How Does Olaplex Work?
Olaplex is a line of hair products that markets bond building as its differing factor. Olaplex is one of many products that attempt to solve some of the common issues seen in the hair care industry by claiming to repair, strengthen, and hydrate all hair types, but how exactly does it accomplish this?
Each strand of hair, or more precisely, the hair shaft, consists of three layers: the cuticle, cortex, and medulla which are anchored in the skin via a tiny organ called the follicle. The cuticle is the outer most layer of the hair shaft, and the core of the hair shaft is the medulla. Inside of the medulla are compounds called keratin proteins, which group together to form long bundles. There are many molecular compounds contributing to the structures of the keratin proteins and the particular manner in which they attach to one another determines the integrity, therefore the strength of the hair strand.
This attaching of compounds within the hair shaft is really the phenomena of bonding. Bonding is determined by the strength of attraction between atoms and other subatomic structures. Maintaining the bonds between the sulfur atoms is key to reducing fragility or hair breaking. Styling practices using bleach, relaxers, or heat manipulation can cause hair health overall to become very fragile and weak. Olaplex claims to “reconnect broken disulfide sulfur bonds in the hair”. Olaplex is marketed as a bond multiplier, which is primarily meant to limit the damage caused during bleaching sessions but should improve the overall strength of the hair. The active ingredient in Olaplex is a compound that forms an artificial bridge between two sulfur endpoints on the keratin bundles within the hair shaft. The newly reconnected sulfur bonds return the hair to its original structural integrity.
The claims of this product haven’t been officially investigated by any governing bodies but many reviews and side by side comparisons have shown that Olaplex delivers dramatically improved results over traditional products like mineral oil, and colorpHlex, and b3 Brazilian Bond Builder. These products were compared to Olaplex in a study carried out by the American Board of Certified Haircolorist in a recent newsletter. Currently, many salons are using the products in bleaching treatments to prevent hair damage.
Olaplex has 5 different product offerings conveniently numbered 1 through 5. Product 1 is called No. 1 Bond Multiplier. Of all of the products, No. 1 has the highest concentration of the active ingredient that creates the artificial bridges within the hair shaft. Olaplex has provided a mixing chart for the varying ways this product could be applied in hopes to reduce damage from bleaches, glosses, toners, and hair colors. The second product is called No. 2 Bond Perfector. This product is for professional use only. It is intended to repair any damage missed during the application of the first product. From the ingredient list, the first product and the second are very similar and the companies option for tailoring products directly to hair care professionals. Whereas the third product, No. 3 Hair Perfector is almost the same as No. 2 but at a lower concentration of the active ingredient. This product is marketed as a take-home treatment but has the exact same usage instructions and ingredient list as No 2. As well as the first product.
Product No. 4 is a shampoo marketed as Bond Maintenace Shampoo and has an incredibly long ingredient list. There are an impressive amount of surfactants and cleansers along with several essential oils and preservatives. Interestingly this shampoo features multiple hydrating oils and nutrient-rich ingredients used to seal within the newly reformed bonds moisture adding to the overall health of the hair. Product 5 is their conditioner which is also full of ingredients like essential oils, carrier oils, preservatives to maintain freshness, similar to many heavy moisturizing conditioners. This particular conditioner doesn’t have many silicones in the ingredients that are designed specifically to coat the hair but instead more ingredients that penetrate and absorb into the shaft of the hair providing either nutrients or moisture.
Olaplex products feature the active ingredient in each product with No. 1 having the highest concentration. There were a few tales of caution seen in user reviews for this product. Some stylist revealed that this product is not recommended for hair that isn’t damaged. Overuse or use on non-damaged healthy hair seemed to make the hair brittle and slower to absorb color or take to bleaching. In healthy hair, the cuticle, which structure is similar to shingles on a roof, are usually laying flat. The cuticle can be raised along the hair shaft exposing the cortex and medulla. When the cuticle is exposed moisture can freely move in and out of the hair shaft as well as the Olaplex products. If the cuticles are closed the product will just coat the hair leading to product buildup and potential irritation on the scalp.
Olaplex is a chemist formulated repair solution for damaged hair. Utilization of this system should repair the damage through reconnecting the sulfur bonds within the hair shaft. Hair will be stronger and able to withstand the abuse from chemical, mechanical, and heat sources.
Sources: ROBBINS, CLARENCE R. Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair. 5th ed., SPRINGER, 2016. Leidamarie, Leidamarie. “Helix Magazine.” The Science of Curls | Helix Magazine, 20 May 2014, helix.northwestern.edu/blog/2014/05/science-curls.