Woman and man using red light therapy
Health

I’m Losing My Hair. Does Red Light Therapy Help?

Short answer: It depends on what’s causing your luscious locks to thin.

Whether you wear a ball cap or style your hair differently, let’s be real: Thinning hair can be difficult to hide. And while you can choose to shamelessly embrace your new look, shedding like a cat can feel vulnerable—and a bit embarrassing.

If you’re looking for solutions, chances are you’ve seen glowing red light therapy helmets marketed to regrow hair. The before-and-after photos look impressive, and the couples pictured wearing these devices while watching TV make it seem like a normal weeknight activity. 

But before you dish out hundreds or even thousands of dollars, be warned: Red light therapy for hair loss only helps some people restore lost strands. 

“We’ve done independent research and seen improvement in most patients who use these devices. But, they’re not magic and they’re not a cure,” says dermatologist Ronda Farah M.D.


About the Experts

William Gaunitz, FWTS is a certified trichologist with the World Trichology Society who has spent more than 20 years researching hair loss causes and treatments. He is also the founder of Advanced Trichology, which provides testing and treatment for hair loss.

Ronda Farah M.D., F.A.A.D. is an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota who specializes in treating hair loss, and researches alopecia.


What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is a type of treatment using low-wavelength red light. Also called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation, red light therapy affects the mitochondria in cells. It boosts levels of reactive oxygen species (molecules that can cause damage) and increases the production of ATP (fuel for cells). This causes changes in gene expression that help trigger hair growth (1).

“Low-level laser therapy is stimulative in the same sense that light would impact a plant,” explains William Gaunitz, a certified trichologist. “It allows for the cells to metabolize energy more efficiently.” In turn, more energy helps the hair follicle grow more hair.

Some people prefer red light therapy over taking pills, which can cause side effects like erectile dysfunction in men (2), or applying topical medications, which can be messy.

Hair Loss

Red Light Therapy for Hair Loss 

Studies suggest that red light therapy may work for those with either male- or female-pattern hair loss, which medical experts call androgenetic alopecia. The genetic disorder occurs when hair follicles respond excessively to androgens. It’s considered the most common cause of hair loss among men and women (3). 

Between 30 and 50 percent of men will experience this type of hair loss by age 50—for many, this manifests as a receding hairline (4). Women often begin experiencing female-pattern hair loss in their 40s (often during perimenopause) and their hair will continue to thin as they age if they don’t seek treatment (5, 6).

The authors of a 2024 systematic review published in Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine found that several studies showed a significant increase in hair density after red light therapy treatment compared to sham treatment for male- and female-pattern hair loss (7). 

Providers report positive effects in the clinic. “Specifically in androgenetic alopecia, most patients—especially if they use this consistently for six months—will generally see improvement,” Farah says.

What red light therapy can’t help with

“There are a whole host of hair loss diseases,” Farah says. “If you’ve lost hair and it isn’t returning or your hair loss is progressing, see a dermatologist.” They may do various tests to identify the underlying cause. This can include a scalp biopsy and blood work to check for nutrient deficiencies and thyroid dysfunction. 

Because thyroid hormones play a role in hair growth, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are associated with hair loss (8), so it’s imperative to get to the root cause of those conditions before targeting hair loss treatment.

Chemotherapy, radiation, and drugs to treat heart problems, hypertension, arthritis, and other conditions may result in hair loss (9), and red light therapy may not be able to reverse that.  Hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy, menopause, and conditions such as PCOS can all be causes of hair loss (9).

In most cases, a dermatologist can develop a treatment plan, which may call for nutritional supplements or oral or topical medication such as Minoxidil or Finasteride. Another option may be platelet-rich plasma injections (10). For this, the provider takes a sample of your blood and places it in a centrifuge to separate the plasma. They then inject the plasma into your scalp to promote hair growth.

How to Get Red Light Therapy

There are two ways to get red light therapy: In a clinic with a health professional or at home with a device.

Many dermatologists and trichologists have devices in their offices and can tailor the treatment based on your skin tone and how long you’ve been losing hair, Gaunitz says. Or you can buy various devices, including helmets and combs, online or in wholesaler retailers. 

The only difference between going to an expert and DIY treatment is convenience, Farah explains. One thing to keep in mind: Some at-home treatments may have fewer bulbs than at-clinic varieties, so it may take more sessions at home to see results.

How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy?

Every red light therapy device differs, so there’s no standard protocol for hair growth. In general, treatment lasts about 15 to 20 minutes and is done two or three times a week, according to Gaunitz. 

However, if you’re using a device at home, follow the directions listed on the package. “Each device is manufactured to deliver a certain amount of energy that the company determined in studies is appropriate for the scalp,” Farah explains.

Keep in mind that, just like building muscle, hair regrowth is a long game. “In my experience, it typically takes six months of really following the regimen to see improvement,” Farah says. “But it’s not a cure, so if it works, you need to keep using it.”

Researchers agree. In a 2022 study published in Lasers in Medical Science, people with mild to moderate androgenetic alopecia used a red light laser helmet for 20 minutes every other day for 38 to 40 weeks (11). The treatment was moderately effective for 52 percent of users with mild hair loss and 57 percent with moderate hair loss. Still, the study authors concluded that, for men, using the device at least 180 times—or for more than one year—led to the best results.

Some providers recommend using red light laser therapy in combination with oral or topical treatments. According to a review of randomized controlled trials published in Skin Appendage Disorders in 2023, using topical Minoxidil (which stimulates hair growth on the scalp) and red light therapy appears to be just as effective—if not more—than just using Minoxidil to treat androgenetic alopecia (12). 

The review also indicated that hair growth peaks during the first two to three months of combination therapy—but there’s a caveat. After that period, hair growth slows. So much so that, after six months of treatment, the results are about the same as using only Minoxidil.

Red light therapy risks

Red light therapy devices are FDA-cleared for male- and female-pattern hair loss (red light doesn’t emit cancer-causing UVA or UVB rays) so there’s little risk. Note: Cleared means the device is “substantially equivalent” to other similar products to devices already on the market, while ‘approved’ means there’s “sufficient valid scientific evidence” that it’s safe and effective (13).

Some people may experience tingling, redness, or itching, but that’s “really unlikely,” Farah says. “If you’re sensitive to light or get a lot of headaches, it may not be the best idea,” she adds.

References