What is Olaplex, Snaplex, Cureplex and all the other products that Hairdressers have affectionately dubbed 'The Plexes'. Do they live up to the hype of unicorns blood, shooting stars and angel dust? Is it the miracle that blondes have wished for as they brush their dry, broken hair?
As a Stylist who has been using these products from day dot, I am here to give you the low down on what is truth and what is myth to help you make an informed decision in the quest for the perfect blonde.
To begin, let's talk science. When we lighten or bleach hair, the cuticle is opened and the bleach removes the colour pigment from your hair via oxidation. Any type of trauma to the hair, including colouring or heat styling, will break the internal bonds and make hair weaker. Traditionally, these bonds would remain broken and over time the hair would eventually split and need to be cut, or in the worst case, the hair would break. This is where we have seen extreme breakage when bleach has been overlapped and heat styling is excessive.
Olaplex, Snaplex and Cureplex repair these bonds resulting in less breakage and more elasticity to the hair. These products on their own do not lighten the hair. They need to be added into the colour or bleach as bond rebuilders. They are not colour removers or bleaching products on their own. Therefore, they will not miraculously remove years of black dye and turn you platinm with the wave of a wand. We still need to use the traditional methods of colouring the hair with bleach or dye, in foils, balayage or all over colour. We are still bound by the restrictions of black dye and over processed hair.
So where do we begin with how these 'miracle' products have changed the face of Hairdressing.
Let's begin with colour correction or colour removal. Whenever you dye your hair darker, whether it be supermarket or salon colour, permanent or semi permanent, the colour pigments penetrate into the hair and sit there until an open cuticle allows them out again. The cuticle opens via damage to the hair whether through heat or colouring. This is why darker colour doesn't last as long on damaged hair. When we bleach hair, we open up the cuticle to allow the bleach to lighten pigment. In uncoloured hair, the bleach will lighten out your own natural pigment. In coloured hair, the bleach needs to lighten out the artificial pigment before it can get to work on the natural pigment.
Previously, as hairdressers, we would only allow the bleach to lift out the artificial pigment as our main concern was the condition of the hair as any lightening process will break bonds. We would then need to give the hair time to repair itself over the next 6 weeks before we would be able to bleach it again. This was a slow lightening process and would always leave the hair in the red/orange territory which we then would have to tone out. Clients learnt to accept this stage in their commitment on the road to blonde.
What Olaplex, Snaplex and Cureplex allows us as hairdressers to dois push the lightening process further without fear of damage as it repairs the bonds while colouring. This means we can leave the bleach on longer to take the hair lighter and cleaner. It also allows us to do a double process bleach on the same day where previously this was unheard of and would surely compromise the condition of the hair. It allows us to push past the red to a lighter more noticeable blonde colour.
The second bonus to the plexes is with existing blonde clients. Most people who have dedicated their lives to being blonde with foils and bleaching have experienced breakage on more than one occasion. That broken crown area was jokingly called 'the layer for extra body'. Even the most precise hairdresser will still encounter some overlapping when bleaching a clients regrowth, coupled with the fact that bleach expands slightly and can move on the scalp. This overlap is where the hair has the potential to break. The plexes protect the previously blonded hair and therefore reduces breakage. I have many blonde clients, that after a year of using Olaplex and Snaplex in their colour, have finally been able to grow out the 'layer' in their crown area.
So what are the limitations and downsides of these products.
Firstly, when the hair is already highly damaged and broken, these products don't do it any favours when used in the colour alone. The only way to get rid of breakage is to cut it off. If there are no bonds left to repair, then these products are useless. They cannot repair damage and cannot rebuild split ends. If the hair is still hanging in there but highly damaged, I would suggest a series of weekly in salon Olaplex treatments to build up the hair before lightening it any more. Weak hair will snap with more stress, no matter how much protection we give it.
The plexes also slow down the lightening process so pack a lunch and snacks. You could be in the salon for hours. This limits how light we can go in one day. Just remember that when you are faced with these amazing Instagram pics of black to platinum in one sitting, we fail to see that these looks can take 9+ hours and involve multiple processes. The longest I have seen a stylist mention is 16 hours. When you think that time is money, and we work out pricing on these times, you would be looking at $900 to $2000 for a service like this. This is fine if you are a Kardashian or have time and money to burn but I personally wouldn't expect a client or a Stylist to work on something this long. In my salon we would never do more than 2 lightening services in the one day, even using Olpalex. After this, we are compromising the condition of the hair and stepping into unpredictable territory.
You can also still damage your hair post plex. Colour is not the only avenue to hair breakage. Using hot hair irons and tongs will also break the bonds in the hair. You still need to follows the cardinal rules of heat styling. Always protect the hair with a heat protector and minimise use of hot tools. I always tell my clients when they go blonde, that it is time to put down the irons...or at least heavily reduce the usage. Once or twice a week after washing is fine but daily is excessive and will break the hair. You don't have to walk the streets with fizzy, natural dried hair but remember, there is nothing wrong with a good old fashioned hairdryer. Just bear in mind that a hairdryer heats to 100 degrees Celsius and a hair iron can heat to up to 230 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature of the grill of your barbecue.
Going blonde is high maintenanace and takes a lot of commitment. Blonde hair should be treated weekly and all brands of plexes have the take home no 3 treatments to continue the bonding process at home. This step is highly recommended and you WILL see and feel the difference.
So which of the plexes is best you ask? Well I think they all have their pros and cons and as Stylists we need to work out what works best for what we do in salon and what works best with our brand of colour. Each company claims they are better than the other and over the next year or so there will be a hundred more copycat versions on the market. All I can say is that either way going blonde is 100 % better than when we had to colour without the plexes. If your Stylist doesn't use any of the plexes, ask them to get one in. If they won't, then find a salon that does. At the end of the day, it's the integrity of your hair that is most important and we now have these products at our disposal, so why not utilise them.
As Stylists, we think we are magicians, and yes we want to solve all your hair problems in the one day but we are also trained to be realists and every time we apply colour to the hair, especially lightener, there is damage to the hair, even when using the plexes. If we can minimise that damage, then we must use these tools. We also cannot predict what hair will do, when dealing with colour correction, until we apply the lightener to the hair. This is because there are so many factors beyond our control, including brand of colour, colour build up and condition of the hair so please be patient and have respect for our craft. The plexes help take away the uncertainty and allow us the push the boundaries of colour with the reassurance of minimal damage.
The best you can do as a client is be patient with the process and look after your hair at home using the advice of your Stylist. This my friends is the secret to damage free, silky smooth blonde locks.