Your anti-aging, anti-hair-loss arsenal: LED, microneedling, high frequency and serums
Updated: Jun 4
Hair loss is oftentimes only associated with middle-aged men. In fact, 85% of men will experience hair loss by age 50, many of whom begin to see shedding in their 20s.
For women, it’s different. Many of us have memories of elderly female family members who used wigs or had distinctly thinning hair. While the average woman isn’t concerned with hair loss in her 20s, many women will experience some form of hair loss by the age of 40 (oftentimes related to thyroid, pregnancy, or other hormonal issues.) But by the time we’re 70, an estimated 60% of us will have some form of hair loss. WOW!
Hair loss presents differently in men and women. While men may notice a receding hairline, women typically notice an overall thinning starting at the center part and radiating out as the thinning progresses. NOTE! All of the strategies below (for prevention and treatment of hair loss) apply to both women AND men! Be sure to read the 5 ways to take action at the end of this blog!
A BIT ABOUT OUR HAIR
Many of us are ‘skincare freaks’ and can talk about the difference between elastin and collagen ad nauseam. We know how our skin changes as we age, and even what tools and actives to address different concerns! But when it comes to our hair, so many of us just hand ourselves over to our trusted salon every few months, while spending the intervening weeks brushing, teasing, straightening, curling, clipping, and pony-tailing. When one day we look down at the shower drain with an ‘eeeek!!’ Did all of that hair just come off of my head?
Like our skin, our hair requires care and attention to be at its healthiest. And like our skin, the older we get the more crucial its is to have a proactive and consistent plan on how to maintain healthy hair for years to come.
The hair within a follicle typically goes through a growth cycle that lasts about two to six years. We all know that when we shave or cut our hair, the same hair will grow back from the root of the hair contained within the follicle. At the end of this cycle, the hair enters what’s known as a resting phase before finally falling out a few months later. Then, the follicle produces a new strand of hair, and the cycle begins again. Except when it doesn’t 😟.
Hair grows from the follicle underneath the skin and is nurtured by blood vessels at the base of the follicle. Between beginning to grow and falling out years later, each hair passes through four stages:
Anagen - active phase. The cells in the root of the hair are dividing rapidly. A new hair is formed and pushes the old hair (called ‘club’ that’s stopped growing) up the follicle and eventually out. During this phase, the hair grows about 1cm every month. The hair on our heads stays in this active phase for between two and six years, depending on some of the factors we’ll discuss below. About 90% of hairs on our head are in this phase at any time.
Catagen - transitional phase. This phase lasts for approximately ten days. This process cuts the hair off from its blood supply and from the cells that produce new hair - the club hair is then formed. About 3% of all hairs are in this stage in any period.
Telogen - resting phase. This phase lasts for about 100 days for hairs on the scalp and longer for hairs on the eyebrow, eyelash, arm, and leg. During this phase, the hair follicle is completely at rest, and the club hair is completely formed. Pulling out a strand of hair in this phase will reveal a solid, hard, dry, white material at the root. About 50 to 100 telogen hairs are shed normally each day. This phase accounts for 6% to 8% of all hair.
WHY DO WE LOSE OUR HAIR?
The word alopecia means “hair loss”. When you see Alopecia Areata, Alopecia Totalis or Androgenic Alopecia just remember that those are just different types of hair loss. The most common form of hair loss is Androgenic Alopecia.
As you can see from the cycle above, hair loss is perfectly normal.. even necessary. Imagine if we had the same hair in our 40s as we had when we were teens? What we’re actually concerned about is when the first (growth) phase is too short (pushing the hair into the shedding phase too quickly to be ‘backfilled’) or if shrunken follicles lead to poor quality and breakage.
What causes our hair to shed too quickly and/or be brittle?
As women’s estrogen and progesterone levels drop post-pregnancy and during/after menopause, we can find ourselves in the position of having higher relative levels of testosterone (our testosterone levels don’t raise, but our levels of testosterone rise relative to our estrogen and progesterone.) Some of that testosterone naturally gets converted into a stronger form of testosterone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone). An excess of DHT can not only shrink follicles but also shorten our hair’s growth cycle (the anagen phase) causing hair to grow out looking thinner and more brittle and ultimately increase shedding (telogen phase). DHT can also make it take longer for your follicles to grow new hairs once the old ones fall out. To add insult to injury, as we lose estrogen, we say goodbye to that critical buddy who, up until now, has kept our hairs in the growth phase for longer. Get this: estrogen is thought to actually “stand guard” in the follicle protecting it from DHT. I think it’s very interesting that the female hormone (associated with nurturing and bringing life into the world) is protective of even the hair structures in our body.
