According to the American Hair Loss Association, by the age of 35, nearly 65% of men will have some degree of hair loss or alopecia, and by the age of 50, that figure had risen to 85%. The hair loss symptom in women is also surprisingly common, accounting for 40% of all hair loss patients. Conventional solutions, like creams, pills, and even surgical treatments often come with side effects, which causes a need to seek a natural, safe, and non-invasive solution. Red light therapy for hair loss shows great promise as a long-term answer — for our purpose to examine how RLT helps hair loss, we have reviewed a few of those studies and clinical trials, and we will show you why RLT will be the best for the at-home hair loss treatment, with some studies even resulting in that it can reverse balding and restore natural hair growth.
A brief review of hair growth
The hair follicle, a peculiar feature of mammals, represents a stem cell-rich, prototypical neuroectodermal-mesodermal interaction system, making hair one of the fastest-growing tissues in the human body. Each of the three stages that contributes to the hair follicle’s repeating regeneration cycles includes anagen (rapid growth, active stage), catagen (apoptosis-driven regression, physiological involution stage), and telogen (resting stage).
Everyone knows the fact that hair emerges from the hair follicle. The hair follicle is a tiny, tunnel-shaped structure that extends from the skin’s epidermis into the dermis. The picture below shows the components of the hair follicle, its associated structure, and its functions.
1) Dermal papilla: it is the unique cell near the base of the hair follicle that is crucial for the development, growth, and regrowth of hair;
2) Matrix: the proliferating cells that build up the internal root sheath and hair are found in the matrix;
3) Internal root sheath: the layer of keratinized cells forms the internal root sheath and shields the hair, and it is discharged from where the sebaceous glands touch the hair shaft;
4) External root sheath: it is the tubular extension of the epidermis that envelops the whole hair follicle;
5) Bulb: the hair follicle’s root;
6) Bulge: a collection of epithelial stem cells halfway up the hair follicle’s shaft;
7) Arrector pili muscles: it is responsible for goosebumps, and permits heat and sebum discharge;
8) Sebaceous glands: it is the exocrine gland that releases sebum, a fatty waxy substance that lubricates hair.
During the anagen phase, the hair begins to grow from the root of the follicle and out the surface of the skin. This phase lasts three to seven years. The catagen phase lasts two to four months, during which hair growth slows and the hair follicle shrinks. The telogen phase, which usually lasts between three and four months, occurs when the hair falls out and the hair follicle begins to produce new hair.
The papilla contains the hair’s most crucial cells. The epithelial stem cells in the bulge get signals from these cells. The epithelial stem cells in the bulge get signals from these cells. Progenitor cells, a class of cells that may develop into a variety of specialized cells, are produced by these stem cells. In this instance, they differentiate to create amplifying cells that enter the dermis deeply, and then matrix cells, which produce hair.
Types of hair loss
There are three main types of hair loss: androgenetic alopecia (AGA), alopecia areata, and chemotherapy-induced alopecia. Let’s take a brief look at the causes of each type.
Androgenetic alopecia (AGA)
Androgen is the primary hormone that plays a role in men’s sexual development, however as well as in a variety of roles in both sexes, including controlling hair growth. AGA is thought to be brought on by an increase in the activity of androgens, particularly dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Follicular miniaturization, also known as premature shrinkage of the hair follicles in the scalp, can be caused by elevated levels of DHT. The more robust terminal hairs that are normally produced in the scalp are replaced by thinner, shorter-lived vellus hairs, which are produced by these condensed follicles. An additional factor in AGA is a genetically predetermined shortening of the anagen phase and a lengthening of the telogen phase.
Alopecia areata (AA)
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune inflammatory condition. T-cells in the body attack the hair follicles in autoimmune AA, resulting in hair loss. However, the hair follicles are not destroyed, so the hair can grow again. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, there are a few conditions linked with AA, including vitamin D deficiency, hay fever, vitiligo, and others. Race and family history are also evident factors. There are severe variants of AA: alopecia totalis, a total loss of scalp hair, and alopecia universalis, a total loss of scalp and body hair.
Chemotherapy-induced alopecia (CIA)
Chemotherapy is used to attack cancer cells that divide quickly. Sadly, it does not distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells. About 60% of patients receiving chemotherapy will have CIA, though within three to six months, the majority will experience hair regrowth. Permanent hair loss does occur, though it is uncommon, mostly due to the damage caused by high-dose chemotherapy or its combination with certain drugs.
How red light therapy helps hair loss
In 2007 and 2011, LLLT mediated by a laser comb was approved by the FDA as a safe treatment for male and female pattern hair loss respectively. The skin is exposed to harmless red and near-infrared (NIR) light during red light therapy, which can penetrate into the skin further than any other wavelengths, reaching the mitochondria level. The treatment triggers a biochemical reaction in the mitochondria, allowing it to use oxygen more effectively to produce adenosine triphosphate, i.e. ATP. ATP is the power source that drives numerous functions of each organ and is referred to as the body’s energy currency. But how exactly does RLT affect hair growth?
