Olaplex is a hair products brand that makes some interesting health claims. The company claims that their patented ingredient bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate fixes damaged hair on a molecular level and “provides immediate results for all hair types”.
In this article we’ll review these health claims as well as the brand’s overall formulations based on published medical research, and determine whether Olaplex has a superior formulation compared to other hair products brands or if it’s just effective marketing.
Patented Ingredient Review
As referenced in the intro section, much of Olaplex’s value proposition centers on the effectiveness of a chemical compound called bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate which they patented.
This compound works in theory by repairing the disulfide bridges of keratin, which is the protein that composes most of the structure of our hair.
We’re only able to locate one medical study on this unique compound used by Olaplex. The study examined the chemical composition and potential effects on hair of bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate for restoring damaged hair, but did not test it or prove any efficacy in a real-world trial.
We can’t find any clinical trials proving this ingredient is effective in improving hair quality on humans or animals, so we will conclude this is an interesting ingredient but not one that’s proven to be effective.
While it’s generally a good thing that a brand is willing to undergo the patent process and develop novel ingredients, we urge Olaplex to fund clinical research proving their patented ingredient is actually effective (and safe) in human subjects and not just in theory. Until then we cannot recommend this ingredient when there exist plenty of other cosmetic ingredients proven to be effective for hair quality in research trials.
Olaplex No. 3 Review
Olaplex’s best-selling product is called No.3 and is a “Hair Perfector”. It’s a liquid treatment meant to be applied to hair prior to shampoo, and left on for 10 minutes or more.
The first active ingredient is the patented bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, which we’ve already established to be novel but yet-proven to be effective for improving hair quality.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of ingredients in this formulation appear to be filler ingredients for improving texture or scent and not active ingredients backed by medical research for improving hair quality.
Olaplex No. 3 does contain Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, which has some research backing for protection to hair thread and breakage resistance, but this is the third-last listed ingredient on the label. Cosmetics products are required to list ingredients by order of relative weight, so this means there is even less jojoba oil in this product than fragrance, and probably too little to have any meaningful effect.
We can’t locate a single other ingredient in this product we find likely to directly contribute to hair repair and strengthening.
Olaplex 3 contains fragrance, which is an ingredient we always recommend avoiding in personal care products. An extensive review of the health effects of fragrances used in consumer products published in the Current Treatment Options in Allergy journal concluded that “their risks clearly outweigh their benefits.”
Some of the chemicals used in fragrance may be toxic or sensitizing, and since “fragrance” is a broad descriptor it doesn’t inform consumers of which actual chemicals were used. Thus, from a health perspective, we believe it makes sense to avoid all personal care products containing fragrance.
Another filler ingredient we find to be questionable is cetrimonium chloride, which is an antiseptic and surfactant. It’s proven safe at concentrations up to 0.25%, but a research review of actual use found its concentration in cosmetics ranged from 0.0008% to 10%.
Because cosmetics companies aren’t required to list concentrations on the label, we typically recommend avoiding these type of synthetic filler ingredients out of an abundance of caution for health effects. In other words, it’s probably included at a safe level, but we have no proof of the concentration and there is no benefit to hair or health of this ingredient, so it seems logical to avoid it.
Overall we find this to be quite a disappointing formulation for such a premium-priced product, and would not recommend it.
Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo Review
Olaplex’s second-most popular product is their shampoo which they claim “nourishes, strengthens and repairs” your hair.
One of its core active ingredients is the patented ingredient which we already showed to have questionable efficacy.
It contains several other ingredients which sound technological and exciting, but which don’t seem to have much proven efficacy for improving hair quality. One such ingredient is Pseudozyma Epicola/Camellia Sinensis Seed Oil Ferment Extract Filtrate, which is the byproduct of a seed oil and a bacterial extract fermentation process.
We’re unsure why this would be included in a shampoo formulation other than to convince consumers that a product sounds scientific. While green tea extract has been shown to have topical benefits to skin in a medical trial, we can’t find any data suggesting this filtrate ingredient used by Olaplex is at all effective.
One ingredient in Olaplex No. 4 which may be effective is Rosemarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, which an animal study showed may promote regrowth of lost hair when applied topically.
A human study backed up these findings, concluding that rosemary oil significantly increased hair count after 6 months of treatment. It’s worth noting that this study used rosemary oil and not rosemary extract like that in Olaplex, but the extract is just a more concentrated version so we would consider this an effective ingredient for a repairing hair shampoo formulation.
Another ingredient in this shampoo which may be somewhat effective is Punica Granatum Extract, which is the botanical name for pomegranate fruit extract. A medical trial published in 2013 found that pomegranate extract helped minimize damage to hair, but the concentrations used (5% w/w and 10%) were almost certainly higher than what would be in this shampoo.
If Olaplex had better formulators they would have used pomegranate leaves extract instead, as this ingredient was found to exhibit anti-dandruff, anti-lice and hair regrowth effect in a fascinating study published in the Heliyon journal. The study authors noted that pomegranate leaves extract “definitely promotes” hair growth.
The Bond Maintenance Shampoo also contains the same two ingredients from the previously-reviewed product which we recommended avoiding: fragrance and phenoxyethanol.
We don’t recommend this shampoo. Olaplex seems to formulate personal care products with a vast number of ingredients, few of which seem conclusively proven to improve hair quality.
Dr. Bronner’s makes a shampoo called Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Organic Hair Rinse that appears non-toxic and effectively formulated. It’s also only $9.99 for 8 ounces (oz), or nearly 3x cheaper than Olaplex.
The Dr. Bronner’s product contains organic shikakai powder, which research has suggested may improve hair quality. This botanical ingredient is rich in Vitamin C, and is effective for strengthening and conditioning hair according to the linked research review.
Our recommended shampoo also contains coconut oil, which has been tested for hair quality improvement in multiple research trials. A review of popular oils in cosmetic formulations published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science found that coconut oil “was the only oil found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product.”
The Citrus Organic Hair Rinse formulation consists only of clean botanical ingredients, with zero questionable fillers or additives that could harm health. We find it to be both more effectively formulated and safer than the products sold by Olaplex.