Can Olaplex really cause balding? How often should I use it? And what chemicals does it contain?
The luxe haircare brand Olaplex, billed as an antidote for broken and damaged hair, has been accused of causing many of its customers to go bald and blister.
The multi-billion-dollar Californian-based company has been plagued with bad press lately thanks in part to a lawsuit that alleges the products caused their hair to break off, fall out, and become damaged, dry, frizzy, and dull.
In the lawsuit, 30 customers argue the company deceptively marketed products with dangerous chemicals in them that are well known to cause damage, such as the fragrance compound lilial.
Olaplex, meanwhile, vehemently denied the allegations and published third party scientifically-conducted experiments into the full suite of products to assess them for ingredients that could explain breakouts in dermatitis on people’s scalps and hair breakage and shedding.
What could be causing such severe, negative reactions to the products so loved by high-profile hair stylists and celebrities? And what does Olaplex have to say about them? Here, we break it all down:
Customer Cathy G posted online about the damage that Olaplex wreaked on her hair, with the photo on the right showing the results [Photo courtesy of Insider]
Pictured above is a woman who allegedly used Olaplex hair care products and suffered hair loss as a result, courtesy of the Law Center of Amy Davis
Olaplex CEO Jue Wong insisted that every Olaplex product has to pass the Human Repeat Insult Patch Test (HRIPT) before it can go out to customers and the products cannot damage hair or skin
How are the products meant to be used?
The Olaplex range, which is priced between $30 and beyond $100, includes shampoos, conditioners and treatments that claim to safely repair broken bonds and rejuvenate hair’.
Many women choose to wash their hair everyday if their hair and scalp are naturally oily, but generally washing every other day or every two days is fine. Shampooing too often can strip healthy oils on the scalp and leave hair dry and brittle.
Olaplex insists that its shampoos and conditioners are safe for daily use. People who do not wash their hair as often may reach for Olaplex’s dry shampoo, a sprayable powder that absorbs unwanted oils on the scalp and leaves hair looking clean and more like it has just been washed. It is made to be used whenever you feel your hair needs it in between washes.
Olaplex makes several more intensive treatments that are not meant to be used daily but rather as an add-on treatment once or up to a couple of times each week. The No. 0 Intensive Bond Building Treatment, a spray that coats the hair in the company’s patented bond-building compound, should be used at most a few times per week on dry hair.
The No. 9 hair serum and the No. 6 Bond Smoother leave-in treatments meanwhile can be applied every time after you wash and condition your hair ‘to give your hair every last dose of definition and smoothness.’ The bonding oil is similar in that it smooths hair but is applied as a final step.
Perhaps the most contentious product in the brand’s line in the No. 3 pre-shampoo treatment, which is to be used up to three times per week. The treatment has a spate of negative reviews online interspersed with many that make such claims as it transformed one’s hair for the better or has become a ‘holy grail’ product.
The line is meant to re-build the damaged disulfied bonds responsible for the strength of the hair fiber using its patented ingredient, Bis-Aminopropyl Diglycol Dimaleate.
Those bonds are largely responsible for how strong our hair is and how prone it is to damage. The amount of disulfide bonds within the hair determines how curly the hair is – the more bonds the curlier the hair.
The company suggests the No. 3 product be used one to two times per week, while the shampoos and conditioners are designed to be used more often, as much as everyday.
What potentially-problematic chemicals are in it?
The more than 30 plaintiffs in the California lawsuit allege that using the products eviscerated their hair, causing baldness, painful rashes on the scalp, and brittle, damaged ends.
They identify one ingredient that could be the culprit: lilial.
The compound, which is no longer allowed to be in hair products in the EU, gives hair products a pleasant smell.
But it been identified as having endocrine-disrupting properties that could interfere with natural hormone functions and may pose risks to a woman’s fertility.
While Lilial has not been outright banned from cosmetics in the US, Olaplex made the move to phase the compound out of its products gradually out of an abundance of caution.
