We all have our insecurities, but if there's one thing that I've always been the most proud of, I'd have to call out my hair. Always kept at at least chest-length, I view it as my security blanket of sorts—and I take a lot of pride in keeping it long and healthy.
But if there's one beauty temptation that we can all relate to, it has to be a new hair color, and I wasn't immune. I started eyeing lighter shades and, as most naturally black-haired Asians eventually do, I ultimately succumbed to my milky caramel brown desires. I grabbed a box of Japanese bubble hair dye, and went to town on my strands.
Don't get me wrong—the color came out fine—but I was now introduced to a new problem I've never had before. My hair felt...dry? My formerly silky black hair that fell to my waist was crying out for moisture, and I actually started experiencing split ends for the first time in my life. I'm not going to exaggerate and say that it was a hair crisis, but for a gal that prides herself in her hair health, it took a toll.
I indulged myself in overnight masks, hot oil treatments, and leave-in conditioners as much as I could, which helped to a certain extent. But I was still having trouble getting my hair back to exactly where it was before—until I discovered Olaplex.
What Is Olaplex?
If you're somewhat versed in the hair care space, you've probably heard of the cult-acclaimed brand. But for a product so famous, very few people understand what it does and why it's praised by so many hair pros. Unlike other hair treatments that add moisture and shine to the outer layers of your hair, Olaplex works on the molecular level to repair broken disulfide bonds that make up our hair.
"Think of your hair strand like a ladder—the DNA strand of hair has these hydrogen disulfide bonds that are connected in pairs (like ladder steps)," says celebrity colorist Bianca Hillier. "Almost anything you do breaks these bonds, such as brushing hair roughly, coloring, pool water, beach water, thermal styling, etc. When these are broken, they become a single sulfide bond, and when latching onto oxygen molecules it will create lactic acid and start eating away at the protein in your hair."
Most hair treatments have proteins, silicone, and oils, and while these ingredients are not always bad for the hair, when overused they can be. "They can coat the hair, leaving it dull and heavy," says Hillier. "Eventually, when the coating wears off, the damage reappears."
On the other hand, the patented technology in Olaplex works on the inside of the hair to relink and strengthen broken disulfide bonds, making hair permanently healthier until damage reoccurs. Building on the ladder metaphor (see what I did there?), Olaplex creates more ladder steps and mends together broken ones to build a stronger, more stable ladder. At the same time, it lessens damage caused by molecules that eat protein from the hair by working faster than the damage can occur.
How to Use Olaplex
Sure enough, my hair felt softer, stronger, and silkier with just one use of No. 3 (the brand's hero product), and I was hooked. I really appreciate that it doesn't leave a greasy or heavy feel on my hair, a normally unavoidable side effect for hair conditioning.
Although everyone has a different routine for using Olaplex (they have eight different products!), the only thing you have to remember is that each product is given a number that indicates the order in which they should be used if you're opting for the complete system (pretty simple, right?). Olaplex 1 and 2 are in-salon only—they're the add-ons your hairdresser might offer you when you make a color appointment.
The main Olaplex product you see in stores is the No.3 Hair Perfector ($28; sephora.com), which contains the smallest amount of the active ingredient bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate (this is what repairs the aforementioned broken disulfide bonds in the hair). The formula is meant to be used as a pre-poo treatment—I apply it on my hair before shampooing, and leave it in for 10 minute before rinsing out in the shower. Optionally, you can use No. 0 ($28; sephora.com), which is a bond-building spray treatment, as a primer before applying No.3.
Everything that follows is relatively straightforward. You have the shampoo and conditioner, which you use in the shower as normal, and then three different styling products you can use post-shower: a bond smoother, bonding oil, and moisture mask. Olapex also recently launched a purple shampoo designed specifically for blondes. Although I vowed never to touch bleach in fear of irreparable hair damage, this brand makes me feel more confident about—dare I say—going blonde.
I like to keep my routine pretty simple—after pre-pooing, I use the shampoo and conditioner, followed by a pinch of bonding oil on damp ends. With regular use, I'm relieved to say my hair feels like my old hair again.
Curious to see what Olaplex is all about? Shop the full collection you can use at home below.
Best Olaplex Products
No. 0 Intensive Bond Building Hair Treatment
A primer meant to be used as the first step in a two-part at-home system with No.3 Hair Perfector, the treatment features an easy-to-use nozzle that squirts out the highest concentration of bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate (aka the good stuff) of any at-home product.
No. 3 Hair Perfector
Perhaps the most well-known (and best-selling) product in the Olaplex family, the hair perfector can be used as a treatment—not conditioner—to reduce breakage and visibly improve hair's look and feel.
No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
Shampooing is known to be bad for your hair color and health due to its stripping nature. Luckily, N°4 is color-safe and actually proven to reduce breakage.
No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner
Follow up your shampoo with a dollop of conditioner to leave hair easier to manage post-shower. It will also make your strands shinier and healthier with each use.
No. 6 Bond Smoother Reparative Styling Creme
N°6 is especially ideal if you have frizzy or chemically treated hair. The leave-in smoothing cream speeds up blow-dry times and eliminates frizz and flyaways for up to 72 hours.
No. 7 Bonding Oil
My leave-in of choice, the bonding oil is a highly concentrated yet weightless formula that also moonlights as a heat protectant of up to 450°F. I find that the smallest amount goes a long way in boosting color and overall shine.
No. 8 Bond Intense Moisture Mask
This highly concentrated reparative mask is like a supercharged shot of hydration for damaged hair. Reviewers say it leaves hair so visibly healthy, you can skip the styling.
No.4P Blonde Enhancer Toning Shampoo
The newest addition to the Olaplex collection, the blonde enhancer is formulated with all of the loved ingredients in the OG shampoo (especially essential for bleached hair), plus toning capabilities that neutralize brassiness.