IS IT REALLY POSSIBLE TO COMB AWAY YOUR HAIR LOSS AT HOME WITH A HAND-HELD LASER COMB? IT ALL DEPENDS.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or laser hair therapy, is the application of small light diodes in a very specific spectrum of light to stimulate hair growth. People who use LLLT are experiencing androgenetic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness and female pattern baldness.
Testing the efficacy of LLLT — its ability to actually stem hair loss and revive lost hair follicles — has provided mixed results. One study published in 2003, “Hair Regrowth and Increased Hair Tensile Strength Using the HairMax LaserComb for Low-Level Laser Therapy” (J. Satino and M. Markou, International Journal of Cosmetic Surgery and Aesthetic Dermatology 5, no. 2 ), was on 28 men, ages 28 to 72, and seven women, ages 46 to 76, all of whom had some degree of hair loss in the temporal and vertex regions of the scalp.
Of note, the test was done on self-administered, handheld laser combs. Study participants were instructed to comb their hair with the device for five to ten minutes per day every other day. The technique used, as recommended by the laser comb manufacturer, is to move through dry hair and scalp at the rate of 1 inch per four seconds.
Before-and-after measurements of the tensile strength of the hair and hair counts in a designated 1 square centimeter were taken. The results of this small study were that tensile strength improved 78.9 percent overall and hair counts went up 93.5 percent.
Amazing, yes? Well, to a point. Note that this effect was experienced where there was hair.
Prior and subsequent experience shows that this only minimally restores hair already lost.
Another study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy (11, no 2, M. Avram and N. Rogers, “The Use of Low-Level Light for Hair Growth,” Cornell Department of Dermatology/Tulane Department of Dermatology [June 2009, 110-117]) found the following:
The results indicate that on average patients had a decrease in the number of vellus hairs, an increase in the number of terminal hairs, and an increase in shaft diameter. However, paired i-testing indicated that none of these changes was statistically significant. Also, blinded evaluation of global images did not support an improvement in hair density or caliber.
Conclusions: LLLT may be a promising treatment option for patients who do not respond to either finasteride or minoxidil, and who do not want to undergo hair transplantation. This technology appears to work better for some people than for others. Factors predicting who will most benefit are yet to be determined. Larger, longer-term placebo-controlled studies are needed to confirm these findings, and demonstrate statistical significance, or refute them altogether.
Which presents a more mixed picture of how well laser hair therapy works. That said, the handheld laser combs are a popular item sold under several different brand names. What might be considered the competition — in-studio laser treatments, generally sold as a yearlong package at a much higher price — often ends up being a precursor to a laser comb purchase.
That’s because patients of in-studio programs often purchase a handheld device as part of a maintenance regimen after the in-studio program is complete.
How laser hair therapy works — in different modes of delivery
LLLT was discovered by happenstance in wound recovery studies. On laboratory mice, subjects that were receiving laser therapy grew shaved hair back more quickly than did mice not receiving the treatment. That was in the 1970s, and it spawned a great deal of excitement around the potential of lasers.
In the more than three decades since, laser hair therapy has taken hold in Europe and the United States, despite inconclusive evidence of its efficacy. In-studio LLLT programs, because of their ongoing relationships with laser treatment patients, offer their observations: “Laser hair therapy is the most effective way to restore a person’s natural hair,” says Melissa Green, a hair loss consultant with Transitions of Indiana. “The expectations of the clients are to slow down the rate of their hair loss and to partially restore their hair. The longer a person does laser, the more simulation is occurring and the higher the success rate.” Green adds that scalp treatment programs, such as the use of specially formulated shampoos and massage oils, can increase the effectiveness of the therapy. “Treatment programs are most successful when you combine laser treatments with scalp treatments.”
Comparing laser combs with in-studio laser hair therapy programs
When comparing the two different approaches to laser hair therapy, several points might help a patient determine if one is better for that person’s needs.
Time involvement. With a laser comb, you’ll need to use the device for five to ten minutes every other day (i.e., three to four times per week). With an in-studio program, you’ll need to travel to the studio twice a week, where appointments are approximately 30 minutes each. In some studios, the patient undergoes a longer clean-and-massage treatment every other week.
Cost. A full-year in-studio program will run $2,000 to $6,000 and sometimes more. Laser combs retail for $500-$600.
Discipline. Both programs require a consistent frequency. “Our clients are fully committed to the program when they start,” says Green. “They know that it is going to take at least 60-90 days to see results.” An at-home laser comb regimen is ill-suited to the person who might forget to apply it on schedule.
Add-on complimentary services. Part of the attraction toward going to an in-studio LLLT session might be how every fourth or so appointment involves a scalp massage. While this can be self-administered, the two are hardly the same thing.
As Green and other in-studio therapists emphasize, one of the most important factors is establishing expectations that the therapy largely stops loss, rather than regains growth in hair that is already gone. With that understanding, a laser hair therapy program for any type of patient looks manageable — if he or she has the patience to be a consistent patient.