The New $12.99 Olaplex Dupe Transformed My Hair

Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Kilikita.
Whether you've been dabbling in DIY color or are in desperate need of a trim, there's no denying that COVID-19 restrictions have taken their toll on our hair. Parched strands, split ends, and over-processed lengths are just a handful of problems we're seeking solutions for, and with salons in some areas still closed, maintaining healthy hair is the responsibility of at-home treatments.
From Coco & Eve Like A Virgin Super Nourishing Coconut & Fig Hair Masque to The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Serum For Hair Density, there is a handful of game-changing hair products trending at the minute, but one in particular is making waves among beauty lovers. Enter: The Inkey List PCA Bond Repair Hair Treatment.
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You've probably already heard of The Inkey List, best known for its affordable skin-care range jam-packed with dermatologist-approved ingredients like salicylic acid, retinol, and vitamin C. The brand recently branched out into hair care and its latest product is receiving countless five-star reviews. In fact, shoppers are likening it to cult-favorite hair product Olaplex, which is more than twice the price.
When it comes to repairing bleached, dyed, or heat-damaged hair, Olaplex is considered the gold standard, a treatment that all hairstylists recommend time and time again. Previously only available in salons, the brand has since become a mainstay of many at-home hair-care routines, from the No.3 Hair Perfector that started it all to the No.6 Bond Smoother. The remarkable results are all thanks to the star ingredient, bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, which is as effective as it is difficult to pronounce.
The featured ingredient in The Inkey List's Bond Repair is a little different: 10% bis-PCA dimethicone. "Why this hasn't been used more is surprising," Mark Curry, co-founder of The Inkey List, told me. He adds that, while a lot of bond-building products only seem to work on fine, straight Caucasian hair, PCA Bond Repair promises to work on all hair types, including thick, curly hair — and it's all down to the compound itself.
Without sounding too much like a chemistry lesson, the product works on all of the hair's bonds, specifically disulfide bonds — which are damaged by bleach and color — and ionic bonds, which can easily be damaged and cause split ends. In other words, bis-PCA dimethicone fuses the hair strand back together, repairing damage. "You get an instant impact, meaning way fewer straggly, frizzy bits of hair," said The Inkey List co-founder Colette Laxton, "but it also repairs over time and strengthens hair, too." In fact, the team touts the product as one of the most concentrated hair-repair treatments out there right now.
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Currently, I'm growing out some chunky blonde highlights. I recently colored over them with brown dye, so my hair feels drier than usual. Cold weather means I'm no longer letting my hair air-dry, so using a hairdryer is taking its toll ever so slightly, and I'm also in need of a chop. My hair isn't in dire condition, but I'll welcome anything that minimizes fluffy ends, keeps frizz on lockdown, and makes my hair feel less limp. What's more, the formula also offers heat protection to prevent frazzled ends during styling.
I often use Olaplex No.3, so is the PCA Bond Repair worth the hype? At first spritz, the texture is very much like Olaplex No.0 — it feels just like water. Per the instructions, I sprayed the product through towel-dried hair (I use the Aquis Hair Towel Lisse Luxe or a cotton T-shirt to soak up moisture as gently as possible) and used a wide-tooth comb to make sure I distributed it evenly from root to tip. I applied the product more heavily to areas that needed a bit more TLC, focusing mostly on my ends.
Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Kilikita.
Before PCA Bond Repair.
Photo: Courtesy of Jacqueline Kilikita.
After PCA Bond Repair.
The pump was difficult to use, which Curry and Laxton acknowledge, but it gets sustainability points for being totally recyclable. (They told me that there is only one supplier worldwide that makes pumps like these.) I set about rough-drying my hair like normal, on medium heat so as not to exacerbate split ends. The first thing I noticed was how thick and strong my hair felt: It was as though I'd had a fresh blunt cut or professional blow-dry. While my hair didn't feel any softer, it was shiny, and the next morning when I went to straighten it, my flat iron glided through easily. Comparing the pictures, which were taken just after rough-drying and before any styling or straightening, my hair looks a bit longer somehow, too.
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Curry and Laxton said that continued usage is the key, as the product acts like scaffolding for brittle hair strands, so it works not only instantly but cumulatively, too. This makes not being able to book in for a trim for the foreseeable future a little more bearable. Laxton says she uses PCA Bond Repair every time she washes her hair, so I continued to use it throughout the week (I wash my hair up to three or four times a week). Again, my hair wasn't super soft, but it felt resilient and more full. The Cult Beauty reviews speak for themselves, too: "A few sprays of this and my hair feels soft but strong, and the shine is unreal! Will definitely repurchase," wrote one user, while another championed the product for turning coarse frizz into smooth hair.
Would I use it again? When my hair feels limp, this will be my go-to, but I do love the feeling of ultra-soft lengths. For that, I rely on Kérastase Elixir Ultime Oil Serum — it's more than four times the price of PCA Bond Repair, but it's my must-have.
That said, they're completely different products, so there's nothing stopping you from mixing the two for great results or using PCA Bond Repair on wet hair and smoothing dry hair with a finishing oil. What I would say is that when it comes to hair products, less is more: It's easier to add than to take away, so if you're using multiple products post-wash, bear in mind the length and thickness of your hair so as not to weigh it down. For me, six to 10 spritzes of PCA Bond Repair is enough, and I like a pea-sized amount of hair oil for extra smoothness.
Overall, I think PCA Bond Repair gives Olaplex a run for its money, both price- and results-wise. It's currently exclusive to The Inkey List's direct-to-consumer site, so be sure to grab a bottle before it inevitably sells out.
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