The Truth About Olaplex & Infertility

If you quiz any stylist or colourist on the best product for keeping dyed hair in tip-top condition, it's highly likely they'll extol the virtues of Olaplex. The brand began its journey in professional salons, where treatments No.1 and No.2 became famous the world over for repairing broken bonds, common in bleached hair — and it's all thanks to patented ingredient bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate. Though a little complicated to say, a quick once-over takes dry, frazzled, overprocessed hair and makes it feel brand-new, fast. It's no wonder, then, that Olaplex's move into DIY haircare in 2014 sparked excitement — and totally changed the game.
Since then, Olaplex has unveiled a handful of at-home hair treatments including a shampoo and conditioner, a reparative hair mask and an intense bonding oil. But you could argue that the No.3 Hair Perfector, £26, is the most popular product in the range. On TikTok, the hashtag #olaplexno3 has an enormous 30.5 million views and counting, with beauty enthusiasts and influencers all obsessing over the hair-smoothing and strengthening properties. The Olaplex website even touts the product as a bestseller. That's why it came as a surprise to hear rumours bubbling over the weekend that the product would be banned.
@hasinikay Reply to @rat_bastard why current olaplex formulas are being banned #olaplex #damagedhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #curlyhairproblems ♬ original sound - Hasini Kay
If you have a Twitter or a TikTok account, you might have come across Olaplex fans chattering about the safety of the cult product — in particular the inclusion of an ingredient named butylphenyl methylpropional, otherwise known as lilial (basically a fragrance). Their worries? That it may cause infertility. On Sunday, TikToker Hasini Kay went viral for a video captioned: "When you find out Olaplex is going to be banned in the EU + UK next month." The clip has since amassed 703.6k views and counting. Hasini took to the app to discuss the matter in another viral video. "There are reports that Olaplex is being banned in the EU and the UK and that's because of this ingredient, which has been linked to infertility," says Hasini, pointing to lilial on a green screen, "and it's in Olaplex No.3." Hasini continues: "Some sources say it's already been reformulated, but if not, they're likely to reformulate before the ban comes into effect." In the comments section, Hasini pinpoints Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council as her source.
Of course, the comments were jam-packed with panicked Olaplex fans worried about their health — and the condition of their hair. Is Olaplex really being banned? And is there anything to worry about? It wasn't long before the gossip made its way to Twitter, where people stirred up even more alarm. "Omgggg there's an ingredient in Olaplex products linked with infertility so it's being banned in the UK & EU next month 😭😭😭😭," wrote one Olaplex fan. Another asked the brand: "My hairdresser said she had a notification that two of the chemicals are banned in the eu/uk so are you removing them? Whats happening?"
Research confirms that the ingredient butylphenyl methylpropional (or lilial) has been assessed and is now being prohibited in cosmetics in the EU, with cosmetics experts expecting a UK ban to follow soon. But that doesn't mean that Olaplex No.3 is being discontinued. Refinery29 contacted Olaplex for comment. They said: "We removed the ingredient butylphenyl methylpropional (lilial) from manufacturing already so you'll still be able to purchase the product in the future." A message from Olaplex's PR team corroborated this. "Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector is not being banned. Olaplex takes the health of our consumers and regulatory compliance seriously. While lilial was previously used as a fragrance in the Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector, it was never an active or functional ingredient. Out of an abundance of caution, we proactively removed lilial from our No.3 Hair Perfector globally and have not sold products using this ingredient in the UK or EU since January of 2022."
If you're confused, it pays to understand exactly what lilial is. Aesthetician and skincare expert Alicia Lartey has been vocal on Twitter in regard to the rumours and explains: "Lilial is a fragrance component which is usually used in formulations of 0.1% or even less." She goes on to say that there was a study in which this particular ingredient was fed to a mammal and found to have adverse effects. On TikTok, LA-based cosmetic chemist Javon Ford put together a viral video explaining this further. "Looks like an ingredient in Olaplex No.3 (butylphenyl methylpropional) is being banned next month in the EU due to links to animal infertility," he said. Javon states that this ingredient has been on the EU's restriction list for quite some time but now it's being officially banned in March 2022. "Should you be concerned?" he asks. "Not quite."
Javon goes on to reassure Olaplex stans, presenting a recent screenshot taken from Sephora's website which doesn't show the ingredient in the current formula. Javon compares this to a 2018 ingredient list from website INCIdecoder, where the ingredient is present. He adds: "Just to make sure we're not being gaslit by Olaplex, let's do a little bit more digging. Here's a screenshot of Olaplex's website courtesy of the Wayback Machine [an internet archive] August 13th 2021 and the ingredient is nowhere to be found compared to a few months prior, April 15th 2021, and there it is." Javon then explains that between April and August 2021, Olaplex decided to "get ahead of the EU ban and phase out the ingredient". He says: "If Olaplex is working for you without issue, no, you do not have to discontinue use."
Alicia seconds this. Though the ingredient was fed to an animal in the aforementioned study, she says it's not the same as washing your hair with it. "You have to remember the dosage of which this occurred, too," Alicia says. She believes the furore in regard to fertility is simply people jumping to conclusions. "Any good scientist knows that things are ever changing," she adds in regard to the ingredient ban, "so it's important to be ready to receive new information." Alicia believes that there is a lot of fear-mongering on TikTok right now. "I actively avoid skincare or beauty-related content here because I have found that the most viral content can be the most misleading." She carries on: "The ingredient isn't vital overall to the workings or mechanism of Olaplex." This is why it was seemingly easy for the brand to remove it from the ingredients list without having to pull the product from shelves entirely. "People are telling me they can't see it in Olaplex products and that's because they have a new batch," says Alicia. "Studies are done and there's a time limit where companies have to stop using that particular ingredient. They're given enough time to formulate things and products that contain the banned ingredient have to be pulled off the shelf."
In short, Olaplex No.3 is not being discontinued. The ingredient no longer features in the label on the brand's UK website, nor on popular stockist Cult Beauty. It's unclear whether Olaplex will be offering any compensation in the form of refund or return options if you own a product containing the ingredient from before August 2021 but, like Alicia says, it's the dose that makes the poison. Using the ingredient in your hair is very different from ingesting it as per the study. If you're interested in learning more, Olaplex provides a link to its ingredients and material safety data sheets, where you can read up on the safety of each product.
Refinery29 contacted multiple fertility experts for comment. Of the two we heard back from, one was unfamiliar with lilial. Another was unable to provide commentary on the ingredient.
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