Having bleached my hair for the past five years, it's fair to say that I’m dedicated to balayage. I have a host of protective products in my haircare arsenal to keep broken lengths, split ends and extreme dehydration at bay, but add my penchant for bleach to daily blow-drying and curling, and you have some pretty knackered locks.
I’m always looking for treatments that will bring my hair back to its former self; I want the swish, shine and overall health of my virgin hair, with the vivid hue and dimension of a balayage. Essentially, I want to have my cake and eat it too.
Enter: colour bonding treatments. They’ve been around since 2015 but are nothing short of game-changing. We’re constantly seeing new formulations of the same products – think shampoos, mousses, serums – but bonding treatments were the first new invention in some time to really shake up the industry. They work by repairing the hair’s broken bonds – caused by bleach, excessive heat styling, and anything ‘corrosive’ – from the inside, and allow us to have bleached tresses without the damage we previously experienced. Hair that once took three sessions to complete now takes just one, and those with darker tones dreaming of ice-white hair can finally achieve it.
There’s a plethora of brands out there, but the most well known are Olaplex and L'Oréal Professionnel Smartbond, which, incidentally, have been locked in a year-and-a-half court battle over alleged infringements of Olaplex’s patented technology. Just this week, Olaplex won the ruling, but L'Oréal has said it will be applying to appeal the English High Court’s decision. Whatever the brand, some form of bonding treatment is standard practice (although still always offered as an add-on) at most good salons. I’ve been using Olaplex over the last few years, mainly because it’s what my stylist has offered, and wouldn’t have my hair coloured without it – at least, so I thought.
I discovered INNOluxe V2, another bonding treatment, when perusing Brick Lane-based Not Another Salon’s rainbow-hued Instagram account. The first thing that draws me in is the shade range: vivid emerald sits alongside subtle, sun-kissed blondes; Bowie-esque orange next to deep, rich chocolates. The second thing that catches my eye? The shine! All the post-appointment hair on the feed is glossed to perfection – the result of INNOluxe V2.
One scroll through the salon’s feed and you’ll see that these manicured manes are a far cry from the west London tresses we associate with shine in that they’re still contemporary and cool. However, they’re an interesting antithesis to the beachy waves and 'undone' aesthetic that we’ve all been craving since normcore reigned supreme and Scandi girls became the epitome of cool. I’d been attempting the 'undone' look myself, seduced by the appeal of Instagram’s #GanniGirls, but without much luck – salt spray and air-drying gave me frizz rather than nonchalance.
This is something Not Another Salon founder Sophia Hilton points out when I arrive for my appointment. "Your hair is strong, but it’s dry." Ah. That’ll be the Olaplex giving it strength, but my quest for Scandi beauty making it dehydrated and sad. Being a beauty sadist, I still want to go lighter for summer; thankfully, Sophia assures me that with INNOluxe, this is possible.
"There are two ways we can use the treatment – to lighten the hair to the same degree that we normally would, but improve the condition; or to push the hair to further heights, but without necessarily improving the condition." Because – despite a little dehydration – my hair is in pretty good nick, Sophia says she feels comfortable taking my balayage that much lighter. "I wouldn’t without the INNOluxe treatment, though."
INNOluxe V2 is £30 at Not Another Salon, around the same price as most bonding treatments, and consists of three steps. First up, Sophia adds the clear oil to my colour before applying the balayage and letting it work its magic. Next, I sit for 10 minutes with the second dose on my post-shampoo towel-dried hair. The final stage is a takeaway bottle of the treatment to apply at home to maintain my hair’s health.
Olaplex is also a three-stage treatment that promises to improve damaged hair, so how does INNOluxe V2 differ? "Olaplex is very good for the hair’s internal health, but it has no external properties," Sophia explains. "For me, INNOluxe is preferable because you get both the internal and external effects." That’ll be the mirror-like shine seen on the salon's Instagram feed, then.
I should point out that Sophia is an ambassador for INNOluxe, something she’s transparent about from the start. She explains that she’s had offers to put her name to many a brand, but she chose INNOluxe because it blew her away the first time she both saw and used the treatment. "I remember when it first came out in America. We saw pictures on Instagram and hairdressers thought they’d been photoshopped – it looked too good to be true, because we’d never worked with it before."
She’s also upfront about the treatment’s shortcomings. For her, it doesn’t work well for people with virgin hair, as the product can’t penetrate enough to make a real difference. Here you’re probably better off with a keratin treatment. For those with coloured hair though, it’s ideal. "In fact, I love it on curly hair. When you colour that, the curl drops, but if you start using INNOluxe, the curls come back," she explains. "I’ve used it on people I’ve previously had to turn away, people who have had awful bleach jobs elsewhere – on anyone who needs a bit of help, really."
The treatment is optional but Not Another Salon has had a 99.9% acceptance rate – just one person in the last six months said they didn’t want it. For me, the clincher was my hair the next day. I wash it every day and after an Olaplex treatment, my hair goes back to its previous condition almost immediately – as Sophia points out, it's been made stronger by the treatment, but the shine and softness given by the stylist is gone. The morning after my appointment, I wash, blow-dry and style my hair as usual, and I have two colleagues ask me whether I had a professional blow-dry that morning.
My new haircare routine consists of more hydration. I'm using Kevin Murphy Repair Me Wash and L'Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Lumino Masque, as Sophia told me to ditch the conditioner and just use hair masks from now on – apparently all her staff do so, too. Then I use Moroccanoil Treatment Light and OUAI Smooth Spray on damp hair before blow-drying, and finally Hair by Sam McKnight Cool Girl Texturising Spray before and after curling. I’ll be reporting back here after I’ve used both take-home INNOluxe treatments over the next month or so, but I have a feeling the post-salon finish will stick around.
In the same way we look back and cringe at frazzled perms and poorly cut layers, in the future we’ll scoff at a time when bonding treatments weren’t best practice. Whichever brand you choose, this reparative and restorative treatment is a must. As Sophia says: "We just don’t need to have bad hair anymore." Amen to that.