One of the reasons for this failure, Panchaprateep says, is not addressing the real causes behind hair thinning and hair loss.

Kiierr laser caps, for example, allow you to safely and effectively regrow the hair follicles on your scalp using low level light therapy treatment, which is FDA-cleared and clinically proven to be safe and effective.

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Does laser hair regrowth work?

So, does laser treatment work for hair loss? Short answer: yes, at least somewhat.

For example, a 2017 meta-analysis — that is, a study that combined the results of several prevous studies — concluded that minoxidil, finasteride (also known as Propecia), and low-level laser light therapy (i.e. LLLT, often used in the form of laser caps) are all effective for promoting hair growth in men with androgenetic alopecia (also known as male-pattern baldness).

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, also found that all treatments were superior to placebo.

More specifically, it actually found that LLLT even outperformed minoxidil in terms of hair growth per square centimeter, and was essentially on par with finasteride.

And best of all, LLLT has no known side effects, which is not the case for finasteride.

Another 2017 study, this one published in the journal Dermatalogic Surgery, found that there were currently nine publications in the PubMed database documenting LLLT use for hair loss associated with androgenetic alopecia.

Five of those studies were about comb devices, and four about laser helmets or laser caps.

All of the studies reported positive changes in hair density at 16 – 26 weeks with LLLT compared to sham devices.

In fact, some evidence from that study found that LLLT outperformed both minoxidil and finasteride, at least in men:

laser cap study

Warning signs of too much hair loss

“Whenever more than 70 to 100 strands of hair fall off each day, that’s a sign of abnormal hair loss.  Ratchathorn said.

It’s normal, she explained, to lose a small bit of hair when shampooing, drying, or combing your hair.

But, she adds, if you experience hair loss during the day, for example during meals or at work, then that is abnormal.

Especially for men, it can be hard to notice this kind of hair loss during the day.  “You should pay attention right after you wake up to see if there is any hair on the pillow,” Ratchathorn said.

Among men, thinning hair and hair loss usually starts in the front, and recedes into an M-shaped hairline. Some men develop a bald patch in the crown that gradually spreads out. 

For women, the thinning tends to start where the hair parts, and gradually worsen as time passes.

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Main causes of thinning hair, hair loss, and baldness

Ratchathorn says that up to 40 percent of adults experience thinning hair, hair loss, and baldness problems. 

And that percentage is increasing, most likely due to a combination of stress, weather conditions, and a bad diet. Other factors include too much sun exposure, and vitamin deficiency.

Hair problems and baldness can occur in both women and men , but in men, the problems start at an earlier age, and is usually more extreme than with women.

Main types of hair loss treatments: pills, creams, or laser hair treatment

Currently, there are three main treatments for hair lossmedications such as Finasteride (which slows down hair loss) or Minoxidil (which thickens the hair), and hair transplant surgery, whereby hair from a denser area is transplanted.

But more recently, a newer treatment called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has been growing in popularity

It uses a laser cap or comb. These hair growth caps and combs are low-level laser therapy devices that emit red laser light to gently stimulates hair follicle cells.

They are suitable for people who have thinning hair in the initial to moderate stage.

The devices are portable, and can be used at home. 

Using such as a device for 15 minutes a day will strengthen the hair follicles, as well as generate new and thicker hair growth.

Ratchathorn said her research shows that results appear after about five sessions, and that clearer results are visible after three months.

Backgrounder: hair loss and stress

Harvard University researchers have identified the biological mechanism behind how chronic stress impairs hair follicle stem cells, confirming the notion that stress can lead to hair loss.

In a March 2021 study published in the journal Nature, the researchers found that a major stress hormone causes hair follicle stem cells to stay in “an extended resting phase,” without regenerating new hair.

The researchers identified the specific cell type and molecule responsible for this problem, and showed that it can be potentially targeted to restore hair growth.

Hair follicles naturally cycle between periods of growth and rest.

During the growth phase, hair follicle cells regenerate the hair, and hairs grow longer each day.

During the resting phase, the stem cells are “quiescent.” and hairs can shed more easily. Hair loss can occur if the hairs shed and the stem cells remain quiescent without regenerating new tissue.

Under normal conditions, hair follicle regeneration slows over time — the resting phase becomes longer as people age.

But when the removed the stress hormones from mice, they found that the resting phase became extremely short, and the mice constantly entered the growth phase to regenerate hair follicles throughout their life, even when they were old.

“This result suggests that elevated stress hormones indeed have a negative effect on hair follicle stem cells,” said the study’s lead author, Harvard professor Ya-Chieh Hsu. “But the real surprise came when we took out the source of the stress hormones.”

Stress hormones had been preventing cells underneath the hair follicle from secreting Gas6, a molecule that the researchers showed can activate the hair follicle stem cells.

But adding Gas6 was sufficient to activate hair follicle stem cells that were in the resting phase, which promoted hair growth.

The researchers are currently investigating opportunities for collaboration on its further development and eventual commercialization.

Backgrounder: How Can I Recognize Signs of Male Pattern Baldness?

Male pattern baldness is the most common form of hair loss in men. It is a hair loss condition that typically affects men who are genetically predisposed to it.

Male pattern baldness is characterized by a receding hairline and bald patches on the scalp.

Other signs include a widening part of the distance between the hairline and the forehead, and/or a thinning crown (= less hair coverage) over the top of the head

The recognition of male pattern baldness varies from person to person. Some people only notice it when they start losing their hair. However, others can feel that their hair is thinning well before this happens.

Balding occurs when the hair follicles do not produce new hairs as quickly as they are lost.

The term “male pattern baldness” is somewhat misleading. It implies that the only pattern of balding seen in males is progressive thinning or receding hairline, but actually there are three different patterns which all appear over time.

Those three types of male pattern baldness are: frontal, crown and vertex.

Frontal means that the hairline starts to recede from temple to forehead; crown means that hairs gradually thin out on top at the back and sides of your head; vertex means that it starts at the back, which often leaves an “M” shaped patch on top of your head where there’s no hair.

It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of male pattern baldness so that you can know if you’re at risk for it or not.

The earlier you recognize any symptom, the better your chances are of preventing or stopping it from getting worse.

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Conclusion: does laser hair regrowth work?

More and more studies are concluding that yes, laser treatment does indeed work to grow back lost hair.

There are new scientific results being published almost monthly about the efficacy of laser hair restoration.

The effects might not be dramatic, but they are substantial, approaching and in some studies even surpassing more traditional treatments like minoxidil.

And unlike popular prescription-only treatments such as finasteride (more commonly known as Propecia), laser caps for hair growth have no known side effects.

In sum, a laser hair regrowth cap may be today’s most promising new treatment for thinning hair.

Above, we have looked at the potential benefits of a laser hair regrowth cap.

We have also considered some of the possible side-effects that come with this treatment and other treatments.

So while it’s not certain that a laser hair regrowth cap is the answer to your thinning hair problems, there are now more options available than ever before to people who are looking to grow their locks again.

Photo: by Morris Sneor from Pixabay