Let us guess. You were researching hair loss treatments and came across a list that looked something like this: “minoxidil, finasteride, hair transplants, laser helmets…” And you thought, “Wait, what was that last one?”
Yeah, laser helmets definitely sound like something out of a science fiction movie. But that doesn’t mean you should rule them out as a potential treatment. That’s because (spoiler alert) they actually are effective, although they do come with some hefty drawbacks.
Here’s everything you need to know before you shell out for some glowing new headwear.
Whether it’s a cap, a helmet, or a comb, laser hair loss products all have one thing in common: They aim LED lights or laser beams set at specific wavelengths right at your scalp, where they’re supposed to boost blood circulation to your follicles and promote hair growth.
What’s the difference between the caps, combs, and helmets? The truth is that they all pretty much work the same way. The most important distinction is that for the comb to work you have to, you know, actually comb your hair with it. The caps and helmets just do their thing while you wear them, so they’re a bit less of a hassle. On the other hand, combs tend to be cheaper at around $200-$300. A helmet or cap will typically cost you $500 or more.
In case you’re interested in getting a sense of what’s out there, here are a few examples of each type of laser hair loss product.
The short answer: Yes, and there are studies to prove it—but the FDA isn’t convinced.
The long answer: Despite clinical evidence going all the way back to the 1960s, the FDA has only ever cleared laser hair loss devices for safety, not for efficacy. That means the FDA doesn’t think using these devices will hurt you, but it isn’t so sure they’ll help you either. It also means you should be skeptical of any company that says its laser products are FDA-approved.
Ready to get into the nitty-gritty? Laser hair loss products work using a process called low-level light therapy, or LLLT, which is sort of like the way plants use sunlight to grow. Your helmet, cap, or what-have-you shines particular wavelengths of light down onto your scalp. Like a plant’s leaves would, your follicles absorb the light and convert it into energy, which in turn kickstarts growth.
But there’s a limit to what these devices can do. Once a follicle has gotten to the point where it can no longer produce hair, nothing can make it grow again (not even lasers). That means that if you’re already bald, wearing a laser helmet won’t do anything for you.
As we mentioned earlier, the way you use your laser device is going to differ based on whether it’s a helmet, cap, or comb, but not by much. The same rule applies to lasers that applies to almost every effective hair loss treatment: Consistency is key.
To get the most out of your laser headgear, you’ll need to wear it for 20-30 minutes per session, two or three times a week. That means you’ll be walking around your house with a glowing helmet on your head for at least an hour every week, which may or may not matter depending on how easily embarrassed you are.
If the device works for you, you’ll need to keep using it in order to maintain your results because otherwise your follicles will go back to their normal stages of growth and eventually die. So you’ll want to think about whether you can commit to an hour of laser treatment every week for the foreseeable future before you shell out for one of these devices.
In case it needs to be said, wearing a laser helmet isn’t like pointing a lightsaber at your head. Most laser hair loss devices use a level of radiation that’s low enough to be generally safe. In fact, one of laser treatment’s biggest strengths is that it comes with very little chance of unpleasant side effects. Like minoxidil (a topical hair loss treatment), it can cause temporary shedding when you first get started, but that usually goes away after a few months.
Still, certain people should use caution with these devices. Pregnant women should have a chat with their doctor before using a laser device for hair loss. You should steer clear of lasers if you’re taking medication that makes your skin more sensitive to light, or if you have skin cancer on your scalp. Another important thing to note is that no laser hair loss devices have been cleared by the FDA for use on darker skin, although it’s unlikely that they’ll cause issues given their clinical track record of relative safety.
Here’s the thing about laser devices: While they can be effective at treating hair loss, they’re unlikely to give you the results you’re looking for if you use them alone. That goes double for you if you’re the type of guy who has a hard time sticking to a routine, because you’re unlikely to use the device often enough to get the full benefit.
That’s why some studies conclude that laser devices work best when combined with an FDA-approved hair loss treatment like finasteride (a tablet you take every day) or minoxidil (a topical treatment applied twice a day).
“I don’t recommend using laser helmets as a standalone treatment because the level of improvement is not too impressive,” explains Keeps Medical Director Dr. Peter Young. “If you want to try one, it’s best to use it in conjunction with finasteride or minoxidil. Each of these treatments works differently to stimulate hair growth, so you get an added benefit when you combine them.”
If you’re interested in finasteride or minoxidil (or both!), you can get them delivered right to your door through Keeps—get started here.
While you might be disappointed to find out that laser helmets won’t turn you into a radiation-powered superhero, we hope it’s some consolation to know that they actually can help you slow down and potentially even reverse some hair loss.
Of course, you’ll only get that benefit if you’re willing to plunk down hundreds of dollars on a device and then use it diligently every week for as long as you’d like to keep your hair. If that doesn’t sound like you, keep in mind that there are other hair loss treatments that work. Read up on them here.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Finasteride is an oral medication used to treat male pattern baldness in men only. It is not for use by women. When used by men, finasteride is generally safe but it can also cause serious side effects, including but not limited to allergic reactions, sexual dysfunction, depression, and high-grade prostate cancer. Most patients find that problems with sexual function resolve when they stop taking the medicine. For full prescribing information, view the drug label information.
Photo by Dwayne Legrand on Unsplash