What is low level light therapy?
Low level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) uses diodes and/or LEDs to deliver red light to the scalp. It is also used in other medical applications (e.g., wound healing, joint pain) but recently, has been used extensively for hair loss.
This is a safe, non-invasive treatment. Red light is placed as close to the scalp as possible and absorbed by the skin. Similar to oral or topical drug medications, such as finasteride and minoxidil, LLLT acts on existing hair follicles in the skin layers of the scalp. LLLT devices may come in the form of a comb, hat, or helmet. They can be used in a clinic office or at home multiple times per week.
How do I use low level light therapy?
In-office LLLT devices have more diodes/ LEDs and are therefore likely more effective. Sure Hair International uses the Capillus LLLT device in their clinics. However, in-office treatment also requires that a patients visit a clinic multiple times a week and this may be inconvenient or undesirable.
There are devices that can be used at home or combined with in-office visits. Clinical studies have shown that devices can be effective (1–4). Devices cleared for home use by Health Canada are the iGrow Helmet (Apira Science), the HairMax Laser Comb (Lexington), and the recently cleared Hair Regrowth Laser Cap (Capillus).
It is universally accepted within the hair loss field that one of the keys to obtaining results with LLLT is regular, long-term use; for example, 30 minutes, 3 times per week for at least 6 months (2,3,6). Ideally, if one purchases a LLLT device for in-home use, they should try and continue using it beyond 6 months. This is similar to oral or topical medications for hair loss. If a patient stops using these treatments, the progress that has been made with hair growth or stabilization of hair loss will start to recede. There is also a chance of this happening if one stops LLLT without continuing any other treatment methods.
Capillus Laser Cap
In October 2016, Health Canada cleared Capillus low level laser therapy caps for in-home use (5). According to their website, Capillus offers 3 choices for their caps: 82-, 202-, or 272 laser diodes. No research has been conducted to determine if one cap is better than the other.
Features of the Capillus caps that might appeal to patients are that they look like a sports cap, making them very discrete. The laser diode cap can be removed from the Capillus shell cap and placed in a patient’s sports cap of choice. A sensor will start therapy once the cap is positioned properly, ensuring that treatment occurs in an optimum way. Laser diodes will shut off automatically once treatment is complete. Importantly, when using any LLLT device, it is necessary for the patient to have clean hair with no hair products in it.
Clinical Trial with Capillus Laser Cap (4)
A double-blind sham control clinical trial was conducted in 44 female patients, aged 18-60 years, with androgenetic alopecia (female pattern hair loss). Patients had Fitzpatrick skin types I-IV and Ludwig-Savin Baldness scale I to II hair loss patterns (see here for hair loss scale) (7). Both patients and medical personnel did not know what treatment group an individual patient was assigned to. The treatment and sham (fake) devices looked identical. Importantly, the individuals responsible for evaluating hair growth were also unaware of whether patients received treatment or sham control.
All patients received a laser cap (treatment or sham) to use at home for 30 minutes at a time, every other day for 17 weeks to a maximum of 60 treatments. This study used the Capillus laser cap with 272 diodes. The control or sham group used a cap with incandescent lights painted red in order to appear like a functioning device. Personnel followed up with patients to ensure they were using the device at home and ask about possible side effects or problems with the device. Number of hairs in a target area was counted before and after 17 weeks of treatment so that a percent increase in hair count could be calculated.
There were no reported side effects from patients. Nineteen patients in the treatment group and 21 patients in the sham control group completed the study. The vertex of the scalp was the area that was measured in all patients. The three patients who did not complete the study did not agree to return for the final evaluation visit and had either not used the device or were not forthcoming with information regarding device use.
How well did this laser cap work for female patients?
There was a 51% increase in number of hairs after treatment compared to the sham control. The mean hair count (and standard deviation) before and after the 17 week study was 216.9 (109.1) vs. 235.3 (105.8) for a difference of 18.5 (24.4) hairs in the sham control group. In contrast, the mean hair count (and standard deviation) for the laser treatment group before and after 17 weeks was 189.3 (85.8) vs. 268.3 (117.7) for a difference of 89.9 (63.3) hairs. This mean difference in hairs was significantly different between the laser and sham control groups (p = 0.001) (4).
Treatment with the Capillus laser cap appears to have increased the number of hair for women in the clinical trial described above. This trial is small, but fairly well conducted. Study personnel working with patients, the patients themselves, and the people evaluating hair growth were all unaware of whether patients received laser treatment or sham control. This allows researchers to be more confident in the validity of the results.
Other laser therapy options and further information
There are other low level laser therapy options apart from the Capillus cap. As mentioned previously, there are combs or helmets that are meant for personal use at home. We will talk about helmets for light therapy in an upcoming post. Our previous post, ‘Low level laser therapy is effective: Seeing is believing’ provides testimonials from laser hair therapy patients. If you would like more information about laser therapy, either in the clinic setting or for at home use, ask a Sure Hair Representative.
- Jimenez F, Poblet E. Gross and Microscopic Anatomy of the Follicular Unit. In: Haber RS, Stough DB, editors. Hair Transplantation. 2nd ed. Elsevier Saunders; 2006. p. 35–42.
- Lanzafame RJ, Blanche RR, Chiacchierini RP, Kazmirek ER, Sklar JA. The growth of human scalp hair in females using visible red light laser and LED sources. Lasers Surg Med. 2014 Oct;46(8):601–7.
- Lanzafame RJ, Blanche RR, Bodian AB, Chiacchierini RP, Fernandez-Obregon A, Kazmirek ER. The growth of human scalp hair mediated by visible red light laser and LED sources in males. Lasers Surg Med. 2013 Oct;45(8):487–95.
- Friedman S, Schnoor P. Novel Approach to Treating Androgenetic Alopecia in Females With Photobiomodulation (Low-Level Laser Therapy). Dermatol Surg Off Publ Am Soc Dermatol Surg Al. 2017 Jun;43(6):856–67.
- Capillus LLC. Health Canada Device Licence Listing. [cited 2018 Jan 2]; Available from: https://health-products.canada.ca/mdall-limh/dispatch-repartition.do?type=active
- Jimenez JJ, Wikramanayake TC, Bergfeld W, Hordinsky M, Hickman JG, Hamblin MR, et al. Efficacy and Safety of a Low-level Laser Device in the Treatment of Male and Female Pattern Hair Loss: A Multicenter, Randomized, Sham Device-controlled, Double-blind Study. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2014;15:115–27.
- Dinh QQ, Sinclair R. Female pattern hair loss: Current treatment concepts. Clin Interv Aging. 2007 Jun;2(2):189–99.