Chances are, if you’ve ever highlighted or permed your hair (aka, exposed your strands to some major damage), you've heard of Olaplex. And if you haven't, we're here to spread the news. Olaplex belongs to the rare elite of buzzy beauty products that actually live up to their miraculous claims. It's the product to which Kylie Jenner has credited her ability to go from raven to platinum overnight. It's what allowed Julianne Hough to literally transform her natural hair texture from straight to wavy. The best hair professionals in the world all swear by Olaplex, because it works like nothing else to strengthen hair from the inside out. This allows impossible transformations to take place without damaging the hair irreparably.
What Is Olaplex?
Olaplex is a three-step process that aims to repair and prevent hair damage. It works on a molecular level by restoring the hair's broken disulfide bonds which can result from harsh chemical treatments like bleaching and coloring.
We've already answered the question of whether or not Olaplex works: It does. But exactly how does Olaplex work? To find out the science, we got in touch with four experts who know it best: two top colorists, a hair extensions artist, and an educator from the brand. Keep reading to learn how Olaplex really works!
The first two steps take place in-salon, whereas the third step and beyond is used at home to bolster and extend hair quality.
What makes the Olaplex system so universally beloved is that it works with all hair types and textures. As Martine Robertson, director of education at Olaplex puts it, "Olaplex is for everyone, literally. All hair goes through stress that can lead to breakage. Imagine that Olaplex is like a gym routine for your hair—the more you use it the stronger, healthier, and shinier it will be." Natural, colored, fine, full—even extensions—all hair types benefit from the treatment.
Hair stylist and extensions artist Violet Teriti swears by Olaplex for keeping clients' extensions pristine. "After three to four months wearing the extensions and treating their hair with Olaplex, the clients see fantastic results," she says. "The extensions always stay shiny and healthy, allowing them to reuse the hair over a year." Teriti also uses Olaplex personally, once or twice per week, crediting the product for keeping her natural hair strong, healthy, and growing, even while wearing extensions.
How Does It Work?
Different from all other hair repair systems, Olaplex struck gold with its formula. The star ingredient is Bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate (a mouthful, we know). It's a patented ingredient that actively restores broken bonds. If you're like me, you immediately think of the hundreds of split ends happening on your head, but Robertson explains that it addresses so much more. "Olaplex is repairing each hair strand as a whole (from base to ends)," she says. "It's finding bonds that have been broken down by any means (hair color, chemical straighteners, blow dryers, etc.) and reconnecting them both ionically and covalently. This means that broken or weak bonds, located anywhere on the hair shaft, are targeted."
Much of the buzz surrounding Olaplex stems from its incredible capability to fend off damage from hair color. Celebrity colorist Matt Rez considers it a must for hair lightening. "Blondes and those who want the lightest strands must be on their Olaplex game," he says. "I use Olaplex in the salon all the time. We mix part 1 into our color formulas, and we do part 2 post-color to super secure and keep my clients' hair strong through different processes."
How Can You Try It?
The first two steps of the Olaplex system are for professional use exclusively. To find salons that use the Olaplex system, check out its website.
How to Use Olaplex 3
If you're curious about trying it on your own before heading in for the complete treatment, Roberston says it's entirely okay to skip right to step 3. "Think of Olaplex No.3 as the ultimate mini treatment," she says. "Many people ask if No.3 will repair hair if you haven't used the first two, and the answer is yes! It doesn't replace the in-salon system, but it's a great way to test the waters if you're curious."
Use as a Conditioning Treatment
Used as a conditioning treatment, the steps are fairly straightforward. Start by applying a generous amount of the product on damp hair, from roots to ends. Comb through and leave on for around 10-minutes, just like a hair mask. Lastly, just rinse and shampoo and condition as normal.
As for how often you should be using Olaplex? That depends on the scope and severity of your hair's damage. Roberston recommends including a treatment with each salon visit followed with No.3 every one or two weeks. However, "for moderate to severely damaged hair I would recommend one to two Olaplex Stand Alone Treatments a month, followed by using of No.3 once a week," she says.
Use on Color-Treated Hair
Experts say Olaplex is especially useful for blondes, as going lighter than your natural color involves breaking your hair's bonds. "When lifting out pigment, we are using a bleach or ammoniated color to highlight hair," Rez explains. "That causes swelling to the hair cuticle for color or lightener to do its job," Rez says. This is where Olaplex comes in, and "secures a healthy lightening."
What's the Difference Between Olaplex Products?
Olaplex formulates a range of products. Some—like the No.3—are meant as treatments and only to be used once per week or sporadically. But others, like No.1 and No.2, are meant only for in-salon use.
Celebrity hair colorist Bianca Hillier explains that Olaplex No.1 Bond Multiplier is the first step of the in-salon Olaplex System, which is only offered by a certified licensed hair stylist in the salon. "This product is used as an additive to prevent damage," Hillier says. "Olaplex No.1 Bond Multiplier is also used as a stand-alone treatment that restores and repairs damage—all you add is water. This is the pure concentrated ingredients of the patented Olaplex bond building formula which relinks the damaged disulfide bonds."
Olaplex No.2 Bond Perfector is the second step of the in-salon treatment, also intended only for use in the salon by a certified licensed hair stylist. "Olaplex No.2 Bond Perfector is also used as a stand-alone treatment at the discretion of the hair stylist based on your hair type and condition," Hillier says, adding that it can be applied to wet or dry hair and must be followed by a shampoo and conditioner.
Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector is a weekly at-home treatment that is intended for consumer use. "Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector reduces breakage and visibly strengthens hair using Olaplex’s patented bond building technology, which relinks the damaged disulfide bonds which are the most important to repair as they provide strength and health to the hair," Hillier says. "Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector can be used on top of the Olaplex No. 0 Intensive Bond Building Treatment or solo."
Shop Olaplex Products You Can Use at Home
This at-home treatment nourishes, repairs, and strengthens hair from the inside out.
Lathering up with this sulfate-free shampoo won't dry out strands. It's chock-full of moisture and great for all hair types, including color-treated hair, too.
Bye-bye frizz and thirsty locks, this ultra-hydrating conditioner infuses moisture into strands for the ultimate hair health.
A leave-in treatment that smooths, protects, and moisturizes without weighing hair down.
No more dull, lackluster locks with this sheen-enhancing oil. It's light enough for fine strands yet hydrating enough for dry and coarse hair types.
Will Olaplex make hair thicker?
Olaplex works on repairing your hair, not increasing its density. Olaplex realigns broken disulfide bonds, which helps strengthen the hair after chemical services. This is especially helpful for those who have chemically processed their hair and are dealing with fragile, thin strands.
Can you use Olaplex on virgin hair?
While Olaplex helps revive bleached or colored hair, it can also help maintain your hair's health if it's virgin. This is because virgin hair is still susceptible to environmental and thermal damage.
Can you overuse Olaplex?
There are no risks associated with "overusing" Olaplex, other than the amount of time for the product to work increasing with each use.