When Olaplex burst onto the scene in 2014, it opened up a whole new haircare category referred to as 'bond repair'. Not only does the buzzy beauty technology work to fuse broken strands back together, but it also helps make lengths look and feel stronger, shinier, healthier, and more resilient. That's why top hairstylists and colorists always recommend it for heavily bleached or colored hair in particular, or for those (like me) who are guilty of excessive heat styling.
Over the past few years, an army of at-home products that are said to work in a similar way to Olaplex has popped up across a number of different brands. From K18's Leave-in Molecular Repair Hair Mask to Living Proof's Triple Bond Complex, many combine elements of in-salon treatments to breathe life into dull, damaged hair. But one thing that truly effective bond repair hair products have in common is a hefty price tag. That's why everyone is going wild for this new drugstore version.
L'Oréal Paris says that the range offers its "deepest repair" to "instantly transform hair without a premium price tag" — and that's promising. A collection of three products (which are also available as a full kit), L'Oréal's bond repair range includes Bond Repair Shampoo, Bond Repair Conditioner, and (arguably the hero) Pre-Shampoo Treatment.
What are the benefits of bond repair hair products?
First, let's go over the science. As cosmetic biochemist Nausheen Qureshi explains to R29, 'bond repair' is simply a marketing term to describe treatments that rebuild the hair's structure. This structure is made up of chemical bonds within the keratin (what hair is made of). Qureshi notes that continuously dyeing your hair, as well as heat styling, impacts hair the most. As a result, hair loses lipids (moisturizing fats) and proteins (said to make hair strong) that are integral to its overall structure.
Most 'normal' shampoos and conditioners work at a more surface level, says Qureshi, while bond repair products go deeper.
What’s the difference between L’Oréal Bond Repair and Olaplex?
The biggest contrast between L'Oréal's bond repair range and Olaplex is the price point and the speed at which the products work. Speaking from experience, I haven't noticed a massive difference in terms of results between L'Oréal Bond Repair, Olaplex, and K18, all of which I've been regularly interchanging. However, I want to stress that it's very much dependent on your hair type and level of damage. For example, somebody who regularly bleaches their hair will likely have a different outcome, and it may take L'Oréal Bond Repair longer to deliver the same results as those achieved by Olaplex. In a similar vein, some users have reported that K18 works faster than Olaplex.
Is L’Oréal Bond Repair like Olaplex?
Companies like L'Oréal and Olaplex use different ingredients to help repair the keratin in the hair. Olaplex uses bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, which is patented. Meanwhile, L'Oréal shines a light on citric acid, which improves the hair's manageability and lends a smoother, frizz-free appearance.
Another reason for the comparison could be the pH of the products. Olaplex sits at around 6 to 6.5, and while L'Oréal hasn’t released the exact pH of its products, the hero ingredient is citric acid, which has a pH of between 3 and 6. Why is that important? "Shampoos are alkaline (which is anything with a pH above 7)," explains Qureshi, "whereas the pH of the hair cuticle is a lot lower (around 4.5 to 5)." When you reduce the pH of a product, explains Qureshi, you're able to increase shine and reduce damage. Citric acid can do that well.
Does L’Oréal Bond Repair work?
So does this affordable, drugstore hair bonding range live up to the hype? I had to put it to the test. I want to flag that I'm already a fan of L'Oréal hair products and I've used a few different collections on my extremely heat-damaged, wavy hair. My personal favorite is Hyaluron Plump, which features shampoo, conditioner, Wonder Water treatment, and serum. I'm somebody who switches between K18 and Olaplex but I'd say that L'Oréal's Bond Repair range is on par with the professional brands I've used.
I first encountered the products during a professional blow-dry, where my stylist used all four Bond Repair products. Since then, I've been incorporating each one into my at-home haircare routine and my hair is smoother, shinier, and feels stronger, too. First up, the pre-shampoo treatment. This is a product I like to use once a week and I love that it only takes five minutes to work. In theory, it's similar to Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector, also a pre-shampoo treatment, although it takes double the time.
How do you use L'Oréal Bond Repair products?
To use the Bond Repair products, I wet my hair, slather on the pre-shampoo treatment, then wash my face and brush my teeth before I get back into the shower. I rinse the product away, then follow with the shampoo. Considering the shampoo is sulfate-free (great for those with dyed hair, who want to prolong their color), it actually has a satisfying lather.
If you compare the ingredients list of this shampoo with Olaplex's version, you'll notice they're very different, aside from a couple of ingredients like moisturizing glycerin and anti-static agents. Again, it features 5% citric acid, which L'Oréal suggests helps to mend broken hair bonds. I always squeeze out any excess water before applying the conditioner (10% citric acid) to the mid-lengths and ends of my hair for maximum benefit, and I leave it for a few minutes before thoroughly washing it out. Like Olaplex's conditioner, this boasts anti-static agents and softening glycerin.
Since following this four-step routine, my hair is easier to brush, has fewer tangles and knots, dries much smoother with no more effort, and there's definitely less frizz. I've noticed it's not quite as sleek when I use the shampoo and conditioner alone. I've been using the serum, too, but in all honesty, this is the product in the line that I could take or leave. The winning ingredients are smoothing citric acid, of course, but also glycerin and dimethicone — a type of silicone that makes hair look and feel sleek. While I like that it's an easy, leave-in product, and it does help tame flyaways, I'm a bit cautious about using too much, as it has the highest amount of active ingredient: 20% citric acid. The five-star reviews speak for themselves but I think this product is probably much better suited to those with curly, thicker hair.
If you only use one product, make it the pre-shampoo treatment. In my opinion, this is the real star of the show. It works just as well with other shampoos and conditioners (not just the Bond Repair ones), which is probably better if you'd rather spend less on your hair routine overall. It's after using this product in particular that I notice the biggest difference in my hair — and for $12.99, you really can't go wrong.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy or click on something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.