Olaplex: The Science Behind the Strand

OlaplexheadingBY NHUNG NGUYEN

Imagine coloring your hair without the whirlwind worry of damage. Sounds like a miracle in science, right?

The next miracle in science might stem from a new hair color additive called Olaplex. According to Olaplex.com, “One ingredient changes everything.” What is this one ingredient? You guessed it. Olaplex.

This ingredient was created by Dr. Craig Hawker, director of the California Nanosystems Institute and co-director of the Materials Research Lab at the University of California Santa Barbara, along with Dr. Eric Pressley, staff scientist. The pair of scientists worked with the owner of the company called Olaplex, Dean Cristal, to develop an active ingredient that repairs hair and prevents damage during the hair coloring process.

Holy Grail of Hair

Sara Lim is the co-vice president of education for Olaplex. According to Lim, Cristal approached Hawker with a vision to create a non-toxic oil that worked very similar to a keratin treatment. Hawker then developed the solution. During the development, Hawker asked Cristal what he believed was the “holy grail of hair.”

In laymen terms, what major problem does the hair industry face while working with hair? Cristal’s answer: breakage.

Together, Cristal and Hawker developed a congruent mission for stylist and colorists worldwide. The mission was to restore and prevent breakage in the hair. Olaplex, the substance, was born.

What is Olaplex?

The additive, Olaplex, is composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen chains. According to Lim, these molecular chains link broken disulfide bonds in the hair.

Olaplex No. 1 is the hair color additive, a product that is mixed in with hair color and applied during the color application process. While the color is processing, the active ingredient in Olaplex internally relinks hair bonds.

Olaplex No. 2 is a cream substance applied to the hair at the shampoo bowl after the chemical service as a treatment. The treatment also works to rebuild bonds and repair the hair.

Olaplex No. 3 is a diluted version of Olaplex No. 2 for clients to use as a take-home treatment.

P31-33 Olaplex bottles 72 dpi

How does Olaplex work?

To first understand the substance, Olaplex, one must understand hair.

“Hair is made of thousands of disulfide bonds,” Lim said. “When you bleach hair, you break all these bonds and only 50 percent of the bonds repair (on average) after rinsing the lightener out. These pairs of bonds are what gives your hair strength and structure. The other 50 percent roam free, without a pair. The more single bonds you have in the hair, the hair looses its strength and elasticity. So, the more you bleach the hair or do other services that break these disulfide bonds, the hair becomes weak, dry, and eventually breaks.”

According to Lim, Olaplex works to reverse this process.

“By adding it to your color or using it as a treatment, Olaplex goes through internally and links these single broken disulfide bonds, thus making the hair stronger,” Lim said. “This allows you to take the hair lighter since there are more bonds to be broken.”

Magic of Olaplex

The first moment Lim used Olaplex was in the salon with Tracey Cunningham, celebrity colorist. The two were trying to remove multiple layers of previous hair color. They used lightener and a 10-volume developer, a product that contains 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, making the hair swell and open and allowing color to enter and bond.

Lim recalled that the hair was just melting.

They were unable to give the client what she desired. The next day, the stylists brought the same client back. With the confidence of Olaplex by her side, Cunningham told Lim to mix up an even higher volume developer (40-volume) and lightener.

This higher volume contains 12 percent hydrogen peroxide, so Lim was afraid the hair was going to fall off.

Reassured by Cunningham, Lim followed her instructions, checking the client periodically until it was time to rinse. While rinsing, she noticed that the ends of the hair remained strong and completely intact. At that very moment, Lim believed there was something magical about Olaplex.

Critics of Olaplex

Olaplex.com claims the product “works with all manufacturers’ formulas” and “works on every client’s hair.”

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some stylists that are less than impressed with the company’s claim. Patrick Ludtke, the technical adviser of the color line, Goldwell, has been in the hair industry since 1990. He disputes the assertion that Olaplex combines well with Goldwell’s producrs.

Ludtke believes Olaplex has interesting technology but does not think it was created to use with any specific manufacturer on the market.

“There is no manufacturer out there that will recommend using an outside product with theirs,” Ludtke said. He explains that if the manufacturer wanted you to use Olaplex with their line, they would have created a product just like it themselves.
In addition, Ludtke questioned if Olaplex manufacturers really understand how their product is going to react with every professional color line and every hair type.

According to the website, Olaplex manufacturers recommend using higher volumes of developer and lightener when adding Olaplex, because it dilutes the developer. (For example, for a 30-volume result, they recommend using a 40-volume developer.)

“It is concerning to me,” Ludtke said. “That’s not something I am super comfortable with. They may be encouraging stylists to work outside what the color manufacturer has tested and recommended. My biggest hang-up is that they are trying to tell stylists to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, and I see that being a disaster for somebody.”