There is one study by Dr. Michael Hamblin in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigative Dermatology which provides a detailed account of RLT for the three types of alopecia.
1) Red light therapy for androgenetic alopecia
It appears that red light therapy prolongs the anagen phase of the hair follicle. This could be because stem cells in the hair follicle’s bulge contain a rich amount of mitochondria that can be stimulated by red and near-infrared light. A rapidly increased need for oxygen follows this increased metabolic activity. And stem cells will migrate to the more oxygen-rich environment, which subsequently stimulates more activity in the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle. There is a study diving into metabolic requirements for the maintenance of self-renewing stem cells and it thoroughly examined and determined the metabolic pathways for stem cell maintenance. As mentioned above, the metabolic activity of the epithelial stem cells in the bulge is vital, because it produces progenitor cells, which will differentiate to amplifying cells and then matrix cells, which produce hair.
Additionally, there is evidence that red light therapy temporarily raises reactive oxygen species (ROS). Given that it’s well-known that an accumulated buildup of ROS can harm the DNA, RNA, and proteins of a cell, and it can even kill the cell, a temporary increase of ROS can actually bring benefits. It is theorized that the body’s own antioxidant defense mechanisms are triggered by the brief increase after exposure to red and NIR light. Progenitor cells may be encouraged to transform into amplifying cells and then matrix cells, as a result of the brief increase in ROS. For diving into more details on this aspect, you can refer to this study.
Red light therapy and alopecia areata
As it is a case with an autoimmune disease in general, one study found that the environment of the hair follicle in people suffering from AA is pro-inflammatory. This takes place when your cytokines, which are proteins that regulate inflammation and immunity, favor inflammation. Inflammation is actually part of the body’s protective mechanism. In order to fight infection and speed up healing, it floods the affected area with white blood cells, providing the body with protection. However, when these same white blood cells begin to attack healthy cells, chronic inflammation develops.
As well-recognized before, RLT has the supreme anti-inflammatory ability. There is one study well-documented the anti-inflammatory ability of RLT. RLT also increases scalp blood flow, allowing mitochondria in cells within and around the hair follicle to get more oxygen, and it at the same time encourages the production of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents, which are then carried to the hair follicle. Of course, there are other proposed pathways for the anti-inflammatory effect of RLT, and you can scrutinize the details from that study.
Red light therapy for chemotherapy-induced alopecia
There are many shreds of evidence that RLT may assist in reducing apoptosis during chemotherapy. Apoptosis is a type of programmed cell death and that is the way Chemo works to kill cells. The reduction in apoptosis is probably related to an increase in anti-apoptotic proteins in the mitochondria. While there is conflicting evidence that RLT would also inhibit cell death in cancer cells, depending on the strength of irradiation and the type of cancer, RLT is widely accepted as a safe intervention for side effects from cancer treatments, which can be referred to in this study.
More scientific studies on RLT and hair loss
- In a 2014 study, 47 women with AGA received either LED RLT at 655 nm and kept the light treatment on their scalps every other day for 16 weeks. The study found a significant increase in hair counts in comparison to the control group.
- Similar findings were found in another 2014 study involving both men and women. The self-reported improvements in hair thickness and fullness from participants confirmed the same effect, regardless of sex.
- RLT’s potential impact on AGA effectiveness was investigated in a 2020 study, which analyzed various factors that may affect the therapeutic result.
- RLT is a safe and effective treatment for men and women with AGA who don’t respond to or are tolerant of standard treatments, according to a 2016 review of red light therapy and hair regrowth.
- Similar results were found in another review from 2014. The stimulation of epithelial stem cells in the hair follicle’s bulge and increased anagen activity are the hypotheses for the main mechanism.
- RLT in combination with Minoxidil was the subject of a 2018 study, the results show an increasing recovery from AGA, compared to the control condition.
- Another study in 2013 on RLT and AA found that hair regrowth accelerated and recovered 1.6 months earlier in irradiated areas compared to non-irradiated areas.
How can you benefit from RLT for hair growth at home?
The recovery process from hair loss usually requires consistent and continued treatment. For long-term use, it is conspicuous that an official RLT treatment with an extravagant price can be challenging, which is also the reason why currently this type of therapy is not covered by insurance companies.
Bestqool’s light therapy devices not only capture the power and efficacy of clinical appliances that you can receive in a physician’s office, and all our products are certificated by the FDA and ETL which proved to meet the highest standards of performance in the industry. With our leading technology of manufacturing, we are able to package outstanding therapeutic functions in a compact and convenient at-home device. The irradiance is the most crucial to the success of treatment, and you can refer to the previous article — The Ultimate Guide of RLT — Bestqool, to see the detailed rationale behind RLT. We provide professional light devices which reach the maximum capability in the industry with higher irradiance. The effect of 10 minutes of irradiation with our devices is equal to that of 20 minutes with other brands. But the most important is that we think in customers’ stand and we build our commitment to deliver the best user experience, so we also offer a three-year warranty for all our products, which can be exceptional in the industry. We have done the research for you and made our best to secure your successful treatment. That is why you can put your trust and health in us.