These new-age devices, which emit red light to allegedly stimulate hair growth, are gaining in popularity—but are they truly effective?
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laser hair cap
Credit: Courtesy of Capillus

Hair loss is always distressing, whether or not you understand the root cause. While it is normal to experience thinning as you age, seeing any level of balding or excess shedding—seemingly out of nowhere—should prompt a trip to your dermatologist. The sooner you address the signs and symptoms of hair loss, the more likely you are to avoid permanent damage.

There's another reason why seeking treatment early is best: These days, there are a myriad of hair loss mitigators to try. Medicated shampoos and mousses—most of which are packed with topical minoxidil (better known as Rogaine, the only FDA-approved drug known to combat both male and female pattern baldness)—are often the first line of defense, but there is another option that has recently come to market.

Enter laser cap therapy: Manufacturers of these gadgets claim their products, which often look like helmets or baseball caps, help grow thicker, healthier hair in as little as three months. All you have to do is place the light therapy tool (it glows with red light when activated) onto your head a few times each week.

But is laser cap therapy just another hair loss fad that will inevitably fade away, or are the devices a viable option for those experiencing balding and thinning? ​​To find out, we spoke with a board-certified dermatologist.

How does laser cap therapy treat hair loss?

Laser caps call on low-level laser treatment (LLLT), also known as photobiomodulation therapy, to prevent or reverse hair loss. LLLT is an FDA-approved, at-home treatment for both men and women who are experiencing thinning, says Hysem Eldik, M.D., a dermatologist at Marmur Medical. It comes in cap or comb form (another red light device that looks more like a hair brush).

"In complete transparency, scientists do not know the specific mechanism of why it works," says Dr. Eldik. "It is thought that light stimulates hair growth by speeding up cell division." LLLT may also encourage hair follicle stem cells to produce new strands, he adds.

Ultimately, hair loss in both men and women is caused by inflammation in the scalp. According to Dr. Eldik, LLLT has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the number of damaged cells there, and the laser therapy method could prevent those harmful cells from causing hair loss. In fact, it might even promote hair growth.

It's worth a try, says Dr. Eldik, since the treatment has no known side effects and is harmless. He even calls laser hair growth devices one of the greatest prophylactic strategies available today.

How often should you use LLLT devices to treat hair loss?

The current protocol is to utilize these red light caps or combs three times a week for 20 minutes per session. "A total of 141 female pattern hair loss patients used an LLLT comb device three times per week compared to a sham device in two 26-week studies, with the LLLT group showing a substantial improvement in hair density," notes Dr. Eldik. Another clinical study found that the laser helmet produced similar promising effects in both male and female pattern hair loss; further investigations have shown that LLLT increases hair volume and density.

Should you combine laser cap therapy with other hair loss treatments?

According to Dr. Eldik, a two-pronged approach is best. Clinical trials have shown that using LLLT in combination with topical minoxidil therapy is more successful than either treatment alone.

Where can you buy one of these devices?

Laser caps that treat hair loss come with a hefty price tag. Depending on the device type and its strength, it may cost anywhere between $600 and $2,500. If you ultimately decide that it's worth the investment, we recommend consulting with your dermatologist, who will be able to recommend an FDA-cleared system that is best for your needs. Want to purchase one now? Caps like the iRestore Hair Growth System ($695, irestorelaser.com), CapillusOne ($1,099, capillus.com), Illumiflow 272 Laser Cap ($649, illumiflow.com), and Kiierr 148 Pro Laser Cap ($645, kiierr.com) are all backed by the FDA.

The bottom line? Using LLLT by way of a laser cap or comb might stimulate your scalp and hair follicles to produce more hair—and could be worth testing, should the tools fit into your lifestyle and budget.

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