Olaplex is something of an enigma; it’s become a household name among salon-goers, but for a product so ubiquitous and a name so well-known, very few people understand what it does and why it’s used by so many hair pros. According to the brand’s website, “You can use Olaplex to restore compromised hair, or add it to another service to provide the ultimate breakage insurance.” But what exactly does that mean? We spoke to colorists and a cosmetic chemist to give you a full rundown of what Olaplex can do for your hair before you decide whether or not to ask for it next time you’re in the chair.
1. Olaplex is formulated to protect hair from chemical damage.
Olaplex has become a go-to for many colorists as a means of keeping a client’s hair in optimum condition during a chemical treatment, which is inevitably destructive. “Sometimes — most of the time when we do crazy colors — the integrity of a client’s hair is already badly damaged,” says Yoshico-Alexis Ogawa, colorist at Pierre Michel Salon in New York City. “Olaplex not only protects the hair from the process to get a desired color, but it also prevents further damage, makes the hair strong, healthier, shinier, and also helps mend some of the previous damage.”
Because of its function, it’s considered a bonder, which means it reforms the disulphide bonds that make up the hair, according to colorist Tina Outen. “These bonds are often damaged, fragmented, or shattered when over-bleaching the hair. Using Olaplex essentially means you can bleach your hair far too light and leave that bleach on far longer without it breaking off and leaving it in the sink instead of on your head.”
2. It’s a three-part system.
You may have seen bottles of Olaplex at Sephora, but that’s just the third step of a three-part treatment that starts in the salon, and each step contains the primary active ingredient, bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, which repairs the aforementioned broken disulfide bonds in the hair. “No.1 Bond Multiplier is a water solution of the bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate active and is applied in the salon to repair the damaged hair. It can also be added directly to the permanent dye solution that is used in the hair-coloring process,” cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer tells Allure. “No.2 Bond Perfector contains the bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate in a smaller amount, in combination with a variety of conditioning agents, and is also applied in the salon, says Hammer. This is your post-coloring conditioner treatment.” The Olaplex product you see in stores is the No.3 Hair Perfector, which contains the smallest amount of the active ingredient, says Hammer, along with an assortment of conditioning agents.
It doesn’t add much time to the coloring process, especially when No.1 Bond Multiplier is added directly to the color or bleach, as Outen prefers because that allows it to be taken directly into the core of the hair strands. Then, “No.2 Bond Perfector will be applied to the hair when the bleach or color is washed off and left on for 20 minutes,” Outen explains. “If your hair feels hardened by this step, a super-moisturizing conditioner can soften the hair strands that sometimes feel crunchy from all the protein that’s been added to your hair.”
3. Olaplex isn’t just for damage from bleaching.
Because bleaching is harder on hair’s bonds than virtually every other process imaginable, a formula that repairs those bonds, like Olaplex, is a natural match. “The bleaching process will directly affect the disulphide bond, pushing it to maximum fragility,” explains Outen. “Coloring hair with super-lightening blonde [shades], like high-lifting tint, pushes the hair to its maximum level of lift, which can damage hair much like bleaching does, so using Olaplex will aid in protecting and repairing broken bonds, leaving hair in good, healthy condition again.”
Even if you don’t color your hair — perhaps you get perms or just heat-style it a lot — you may see a difference with Olaplex. “Heat-styling with flatirons that you use aggressively over a number of years, over-curling your hair with curling wands that don’t regulate the heat well, or blow-drying on high heat means you may also damage the hair to its innermost core,” Outen says. “If you are perming your hair, Olaplex is also greatly beneficial as the perm solution is working by restructuring the disulphide bond.”
Ogawa agrees: “Since Olaplex rebuilds broken hair bonds and helps keep the hair healthy and strong, there definitely are benefits.” As a standalone salon treatment without color or bleach, Outen says No.1 Bond Multiplier can be diluted with water, sprayed on hair for five minutes, layered with No.2 Bond Perfector, left on for 20 minutes, and then washed out.
4. It’s not the only bonder.
Olaplex is arguably the most recognizable name of the bonders used at salons, but there are several other brands available, including Goldwell’s BondPro+ system, L’Oréal’s Smartbond system, Schwarzkopf’s Fibreplex series, and Brazilian Bond Builder. “Olaplex can be a bit more expensive than the other bonders, but ever since I had the opportunity to try it, I have been addicted,” Ogawa says. “Result-wise, the texture and quality of the hair turn out better. I did a unicorn process and I had to bleach the hair four times; with Olaplex, you could not even tell the hair had been touched by bleach.”
5. The reviews from colorists are mixed.
Although many colorists, like Ogawa, are loyal Olaplex users, not every hair pro is a fan. “Not only did it slow down the coloring process — I could not achieve the right lift of baby blonde as I always do — it changed the vibrancy of my blondes,” said Sharon Dorram, owner of Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger Salon, who was initially excited to have a product that claimed to resolve the color damage. “I found Olaplex to be a huge disappointment. There was no visible difference.”
Hammer points out that the nature of Olaplex could certainly make the coloring process a little slower. “If we consider how this product works — by repairing broken disulfide bonds in the hair — and we consider that the bleaching/dyeing process actually creates these broken bonds, it would appear that we might have one process that is competing with and/or slowing down the other process. So it isn’t hard to imagine that by helping to prevent the damage, Olaplex might potentially have a slowing-down effect on the coloring process. It might even be particularly noticeable in the more aggressive process of achieving bleached or blonde colors.”
Even Ogawa agrees that Olaplex can slow the lightening process, but she doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. “Occasionally, we have to use a little stronger peroxide. I used to think that this defeats the purpose of Olaplex, since we had to use a stronger chemical, but I was wrong,” she says. “The unique technology allows us to work without anxiety, and we don’t have to tell the client that the color they want is impossible without a massive amount of breakage.”
Outen has trusted it to work wonders even on her own family. “My sister has dyed her hair the darkest brown for 10 years and wanted to bleach it to silver to allow her naturally graying roots to become her color. It took 24 hours over three days…We carried on to get the lightest result possible, and each time I applied the Olaplex, I watched the hair literally reform in front of my eyes from chewing-gum [texture] to good individual strands,” she recalls. “I was so relieved! It’s such a huge responsibility bleaching hair, and this made me truly believe in the miracle that Olaplex is. It is a game changer.”
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