Jun 08, 2023

Can a Light Therapy Helmet Really Regrow Hair?

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What the experts—and a real-life tester! have to say about how a sci-fi–looking helmet might help you with hair loss.

Restoring hair to its youthful abundance had long seemed impossible for people with thinning locks or bald spots. Then the FDA approved topical minoxidil for both men and women in 1998 and a pill called finasteride, for men only, a decade later. (Some doctors will prescribe a very low dose of oral minoxidil off-label.) These meds work for some but can have side effects. In 2007, the FDA OK’d a new nonsurgical hair-growth technology: low-level light therapy (LLLT). Soon combs, caps, and helmets promising to restore hair with fewer side effects began sprouting up. So, how well do they work?

First, a bit of background: Andro genetic alopecia (AGA)—your basic bald spot and receding hairline in men, or thinning hair in women—affects half of adults. It occurs when a hormone called DHT, a byproduct of testosterone, causes the hair follicles to shrink and eventually stop producing hair. You can also lose hair from autoimmune diseases, a stressful event, or even after having had an illness like COVID, when stress on the body pushes more hairs out of the growing phase and into the resting phase, says dermatologist Adriana N. Schmidt, M.D., co-owner of Santa Monica Dermatology Group in California.

LLLT is thought to work when "photons of light target and penetrate the follicle and get absorbed by the cells," says Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston and Palm Beach, FL. This improves blood circulation, bringing more nutrients to the follicle, which prolongs the growth phase and stimulates the mitochondria (the cells’ power packs), giving the follicle more energy to grow hair, Dr. DeRosa says. But you need to have some life left in your follicles, she points out: "If the scalp is completely smooth, it's not going to work—the same is true of topical meds and pills. The sooner you start using any of these treatments, the better chance you have of seeing improvements."

A 2021 review found that LLLT could effectively regrow hair in people with AGA, especially when used in combination with minoxidil or finasteride, and a 2021 study found that 650nm red light effectively promoted growth in the hair follicles of patients with AGA. But as with minoxidil and finasteride, you have to keep using the helmet indefinitely to maintain the new growth. The technology is considered safe— just keep red light away from your eyes.

We asked Steven Odierna, a 54-year- old from New York City with male- pattern baldness, to try it. He tested the iRestore helmet ($695 to $1,255; Odierna was given one to try for free). "I like that you can walk around with the helmet on," he says. After wearing the helmet every other day for 25 minutes for more than eight months, Odierna says he's seen moderately positive results: "I’d say something between peach fuzz and real hair."

At-home laser hair treatments can work, especially when combined with other treatments, such as minoxidil. But you need to begin them as soon as you start seeing your hair thinning out.

Stephanie Anderson Witmer has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, with a focus on writing and editing stories about food, agriculture, health, parenting, home, and garden for magazines, newspapers, and websites.

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