I never realized that there is something worse than having a “bad hair day.” How about having a “no hair day”? The small percent who embrace their hairless heads can live their happy, bald lives. Everyone else wants a healthy head of hair. Does red light therapy help grow hair?
Red light therapy is a science-backed hair growth treatment. Hundreds of studies support its use. Thousands more support the use of red light for safe, effective treatment of other conditions. So long as your light has the right coverage, wavelength, and power, there is a very good chance you can use it to stimulate hair growth.
While hair growth clinics might use lasers to stimulate hair growth, you can get the same effect at home with light emitting diode (LED) devices. What matters is the type of light, and the exposure, rather than whether it comes from a laser or an LED. LED devices take more time to work.
What is Red Light Therapy for Hair Loss?
Certain types of red light delivered in the right amounts can stimulate dormant follicles to grow hair. This is red light therapy (RLT) for hair loss.
Certain types of light interact with the body to create energy and nitric oxide. Red light is particularly bioactive. The body’s mitochondria absorb certain reds and respond by creating energy. When this happens in hair follicles, it stimulates hair growth.
Red light therapy is one modality in a larger science known as photobiomodulation, where photo is light, bio is life, and modulation is change. Red light therapy is a form of using light to change biology.
Red light therapy that we can now do t home comes from laser therapy that has always been available only at clinical and doctor offices. When researchers discovered that low power light had positive biological effects, the consumer light therapy industry was born.
The path from lasers to LEDs is about as straight as Boston’s roads. In case you want to research this some more, here are the phrases you can use in your search:
- low level light therapy, or low level laser therapy, or LLLT: This refers to the fact that low power lasers were the first offshoot of higher power laser therapy. That morphed into light emitting diodes (LEDs) replacing lasers altogether. So you will see references to low level light and low level laser even when the device is not a laser.
- cold laser therapy: this is similar to low level light or low level laser. The device might or might not be a laser, but the device is lower power than a typical laser used in therapy.
- photobiomodulation or PBM: this is photo for photon or light, plus bio, or biology, or life; plus modulation, or change. PBM is using light to change biology.
- red light therapy or RLT: this is usually a reference to using red light for therapy, but the fact is that RLT includes blue, green and orange or amber light. It’s just easier to call it “red light therapy” or RLT because it’s a term everyone knows. You can also get good photo bio modulation or healthy effects with blue light therapy, green light therapy, and orange/yellow/amber light therapy.
Does RLT Work for Women’s Hair Loss?
Yes, women can grow hair using red light therapy. Red light hair growth therapy is not just for men. For the millions of women who hate losing their hair, red light therapy can help. Red light can grow here lost to any of these conditions, all of which happen to both men and women:
- male pattern baldness (in both men and women)
- androgen, estrogen and/or progesterone imbalances
- birth control pills
- stress hair loss
Does Red Light Therapy Grow Hair for All Types of Baldness?
Red light therapy grows hair for most types of hair loss, but it doesn’t work as well (or at all) for certain types of baldness. Check your own hair loss pattern against the Norwood-Hamilton scale for male hair loss, or the Ludwig-Savin scale for female hair loss.
The four images below show the types of hair loss that do and that do not respond to cold laser hair restoration. Men respond to treatment if they have types Norwood 2A, 3, 3A, 3V or type 4. Women respond if they have Ludwig types I-1, I-2, I-3, I-4, II-1 or II-2 hair loss.
The low level laser therapy hair restoration device companies usually have customer service people who can help you determine which hair loss pattern you have.
What’s Better for Hair Growth: Laser or LED Light?
Laser and LED hair growth therapy work equally well; LED requires more time per session, but are safer and more affordable than lasers.
A laser is a high power light emitting a coherent beam. All the waves point t the same target with high energy, which is why lasers can burn. Lasers can burn your eyes and skin. Lasers are so strong that surgeons use lasers as “knives.”
A light emitting diode (LED) is a small device that lights when energized, and emits incoherent light. The light travels in multiple directions. The light does not concentrate on spot and LEDs cannot burn skin or eyes. You can put your hand on a plate of LEDs and not feel heat. You will get some heat from infrared LEDs, but not enough to burn.
Lasers are not better because they are coherent and have more power. During a session, laser treatment is much faster than LED. But over time, laser and LED take the same amount of time to grow hair.
- LED has huge advantages over lasers. LED’s are better for stimulating hair growth because:
- LEDs are cheaper than lasers
- LEDs are cool to the touch
- LEDs do not hurt your skin or eyes
- You do not need to hire a clinician or doctor to get LED treatment
Some manufacturers created mixed LED and laser hair growth helmets. These shine both LED and laser onto your head. There are rules against selling high power lasers to consumers. Therefore, these mixed-used devices incorporate lower power lasers and LEDs. The laser’s coherent beam penetrates further into the follicle. The lower power laser is safe enough for home use but do not take any changes staring into your lights.
How Long Does Red Light Take to Grow Hair?
Both cold laser and real laser therapy take between six and 24 months to grow hair. You should see some results by the 7th month. Red light hair loss device companies will often guarantee their devices for up to 6 or 7 months. They know that you have to give the process time, and want customers to feel safe investing in their products. If you don’t see any progress at six months, the treatment is probably not going to work for you.