Depending on your genetic makeup, you may have a propensity to have more or less DHT generated in your system. So if your mother or grandmother had thinning hair you’re more likely to experience the same.
Note: Many hair loss solutions on the market work by decreasing levels of an enzyme called 5‐alpha‐reductase (5-AR) which converts that testosterone into DHT. Some of these are only suitable for men, but additionally, there are a handful of natural ingredients that propose to aid in disrupting this conversion; pygeum bark and pumpkin seed oil to name a few. I’ve not tried these things - do your research if you’re interested. For this blog I’m focusing NOT on what we can do to halt the process of hereditary/hormonal hair loss (that’s for the medical profession), but rather what we can do to create the best micro-environment to support hair growth…
Stress - emotional
Emotional stress triggers our adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. Sudden or severe stress can cause enough cortisone to signal our hair follicles to shift from growth to catagen (transition phase), leading to hair falling out - normally a few months after the stressor has occurred. The is called telogen effluvium. Of course, the best thing to address this type of hair loss is to avoid these kinds of stressors (ha!) and/or to have a plan to manage that cortisol. Yoga and meditation are cheap and easy solutions but every person has her preference for how to cope with the overload. Make sure you’ve identified yours should the need arise!!
Stress - physical
Finally, tight braids, ponytails, and clips can lead to hair loss by trauma. Repeatedly taxing the same hairs may eventually lead to their shedding (remember your mother always reminding you to take out your pony-tail at night!)
Of course, there are types of hair loss that are unavoidable and no treatment will bring the hair back. Also, if you ever notice that you are losing hair from your eyelashes, eyebrows, and/or head suddenly or developing bald spots with no apparent reason, a call to your doctor is recommended.
All of these forms of hair loss may be addressable (not always reversible, but addressable) with the right course of action. The sooner we treat and prevent the better the chances of recovery from hair loss. To be clear, all of my research and experience supports the idea that prevention is better than cure. Think of your scalp as you think about your skin on your face. Very similar actions and actives, when used proactively and preventatively, will provide the best insurance for a healthy head of hair as you age.
Here are five strategies to address hair loss:
A. Increase blood flow
Blood circulation ensures that your scalp derives all the essential nutrients and oxygen to be healthy - and a healthy scalp produces healthy hair. Subcutaneous blood flow helps in the anagen (growth) phase of the hair, making hair grow longer. Increased blood flow is also linked to decreased hair loss.
B Increase topical nutrient uptake on the scalp
Like the skin on our face, the skin on our scalp absorbs what we put on it (both good and bad!) A comprehensive at-home program to bolster hair health should address the health of the scalp and hair follicles. Active ingredients that we apply topically (and with additional the support of ‘cosmetic needling for product penetration’) can make a huge difference in hair growth and retention.
C. Increase internal nutrient uptake.
Like with our skin, our scalp and hair follicles must have the raw materials needed to grow beautiful cells and counter the effects of extrinsic aging factors. Another case of ‘you are what you eat’.
D. Minimise stress
Internal stresses can certainly impact our outward appearance and without doubt lead to hair loss, so managing stress is key to an overall hair health program. Likewise, we need to treat our hair like we want to keep it. Using hairdryers, straighteners and chemicals are all okay - in moderation! But if we want our hair to look healthy and stay in our head we must pace ourselves in using harsh tools and chemicals.
E. Address hormone imbalances.
This one I’ll leave for you to discuss with your doctor… but I’d be remiss in not mentioning it as a key element to maintaining hair health as we age. Decreases in estrogen and progesterone as we age have a profound impact on our health and appearance, including our hair. That’s because estrogen is a hair-friendly hormone, helping to keep your hair in its anagen (growth) phase for longer.
5 ACTIONS TO TAKE
Now that you know the strategies that will help create the best environment for hair growth, let’s go into the specific tools and tactics:
1. Microneedling/derma rolling the scalp
Microneedling the scalp is much like microneedling the face - we’re creating micro-injuries to induce collagen and ultimately strengthen the hair follicle and hair bed. To target the area of the scalp that leads to collagen synthesis, the needles need to reach depths of at least 1-1.5mm. This is relatively painful and should only be performed maximum once a month. Personally, I believe that this type of scalp needling is best done in office by a professional. The type of scalp needling that I advocate at home is more shallow at .5mm. This depth is tolerable and easily attainable with a roller (a pen will work as well). In fact, because the skin on the scalp is thicker than the skin on the face, needling at .5mm can be viewed as ‘cosmetic needling’ for the scalp. Like cosmetic needling for the face, this type of needling is all about product penetration and increased circulation. Blood flow to the scalp brings vital nutrients to the area resulting in a healthier environment. The right products infused encourage collagen formation and can feed the scalp. This leads us right into growth serums for hair!
