Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) is one of the newest advancements in hair loss treatments.
Various at-home devices have been created to utilize this new technology.
But, is it worth investing in? Does LLLT for hair growth really work?
In this article, I will outline the science, explain how LLLT might work, and help you figure out if LLLT is for you.
Just keep reading!
What Is LLLT?
LLLT, also called photobiomodulation, is a form of light therapy. It involves exposing different areas of the body to infrared light to reap its benefits.
LLLT has been reported to have healing, anti-inflammatory, energy-boosting, pain-relieving benefits with minimal side effects (1). The beneficial effects of LLLT for hair growth have been well substantiated in research (2).
As a result, LLLT is used for a variety of conditions, both in clinics and at home.
Infrared light is also a component of sunlight and contribute to the benefits of sun exposure. However, LLLT devices don’t emit UV radiation as the sun does.
This allows LLLT users to reap the benefits of infrared light without the potential negative side effects of the UV light from the sun.
- LLLT is a form of infrared light therapy that has various properties. It is also a component of the sun.
- The beneficial effects of LLLT for hair growth have been well substantiated in research.
- LLLT allows users to reap the benefits of infrared light, like from the sun, without the potential negative side effects of UV radiation.
How Does LLLT Work?
LLLT’s many benefits are still yet to be fully understood.
As it relates to hair loss, there are some plausible ways to explain the hair-regenerating properties of LLLT.
Infrared Light: Hair’s Best Friend?
Infrared light is a form of red light that is biologically active in the body. When our cells are exposed to this infrared light, it can influence the way our cells function via a variety of possible mechanisms.
One of the most exciting is infrared’s effects on mitochondria (1). The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell and produce all the energy for the body.
Mitochondria contain an enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase (CCO). This is one of the regulatory enzymes of adenosine triphosphate (ATP; the energy currency of the body) production. Higher CCO activity means more ATP is produced.
Interestingly, infrared light increases CCO activity and stimulates energy production.
Infrared light also produces structured water, called exclusion zone (EZ) water. This structured EZ water acts like a battery for the cell with its ability to store electric energy. This provides the electric potential needed to catalyze energy production.
Energy production is absolutely for all cell functions, including gene transcription, cell proliferation, and enzymatic activity. Without it, cells simply cannot do their job.
Cells in the hair follicle are no different, they require cellular energy to proliferate and differentiate. This process of proliferation and differentiation is what results in hair growth.
Infrared light may also influence hair growth by regulating molecular signaling pathways.
Signaling pathways are responsible for regulating cell activity. These pathways can be activated by environmental factors, including light.
For example, infrared light has been known to modulate the signaling pathways that involve free radicals and inflammation (3). Excessive, chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (free radical damage) overwhelms cells and can lead to cell death and dysfunction (4). However, minimal amounts of free radicals and inflammation are important for cell stability and function.
In cells that have increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, infrared light decreases free radical production and inflammatory signaling. But in normal cells, infrared light stimulates a slight increase in free radical production and inflammation.
This could be beneficial for hair growth.
Free radicals, in small amounts, actually play a distinct role in hair growth (5). They activate a signaling pathway called Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK). This MAPK signaling leads to the proliferation of stem cells that eventually differentiate into hair cells.
Free radicals also minimally activate NF-κB, a transcription factor responsible for transcribing the genes for inflammation. Although it can lead to high levels of inflammation with high levels of activation, minimal levels of activation are actually essential for hair growth.
NF-κB, beyond its inflammatory gene transcription, also regulates the Wnt signaling pathway. The activity of this pathway is absolutely critical for hair growth.
Infrared’s regulatory rather than stimulatory effect on inflammation is due to its dual anti-inflammatory effects. It has been shown to reduce levels of IL-1β and TNF-α, two molecules that stimulate inflammation (6). IL-1β and TNF-α have both been shown to inhibit hair growth (7, 8).
So, by reducing the levels of these signaling molecules, it may promote hair growth.
Additionally, some inflammatory mediators like prostaglandins play a significant role in hair growth. Prostaglandin E2 and F2 promote hair growth at low levels while prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) inhibits hair growth (9). This is evidenced by its elevated levels in scalps of Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA; male hormone-related hair loss) patients.
By regulating these inflammatory mediators as opposed to directly lowering them, infrared light from LLLT may help create the right inflammatory environment for hair growth.
Infrared light may also promote blood flow in the scalp. Increased blood flow helps provide the nutrients needed to promote hair growth.
Overall, LLLT may promote a healthier scalp. An unhealthy scalp has been shown to adversely affect hair growth and may even impact the ability of the scalp to retain hair (10).
Some of the conditions that impact scalp health may be improved by LLLT. For example, preliminary studies show that LLLT may improve psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disease that may impact hair growth.
These combined effects may explain the documented benefits of LLLT for hair growth.
- Infrared light from LLLT acts via a variety of mechanisms.
- Infrared light promotes energy production by enhancing mitochondrial function and creating structed EZ water that acts as a cellular battery.
