Laser hair restoration spurred a heated debate between conventional hair restoration surgeons and providers of laser therapies. By the time the "New York Times" reported on a nonsurgical way to restore thinning follicles called "photobiostimulation" in June 2005, laser hair restoration had already been featured on primetime news shows like "Dateline NBC." Despite media attention and heavy marketing of in-office treatments and laser hair combs for at-home use, medical experts and professional hair loss organizations are skeptical about the efficacy of laser hair restoration.
When interviewed by the "New York Times," dermatologist Sandy Tsao, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, expressed skepticism. Lasers have been primarily used to remove hair–not encourage regrowth. However, Tsao indicated that when lasers were used to remove hair at inadequate energy, hair growth was noted. "So now the theory is, if you can stimulate the follicle to reactivate hair cells, you can get new hair growth," Tsao says. Dr. Alan Bauman, who was featured on "Dateline," calls laser hair restoration "low laser light therapy," or LLLT. Bauman explains that the laser light is absorbed by cells, which in turn repairs them and encourages regrowth. According to the "New York Times" article, laser hair restoration won't bring dead hair follicles back to life; however, it will stimulate follicles in the state of decline and make existing hair thicker and fuller.
Laser hair restoration can be provided by doctors such as Bauman who specialize in the therapy, or at salons. According to Dr. Alan Feller, a member of the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons, in-office "hood" treatments provided by a medical professional can cost $4,000 each year. The "New York Times" article indicate that salon treatments that include two weekly sessions for three to six months range between $2,800 and $3,500.
Laser hair restoration can also done in the privacy of your home. One product, the HairMax LaserComb, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety but not efficacy, says the "New York Times." The device, which is cleared by the FDA for men with mild degrees of androgenetic alopecia, or pattern baldness, is manufactured by Lexington International and sells for around $500 in August 2010. The laser comb is used three times each week in self-treatments that take 15 minutes.
What Experts Say
Many doctors remain unconvinced the laser hair restoration is effective. Tsao say describes this method of treating thinning hair as "a huge leap of faith. In those cases where it happens, it's a random hit." Feller, a more proactive critic of laser hair restoration, states that low-intensity laser beams, the same type used in grocery store scanners and key chains, has a lack of satisfied customers.
Feller points to the heavy marketing of such services and devices, as well media attention, as two ingredients to laser hair restoration's financial success. He goes onto state that some companies use deceptive "before and after" photos in which a patient's hair is damp in the "before" photo, making it look thinner, whereas, the "after" photo depicts the customer with dry hair, which looks fuller. Feller states that such obvious attempts to deceive the public "should raise a major red flag against ... the industry."
There's no way to cure baldness, be it permanent pattern baldness or temporary hair loss, says the Mayo Clinic. Less expensive options for men and women include a topical treatment called minoxidil, which is approved by the FDA. Men with pattern baldness may be suitable candidates for an oral prescription medication called finasteride. Both of these options require ongoing use of the medication. Surgical hair transplant techniques offer a longer-term solution to pattern baldness, however, the Mayo Clinic indicates that as baldness progresses, additional transplantation may be required. Talk to your physician about the medical treatment that's most appropriate for your situation.
Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.