Microneedling the scalp: results after 6 treatments (1mm depth) spaced 1 month apart. Topical serums applied directly after service and used at home between appointments. Courtesy of Dr. Wendy Abraham, Sherwood Aesthetic Medicine in Sherwood, Oregon.
2. Hair growth serums
There are many hair growth serums on the market but today I will focus on three types that I have been testing that are not only over the counter but also perfect in combination with derma rolling the scalp. Each of these serums offers topical ingredients to bolster the health of the scalp and hair follicles.
The first serum uses conditioned media to deliver cell-communicating ingredients into the scalp, sending messages to encourage collagen synthesis and hair growth. The specific product that I have been testing is the NEO Genesis Hair Thickening Serum. This serum is the most like the serums used in-office. I’ve been focusing this clear, non-sticky serum at the hairline and bang/fringe area in hopes of re-growing my broken hair (oopsie with the bleach). I’ve been using this serum every night before bed and then once a week after derma rolling the area. This serum, unlike the others I will review, is best on damp hair/scalp, ensuring that the (costly) serum isn’t wasted by being absorbed into dry hair. A damp scalp is also more permeable and will allow more serum to penetrate. Most nights I just don’t have time to wash my hair (and I am doing high frequency on DRY hair) …on those nights I still apply the serum (after HF), I just try not to overuse it and waste it. On the night that I derma roll I do so on a clean, damp scalp before applying the NEO Genesis Serum, then LED as I let my hair and scalp air dry. Those needling nights I do high frequency before I wash my hair. High frequency is done on DRY hair.
I’m also testing two other serums in two other areas of my scalp (one on each side of my head above my ear). I simply wait until my hair is dry and apply the serums (they call for use on a dry scalp- and while I prefer serums on a damp scalp for the reasons I listed above, I decided to follow the instructions to start…novel idea). All of the serums I’ve been testing mostly leave my hair feeling clean and shiny and I’ve not felt much residue (the Grande and The Ordinary leave the slightest residue-but nothing I dislike) or the need to rewash my hair (or even use dry shampoo.) This may sound trivial but I once tried Nioxin and also Minoxidil and my main complaint was the greasy scalp/hair - completely non-usable in my real life.
The second serum I’ve been trying is Grande Hair Rejuvenation Serum. This serum uses amino acids, peptides, and vitamins along with hydrogenated castor oil to “revive dormant hair follicles and strengthen weak strands”. It’s similar to the NEO Genesis in the texture and 'dry down', but one clear difference is that Grande Hair contains a powdery fragrance (not unpleasant but does linger a bit.) Of the three serums, this one has the most residue (very slight). Nothing that interferes with styling the next day, but could be tricky with oilier hair.
The third serum I am testing is from The Ordinary: Multi-Peptide Serum for Hair Density. This serum reminds me very much of the Grande in its watery texture and ingredient deck. Peptides, glycerin, caffeine (great for encouraging circulation to the scalp), and green tea are just a few of the fantastic ingredients in this serum. On another positive note, the Ordinary comes in at 2oz, the lowest price, and is fragrance-free. The Ordinary serum also boasts several trademark ingredients (peptide complexes) thought to help with scalp rejuvenation and hair restoration.
The results I have seen so far have been in the bang area - where I had notable damage to correct. My bangs are growing in shiny and healthy and the speed of their growth does appear to have picked up. I will report back again as I survey the progress.
3. Red and infrared light (LED)
If you’ve heard of using red LED for skin rejuvenation you’ll be happy to know that red LED has shown in several studies that it provides impressive results aiding with hair loss. In fact, in one meta-analysis of available studies on the six most common non-surgical treatments showed red light as potentially superior to prescription treatments like Finasteride.
There are many LED “helmets” that have come on the hair restoration scene in the last few years. While I think they are efficacious, I find their singular use inefficient. I prefer using the same LED that I use for my face, arms, and body on my hair. This limits the number of gadgets and also provides the same low-level light therapy to the scalp. When the scalp is exposed to LED the cells absorb the light and their metabolism is increased causing dormant hair follicles (the structures that grow hair) to begin to grow hair again. Think about a plant that goes dormant in the winter and then comes back to life with the sun in the spring. LED light is diffused/scattered light that is capable of affecting a large area at once. It is non-invasive and relaxing.