- Infrared light stimulates small amounts of free radical generation that regulates hair growth-stimulating signaling pathways. This is contrast to large amounts of free radicals that are detrimental to hair growth.
- Infrared light from LLLT reduces IL-1β and TNF-α, two signaling molecules known to inhibit hair growth.
- Infrared light may help create the right inflammatory environment for hair growth as opposed to directly stimulating or diminishing inflammation.
- Infrared light also promotes scalp blood flow which allows for proper blood flow and nutrient delivery to the follicle.
- These combined effects may explain the documented benefits of LLLT for hair growth.
LLLT for Hair Growth: What Does the Science Say?
One of the great things about LLLT for hair growth is that there is a decent amount of evidence to support its use.
In this review of LLLT, researchers concluded that phototherapy for hair loss was safe and effective (11). However, the mechanisms are still unclear.
One of the studies on Alopecia Areata (AA; autoimmune hair loss) included in this review indicated that LLLT may not treat hair loss but instead promote faster hair growth. This would be in line with the stimulatory effects of LLLT at a cellular level.
Other clinical trials in this review also suggest that LLLT may have a beneficial effect on hair thickness, better scalp health, and hair shine.
In a more recent review of LLLT’s effectiveness for AGA, the authors examined only human clinical trials (12). Nine out of the eleven clinical trials demonstrated a significant increase in hair count in both males and females. Two studies also observed an increase in hair thickness and resistance to breakage.
This review also concludes that LLLT seems to be a promising therapy for AGA.
However, an additional review is more critical of the studies on LLLT (13). The authors suggest that future trials be conducted with a more systematic, methodical approach to facilitate comparisons. Nonetheless, they conclude that LLLT therapy for hair loss is both safe and effective.
- There is quite a bit of evidence to support the use of LLLT for hair loss.
- Two reviews on LLLT for hair loss indicate that it is, at the very least, a promising therapy for hair loss.
- One review is more critical of the methodological approach in some included studies, however, they also conclude that LLLT is both safe and effective.
Laser Treatment for Hair Loss Side Effects
When it comes to the side effects of LLLT, they are quite minimal compared to some other therapies for hair loss. But, this is contingent on the strength of the laser therapy used.
LLLT has a biphasic effect. This means that too low of a strength results in little to no effect whereas higher strength lasers can have a detrimental effect.
For this reason, there is a narrow therapeutic window for laser devices. If a manufacturer uses too strong or too weak of a laser, the results would not be optimal. In some cases, it may even lead to tissue damage.
Additionally, too long of a treatment time could also have adverse effects (14).
This means that adverse side effects really only exist when a manufacturer hasn’t done their due diligence in creating a safe product or if you aren’t using the product as directed.
- LLLT has a biphasic effect, meaning too high or too low of a laser strength results in suboptimal results.
- Tissue damage could result from too strong of a laser.
- Too long of a treatment time could also have adverse effects.
- To minimize side effects, choose a reputable manufacturer and always use the product as directed.
Best Laser Hair Growth Device
Considering the biphasic effects of LLLT, it’s important that you choose a provider you can trust.
Here are some easy tips you can keep in mind when selecting an LLLT device:
- Never buy an LLLT device from Amazon. It is not regulated and it’s a gamble when it comes to quality and standard.
- Check the manufacturer’s/company’s website for testimonials, before and afters, or clinical trials using that specific product.
- Certifications, lab tests, and FDA approval are all great indicators of quality.
Buying from a reputable source using these guidelines will ensure you’re getting a safe and effective product.
Key Takeaway: Using common sense guidelines to find a reputable LLLT company ensures you’re getting a safe and effective product.
Laser Hair Regrowth Treatment Cost
Unfortunately, LLLT is no cheap fix.
Prices for devices that utilize LLLT therapy range from around $100 for LLLT combs to over $1,000 for caps and other LLLT systems.
On the other hand, though, these devices are usually a one-time investment. Because you can get a lot of use out of them and you likely won’t have to repurchase, an LLLT may actually be considered less expensive per use when compared to other hair loss treatments.
For example, hair loss supplements average at about $30 for a 30-day supply. Over the course of 5 years, this would amount to $1,800.
Considering some devices may last as long as 30 years with proper care, the cost per use of LLLT devices may actually be less expensive than hair loss supplements.
- LLLT us relatively expensive with a price range of $100 to $1,000 depending on the device.
- However, LLLT devices are usually a one-time investment.
- It may actually be less expensive per use than hair loss supplements, for example.
The Verdict: Should You Invest In LLLT?
So, should you invest in LLLT for hair growth?
Thankfully, there is a lot of research to support the use of LLLT for hair growth. By acting on various cellular mechanisms, light therapy allows hair to grow faster. It may even help counteract some of the root causes of hair loss.
LLLT devices are quite a hefty investment. Although the upfront cost is relatively expensive compared to other hair growth tools, the cost per use may be less expensive due to its long operating time.
As with any hair loss treatment, make sure you are purchasing from a reputable provider. This means stay away from Amazon, check out customer reviews, and do diligent research!
Have you utilized light therapy before? Did you use it for hair loss? What was your experience? Let us know in a comment below.