Olaplex sounds like something you’d read about in a Marvel comic book, but for hair colorists, it’s a superpower in a bottle. The treatment was designed to repair and prevent the damage that’s comes with coloring or bleaching the hair, and it’s legit. So exactly how does Olaplex work? 

You need to know how hair is structured to really understand Olaplex’s efficacy. To put it simply, hair is made up of a protein called keratin, and these keratin proteins are held together by bonds — the most important ones to note in this circumstance are called disulphide bonds. The protective layer on the outside of these bonded keratin proteins is called the cuticle. 

Why are we giving you a vocab lesson right now? Well, any time you change your hair color, you’re altering and potentially damaging the hair’s structure, including those bonds inside the cuticle that are holding the hair together. 

“Services such as highlighting or high-lift blondeing remove the lipid coating on the hair strand to extract the pigment known as melanin. This is what gives hair its color,” Min Kim, a Master Colorist at Butterfly Studio Salon in New York City, says. When the protective lipid coating on the hair strand is degraded, it allows for breakage and dryness on the hair.” 

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What Olaplex does is repair those broken disulphide bonds by rebuilding them during the coloring process. This version, which is the brand’s initial launch, is called Olaplex No. 1, and it’s only available within salons. Kim says that No. 1 is added to the hair color itself and then mixed. After the color has been rinsed for your hair, she says you apply the second in-salon step — Olaplex No. 2 — to towel-dried hair and comb through, letting it sit for 20 minutes. Olaplex No. 2 continues to rebuild the bonds after the color processing is finished. 

Olaplex doesn’t just help rebuild those bonds you could only see underneath a microscope. Tracey Cunningham, a celebrity hairstylist who works with stars like Khloe Kardashian and Mariah Carey, says it has revolutionized the global hair industry because of how much it can really do for the health of the hair. “It’s a bond-building formula, a treatment to aid and abet the health and growth of the hair follicle, rejuvenating the renewal of hair, adding luster, maintaining color, and also assists in the color process when added to a salon color process,” she says.

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That list of beauty benefits is likely why the brand created three different at-home versions of the product. Olaplex No. 3 is basically an intensive strengthening mask that’s designed to be used once a week, while the brand just expanded the range with No. 4 and No. 5, a shampoo and conditioner set. 

While nothing has protected the hair during the coloring process quite like this treatment, it might have you sitting in the salon chair for a little longer. “The only ‘downside’ of using Olaplex in hair lightener is that it slows the developing strength of the product,” Kim says. “In order to combat this, the colorist simply adjusts their product choice to compensate.”

Finally, all this innovation doesn’t come without a cost. At some salons, the treatment might add an extra $50 to $100 to your final bill — truly a small price to pay to avoid your hair snapping off after going blonde. 

Not all salons offer Olaplex, though, so be sure to call up your salon and ask if it’s used before booking your appointment. 

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