Ludtke explained what he meant with a scenario in which using Olaplex with Goldwell color could be potentially detrimental. Goldwell’s directions state to not use its 40-volume developer in combination with its lightener. The stylist may think it is safe to go against manufacturer’s directions when using Olaplex, but if anything happens, the stylist is to blame.

“At that point, you are putting yourself in a liable situation if anything goes wrong because you have essentially misused the product,” Ludtke said.

Eighteen-year hair veteran Vicky Brezonick agreed. She stressed the importance of understanding the product and what it does in conjunction with any color line.

“Every color line is different,” Brezonick said. “Some color lines recommend using 40-volume with bleach; others do not. With Olaplex, you have to know why you are using it or what you are trying to achieve with it.”

Insurance for the Hair

Despite the criticism aimed towards Olaplex’s product claim, Lim reinforces the product’s validity, saying it works effectively and is safe to use. Even with the specified instructions on Olaplex’s website, she recommended stylists to constantly keep themselves educated and connected with fellow colorists and educators. She encourages them to use caution and common sense while combining Olaplex with these various color lines.

“Olaplex is insurance for the hair,” Lim said. “Like car insurance, just because you have it doesn’t mean you should drive your car off a cliff.”

According to Lim, Olaplex is to be used with good judgment, as a tool to assist colorists and hairstylists to go above and beyond what they thought was possible.

“It definitely gives hairdressers superpowers,” Lim said. “But, you must know the rules before you can break them.”

P31-33 Brittany hair olaplex 72 dpi

Seemuth Before Olaplex

P31-33 Brittany hair after olaplex 72 dpi

Seemuth After Olaplex

The Experience:

On Monday, February 23, 2015, editor-in-chief, Brittany Seemuth and reporters Shannon Molter and Nhung Nguyen visited Heads Up Salon in Greenfield, Wisconsin. There, Seemuth received a color service with the Olaplex treatment from senior stylist, Kristie “Ava” Demopoulous. Demopoulous has been in the industry for 5 years and has received advanced training in Las Vegas using the Olaplex product. The cost for receiving this service ranges from $50-100 depending on the length and thickness of the hair. In total, the hair process took an hour and a half. After the use of Olaplex, Seemuth noticed her hair was in a much better state: “Since the service, I have washed my hair a handful of times, and noticed less hair fall-out in the shower, and overall, less tangles,” Seemuth said.


    • Hair color fades because of environmental exposure and the high pH of many shampoos as well as the alcohol in styling products.

  1. This article is interesting and here is why; I have been dying my hair for years it is really dark brown and I have been blonde for over 14 years. Lately the color just won’t take at the ends and it is so dried out from so many years of chemical use it is now breaking and frizzy. This product looks like a answer to a problem I now have. I understand that some stylists want to stay to the tried and true but I applauded Heads Up.
    This article gives me hope and where I was told the only thing to do is strip all the color out of my head cut off all the damage and not go lighter ever again I feel confident there might be another way around this and if at the same time one can also know that the color might be able to strengthen the hair WOW. Thank you for the article great read and came in handy at least for me. I will be checking this product out.

    • This is not a miracle cure all. True healing takes time. Dark brown hair goes through at least 8 levels (as much as 11 levels) to lighten to blonde. That’s a lot of lift! Bleaching hair melts the color out of hair leaving it porous (like a sponge) and leaves it weaker. It doesn’t matter what a product promises, this is the case. Whenever you color or bleach hair you are tearing it apart. That is how the chemical reaction happens. You cannot simultaneously break something and fix it. You need a good haircut every 8 weeks (equivalent to the grown out at least) and a good stylist who doesn’t over process your hair.

  2. I’ve never dyed my hair, simply because I’ve been wary of the chemicals. I’m definitely intrigued by this, though!

  3. First of all I am new to olaplex. Have used it on myself and a handful of clients and i must say this is absolutley the most amazing product i have ever used in 22 years as a stylist! Not many things tend to get me worked up in our industry as far as hair treatments because they have never met up to the expectations. That being said if i were rich i would work all day in a salon without pay to introduce this incredible treatment. I can not give enough praise for it! Hands down worth every last penny that it cost us as stylist and if i were a paying client would probably not eat for a week so i could get this done. Thank you so much olaplex for changing my own hair as well as my clients!

  4. Don’t try this product. It ruined my pretty healthy, shiny hair and as made it dull, limp and brittle. I called Olaplex and they said the results will only last up to 6 week but my hair feels permanent damaged. I’ve been in tears for a week.

  5. My issue is that hair is 90-95%Keratin … no where does this product mention KERATIN.
    ITS MERELY A COATING for hairdresser that fry hair and do not know how to color.


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