Still, that does not mean that an older version of the products with lilial in them are not sitting on people’s shower shelves right now.
They argued that Sephora removed lilial from the Olaplex ingredient formula in June 2021 but the haircare brand did not actually remove the chemical until February 2022 and still continues to sell what is left of their stock.
The plaintiffs, represented by Dallas-based lawyer Amy Davis, also point the finger at sodium benzoate, a precursor to the carcinogen benzoate.
Can it cause hair thinning and balding? What about rashes?
One search on TikTok or Reddit will return hundreds of comments from users worldwide who say at least one product in the brand’s line caused severe damage to their hair.
Reddit user Boopy7 said last year: ‘It has destroyed my life in some ways. My hair had finally started looking long and lush again.
‘I had an Olaplex treatment and then followed up as instructed. My hair has broken off and looks insanely damaged nearly up to the scalp. I am furious. It was expensive and I was told over and over how great it was.’
Meanwhile, a user named Sdac1625 said three years ago: ‘Since then to this day and this was about a year-and-a-half ago my hair continues to break. It has gotten so thin that I can’t even wear it down anymore.
‘I’m actually currently talking to a lawyer because this didn’t just happen to me. Its many people.’
And one year ago, a 56-year-old customer who had never experienced issues with her scalp reported: ‘4 months into using Olaplex brand products Olaplex No.0, Olaplex.8, Olaplex.6, Olaplex.3 and Olaplex. my scalp became very itchy and sore with sm blistering pimples some have busted leaving sores.
‘Just recently my long hair has started to fall out!! I have used no other products on my hair since starting with the Olaplex brand so that’s what I googled and found that I’m not the only one that has suffered scalp issues with this product.’
What could explain the damage?
What could be causing hair loss and dermatitis is unclear. Olaplex, and many professional stylists online maintain that nothing in the product is inherently damaging and in fact the problem could be with a customer’s hair to start.
Dozens of Reddit and other social media users point out that some of the people alleging damage caused by Olaplex have overly-processed hair caused by heat and chemicals such as coloring and chemical straightening.
Three years ago, another user wrote of the negative reviews: ‘I used no 3 for a while without much of a difference… The reviews about breakage and dryness are likely customers who had damaged hair before using the product and it didn’t fix their hair the way they expected. Olaplex has nothing to damage your hair in it. You can’t leave it in too long, you can’t harm your hair with it.’
Many online point the finger at an ‘overdose’ of protein treatment on the hair. Many haircare products use a protein called keratin that when applied fills holes or gaps within the hair’s cuticle, which can be damaged due a variety of factors such as heat styling and coloring.
Too much protein, though, could cause hair breakage. Protein can actually build up on the hair’s cuticle, weighing down your hair overall, make it stiff, and hard.
One problem with the protein overload theory is that Olaplex is not considered a protein treatment in the sense that it has so much that it could cause damage.
Olaplex says of this argument: ‘While some OLAPLEX products contain some protein, the amounts are minimal and not enough to be considered a protein treatment. Therefore, OLAPLEX is not a protein treatment. OLAPLEX works at a molecular level to rebuild the hair internally.’
What does the company have to say?
Olaplex is prepared to defend its patented formula, which many users still swear by. Hundreds of customers on social media and in product review sections on Sephora, Ulta, and other retailers sing its praises.
A Sephora customer called the hair mask, No. 8 in the range, ‘a gamechanger,’ while a Nordstrom customer who bought the No. 3 pre-shampoo treatment referred to it as a ‘miracle in a bottle.’
To address the negative allegations, though, Olaplex stood by its products and released a swath of studies conducted by an independent third-party lab that backed up their safety. The company also insisted that the products have all passed the the Human Repeat Insult Patch Test (HRIPT), a form of clinical study to assess possible allergic reactions to the products.
The company said: ‘When the products pass such a test, it means the product does not cause inflammation or sensitivity. As such, there is no induced inflammation to the hair follicle, which is the primary cause of hair loss.’
DailyMail.com reached out to Olaplex for comment but has not received a response.