Millennial versus Gen Z, DC versus Marvel, Olaplex versus K18—some battles are infinite, and there’s no emerging winner, no matter how much you try. While we can’t call a ceasefire on the first two debates, we can surely try to resolve the third one. Olaplex and K18 are synonymous with hair strengthening—one hit stores in 2014, and the other came around the second half of 2020. Though their approach is a tad different, they are guiding by the same principles: repair and reverse damage. Wondering which product is best suited for you? It all depends on your hair, what it needs, and how much time and effort you have to spare. Preeti Lulla, creative director-education, Jean Claude Biguine Salons, India, takes us through what each treatment entails, how it works, and whether it suits you.
PS: We know Olaplex is going through a lawsuit right now, and will be addressing the elephant in the room, too.
The Battle Of Hair Strengthening Treatments
“Olaplex is a bond multiplier which rebuilds broken disulfide bonds of the hair. It uses a single active ingredient, bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate,” describes Lulla. “K18 is the molecular peptide which is a unique sequence of amino acids to reconnect broken keratin chains, thus strengthening and maintaining hair elasticity.”
Simply put, Olaplex works on broken bonds, while K18 works at a cellular level. According to Lulla, Olaplex acts like an anti-ageing treatment for your hair—meaning it strengthens the hair and gives it a visible change, especially when it comes to damage and breakage caused by chemical and thermal treatments and excessive use of tools.
K18, on the other hand, reconnects the polypeptide chains, restoring hair to its former glory and original state. Simply put, whenever the chains of your hair get disrupted by heat or chemical services like hair colour, K18 helps bring them back to their original form. It also strengthens the bond, resulting in lesser damage over time.
The process and time
Olaplex uses their standalone treatment comprising two products—the Olaplex No.1 Bond Multiplier and the Olaplex No.2 Bond Perfector. The bond multiplier is the first step to repairing damage and strengthening brittle hair. According to Lulla, it can even be used with treatments like colouring, bleaching, or rebonding to retain the strength of the hair. Then, the Bond Perfector is applied to fill in any gaps No.1 missed. In-salon, this takes approximately an hour to carry out.
In terms of process and time, K18 is a quicker and more efficient option. The treatment involves a pre-wash hair mist and a leave-in mask. The hair mist is applied, hair is shampooed, and instead of using a conditioner, the leave-in mask is applied and left on for four minutes after towel drying. “The mist can be applied before a bleach and colour service to strengthen the hair before the chemical application. The mask can also be used as part of your home care,” she adds. The entire process would take about 20 to 30 minutes, tops!
The results of an in-salon Olaplex treatment lasts about four to six weeks, depending on the hair's condition and damage's extent. Lulla also adds that it takes about three to four sittings at regular intervals to see the best results. On the other hand, to maintain healthy hair, a K18 mask has to be used six consecutive times and then every three to four washes. The in-salon treatment with the mist can also be done before every chemical treatment.
The daily upkeep
Depending on your hair type and needs, Olaplex has a range of at-home care products that can help with your mane's daily upkeep and management. Except for No.1 and No.2, all other products can be used as part of your regular hair-care routine—always ask your hair stylist for a recommendation that’s best suited for you. The K18 mask, on the other hand, can be used at home at regular intervals as a leave-in-treatment. Lulla says, “It helps to close cuticles and seal in peptides.”
Who is the treatment meant for?
Both treatments have their pros—K18 can be applied quicker and more easily, while Olaplex is a more salon-intensive treatment. Both the formulations, however, are impeccable when it comes to repairing and restoring your hair's health, especially if you want to put years of styling, heated tools, chemical treatments, and colouring behind you.
The result? Softer, smoother, more manageable hair that is less prone to breakage, frizz, split-ends, dryness, and hair fall. The only difference? If you are strapped for time, then K18 is the on-the-go option that’ll give you the same results, sans the wait time. But, if you do have the time and patience, then Olaplex can be your lifelong BFF.
Note: K18 contains wheat—if you are allergic to wheat, consult a doctor.
Addressing the controversy
Earlier this February, Olaplex was in the news because it was sued by 28 women who claimed that the products caused hair loss, blisters, and other hair and scalp conditions. The lawsuit claims that the products contain lilial and panthenol, two chemical compounds that lead to hair loss and other adverse conditions. Olaplex has reverted to the case stating that the ingredient was removed from its products globally, and independent laboratory tests show that the products are safe to use. If you still have reservations, do consult a doctor before you go ahead and opt for the treatment.