How Long is a Hair Loss Treatment Session?
An at-home hair growth session is 30 minutes; a clinic laser treatment is five to 15 minutes. Your mileage will vary with the device used, your hair loss pattern, and the device company’s or practitioner’s way of doing things.
The clinic treatment looks shorter on the face of it. However, with your home treatment you don’t need to:
- drive to the appointment
- wait for the specialist
- drive home
- have good hygiene
- wear acceptable clothing
Does a Household Light Bulb Stimulate Hair Growth?
No, household light bulbs cannot stimulate hair growth. They do not have enough of the right wavelengths distributed with the right energy.
Hair follicles respond to 660 nm wavelength energy, otherwise known as a very specific color red. Light bulbs for home use usually throw white light, which has only a tiny amount of red, and of that, only a tiny amount of 660 nm. Painting a tint onto the bulb doesn’t change the wavelengths emitted, just how our eyes observe them. Incandescent lamps put off more heat than photons. LED home lamps are low energy and too diffuse to hit the target with enough energy.
Does a Home Garden Light Bulb Stimulate Hair Growth?
Yes, it is possible to induce hair growth using a bulb intended for indoor gardening. As long as you make a couple of treatment adjustments, they can be a cheap way to stimulate hair growth. You will have to play with the dosage (time per treatment with the lamp at a given distance). If you guess wrong, you will not know for months. This is the trade off you will be making by using a cheaper grow bulb instead of a dedicated hair lamp.
Beware of these concerns when using a plant bulb for hair growth: look at the wavelength, the energy delivered, and the electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
Get a bulb emitting 660 nm red light. You can get one that also emits 850 nm or so light as this is very common, but you should seek to get a one wavelength bulb if you have a choice. The 850 nm will help hair grow, but not as fast. It is infrared, and so it will feel warm.
Assume that your plant bulb emits manmade EMFs. These EMFs are the byproduct of making the bulb glow, and are not the bulb’s intended output (the intended output is the 660 nm light waves). Non natural or manmade EMFs might cause harm when used consistently on one spot over months. To avoid this danger, hold the lamp at 6 or more inches from your scalp. The distance is enough for the EMFs to drop off.
The bad news is that this distance is enough for many of the photons to fall off too. You want those photons and you will be losing them to both distance and to the reflection off your skull. To make up for this loss, you need to do longer sessions.
How long? It’s a guess, that’s the problem with going cheap, you’re not getting a tested, dedicated device. You can’t leave the lamp on 24 x 7 because too much light will stop the follicle from growing hair. Therefore, you have to experiment with treatment times.
Start with 1/2 hour every other day at a distance of 6 inches from the lamp. If you want more distance for your comfort, then increase the time even more. How much is very hard to say, these are all guesses based on educated intuition.
Here’s the really big rub of a cheap plant bulb. You won’t know if you did it right for up to six months. That’s how long you might have to wait to see results. To be fair, you should see some growth in 3 months. But how will you know why you’re not seeing growth? Is it the lamp’s distance? The treatment time is in error? You just have follicles that don’t respond to RLT?
In exchange for a cheap device, you will need to play with the variables to find the right dose, and this could literally take years. It’s an option, just know what you’re getting into.
What’s Better, Home Hair Growth RLT or a Hair Clinic?
A clinic offers a trained professional who focuses like a laser beam (ha ha) on your case; a home RLT hair growth device Is less expensive, does not require a commute, and you can use it without showering or even dressing.
Clinics offer more than laser or cold laser treatments. You might find your case is difficult and needs a professional to address the problems. While you can buy Minoxidil without a prescription, you need a doctor’s permission to use Finasteride (Propecia) to re-grow hair. Many hair clinics offer transplants, plugs, and drugs as well as light therapy to help re-grow your hair.
You have hundreds of choices for home use hair growth light therapy. Many companies offer hats and helmets outfitted with LEDs. To grow your hair, you wear this device several times a week. Treatment times are usually 25 minutes or so.
For home treatment success, you need to find the hat or helmet that:
- is FDA cleared for marketing for the purpose of treating hair loss
- is comfortable
- is breathable
- is cushioned
- covers all areas you want hair growth
- has 660 nm wavelength red light
- is as powerful as promised, not more and not less
- has quality materials and construction
- has a money back guarantee period of at least 6 months
Hair growth RLT is painless, non-invasive, and has no side effects. But a poorly designed helmet will hurt in spots. If that discomfort keeps you from wearing your device, then that device failed.
Who Should Avoid Red Light Hair Growth Therapy?
Red light therapy cannot cause cancer, but the jury is out on whether it can stimulate existing cancer. There is controversy about whether red light is bad for people with thyroid conditions. Do not stare into a red light without discussing it with your eye doctor. Drugs causing photosensitivity should be avoided when doing RLT.
Red light therapy is extremely helpful in dealing with the negative effects of cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation. In fact, sometimes cancer patients using red light do much better and live longer than those who do not use the light.
Here is an excellent article from Dr. Michael Hamblin, the world’s foremost expert in the science of using light for healing: Photobiomodulation and Cancer: What Is The Truth?
What is the Best Hair Growth Red Light Therapy?