Diode laser: hair removal or hair growth stimulation?

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By Raymond Schoeman

I was Skyping the other day with a friend and at some stage the conversation turned to his receding hair line. Anyone who shares life with a partner dealing with a receding hair line, knows what a touchy subject this is.

What actually surprised me most during this conversation was the fact that this person who is highly schooled in bio-science has not had the faintest idea what he can do about the problem. When I mentioned that he should try some low-level laser or LED therapy while he can still do something about the problem; he was really confused.

In his mind, laser is something you use to get rid of hair. Not something that you can use to stimulate hair growth. And this is actually an impression that a lot of people share with him. When ever I present a session on low-level laser during a training, hair growth stimulation stands out as one of the main attention drawing topics.

Hair growth stimulation is in fact as much a possibility with diode lasers as hair removal is. The difference is in the light-tissue interaction. To remove hair, you need to create heat. The ability of a machine to create this heat is directly dependent on its energy output.

It is also possible that the machine does not have a high energy output, but enough to cause a photochemical reaction. Or you may be able to adjust the energy output on your machine to such extent that you can create both types of reactions.

You can think of it as different steps on a ladder. At the lowest end you have very little energy that gets absorbed by so many molecules that you do not really have any visual results. But, there is a micro-improvement.

On the next step there is more energy and thus also deeper penetration. You now stimulate micro-circulation at the hair root and directly boost ATP production. It is on this step that you stimulate hair growth.

A couple steps further you have enough energy to create heat. But not enough to destroy the dermal papilla. At this level you manage to create enough temporary changes to cause the body to shed its hair. But it will grow back.

Going up a step or two further, you reach the ideal environment for permanent hair removal. But it is not the top of the ladder yet.

You can still up the energy and then you have some real nasty side effects. This can range from light burn wounds to permanent scarring.

It is therefore possible to do both hair growth stimulation and hair removal with the same technology.