Below is a Mito panel-I use Mito almost every day now. I also love my Illuminate flexible LED panels (more on those soon!).
I literally lay down with my panel behind my head for 10 minutes each night (I add side treatments when I have time.) For most men and women LED to the top of the head is a great way to combat hair loss. The time it takes to notice the change is months, not days or weeks, so diligence is key. In the first 3 months you may only notice that you’re seeing less hair shedding in the shower, by 6 months some new growth may be noticed along with less shed and between 6-12 months visible improvements should start to show. After 12 months results should be apparent and continue with consistent use. This timeframe is so important, as you can see it is the long game we are playing with LED.
4. High Frequency
High frequency uses a glass electrode filled with gas and then electrified with a current to produce ozone that when applied to the scalp will increase circulation. Increased circulation brings nutrients to the area and encourages a healthy scalp bed and follicles. This cellular activity can also facilitate collagen and elastin formation, another hallmark of a healthy scalp. Look for high-frequency tools that have a comb attachment so that you may easily comb through the hair. Because high-frequency is done on DRY hair I will arrange it in my routine as it fits (before I shower on nights I wash my hair for example).
I am going to sound like a broken record on this but Vitamin C is a great supplement that is integral to collagen production and hydration in the skin. The scalp is, after all, skin! No doubt the liposomal C I love is going to help my scalp.
Other supplements to investigate (and ask your healthcare provider about) are biotin, silica and selenium. That is your homework today :)
All of the treatments above are helpful in slowing the loss of hair, but the best way to attack alopecia is a combination of treatments.
I recommend that you consider the following combinations:
Plan A: Dermarolling+serums (optional add LED)
Plan B: High frequency+serums (optional add LED)
Plan C: LED + Serums
Plan D: Serums alone
Plan E: High frequency nightly, LED 4+ nights a week + serums nightly and needling at .5 once a week. Of course, I take my liposomal vitamin C every day (anyway).
This whole routine doesn’t need to take more than 30 minutes and most of it can be done while relaxing and doing something else!
To NOT go crazy with the order of things I just do it as it works for my life- always rolling on damp, clean hair and always using the high frequency on dry hair. Other than that the order of things is changeable. A caveat: If I were to use a needling pen I would use my serum with the pen (slip) not after (like I do with the roller). In-office a layering technique is used-applying serum, then needling, then more serum. Do it however it works for YOU.
While results may be seen with using JUST one of the therapies, using several of them together will render not only faster results but better results.
PRODUCTS MENTIONED IN THIS POST
*Penn Smith Skincare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program. Many links are affiliate links, meaning I am compensated when you shop through these at no extra fee to you.
Dermaroller Alitura (This is Skinbeautiful RX-code penn20 gets 20% off)
NEO Genesis Hair Thickening Serum (this is expensive-you can get 20% off with the code Penn20 again at SkinBeautiful RX)
High Frequency tools:
High Frequency tool with a comb (options):
NuDerma Fusion (this is a NEW hybrid! Both Neon and Argon in one!)
on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2EeuNY1
NuDerma High Frequency tool with Comb https://amzn.to/3if0r9u
Lift Wand-this is as close to mine as I can find (mine is just not blue).
This one comes with a case and 3 prong plug:
The Liposomal Vitamin C supplement that I am taking:
UK: Altrient Vitamin C (European distributor for LiveOn) Use code PSMITH5 for discount
Another supplement that looks very valuable, and worth investigating is Viviscal:
Something else that I am using and REALLY loving to help with breakage is the Olaplex ˚0 and ˚3 used BEFORE shampooing. I am only using this on my "bangs" to make it last longer. I love it. Have you tried any of the Olaplex treatments?
Olaplex ˚0 kit (comes with a full size ˚0 and a small ˚3) https://amzn.to/3fZkV4L
Olaplex Full size ˚3 https://amzn.to/3t7m8ej
Olapex Full Size 0 https://amzn.to/3uH5uST
High frequency wand with comb: https://amzn.to/34NtZTJ
The ordinary Hair serum (I found it on Amazon UK, please read reviews etc)
I wish you happy hair days ahead!
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this website is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or skin-related diagnosis or treatment options. Information on this blog should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare/skin professional. The statements made about specific products throughout this blog are not to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. It is important that you check labels to determine if a product is right for you. Before starting any treatment at home consult a health care or skincare professional to determine if it’s right for you.