The $28 Leave-In Treatment That Transformed My Severely Damaged Hair
And helped me finally break my flat iron addiction.
No, Really, You Need This features wellness products our editors and experts feel so passionately about that they can basically guarantee it will make your life better in some way. If you've ever asked yourself, "This seems cool, but do I really ~need~ it?" the answer this time is yes.
When I was 13, my cool older cousin forgot her Hot Tools straightener at our house. Rather than mail it back to her, I snuck it into my bathroom for an illicit straightening session. With just a few passes, my unruly, virgin baby strands became sleek and crazy-shiny. I rocked up to middle school the next day with stick-straight hair feeling *so* 2000s on trend, like Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday or a brunette version of Lizzie McGuire. (Related: The Dyson Airwrap Is a Magical Do-It-All Hair Tool Worth the Splurge)
In the years since, I upgraded from my OG Hot Tools to a top-of-the-line Sedu, but my dependence on flat irons to achieve a good hair day stayed the same. I ignored hairstylists (and my mom) who said I was permanently damaging my strands by frying them to a crisp each morning. Roommates got used to me anxiously hustling back to our apartment shortly after we'd left to make sure I'd switched off that 300-degree heat stick. When I moved in with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, he'd occasionally threaten to throw out my Sedu after it burned him in the bathroom. And when he invited me to Australia to meet his family for the first time, you bet I invested in a mini travel Sedu and North America-to-Australia power adaptor so I could be blissfully frizz-free in the Southern Hemisphere.
It wasn't until I got engaged and started thinking about my bridal beauty look that I finally acknowledged my hair straightening addiction had gone too far. My bridal vision was long, lush waves like you see in everyone's wedding inspo Pinterest boards. The problem? After 16 years of consistent flat iron use, no amount of heat protectant spray could save my hair. It was exactly as Mom had prophesied: burnt to a crisp. I had split ends and uneven breakage and the texture of hay.
So I dedicated myself to rehabbing my hair. I told myself I could only use my Sedu on weekends or on very dire, 90 percent humidity weekdays. I scheduled regular trims, took biotin supplements, switched to sulfate-free shampoo, and invested in a WetBrush, which untangles wet hair gently so it's less likely to break. It all helped, but three months later, I wasn't seeing as much improvement as I would have liked. Finally, after a desperate "how to fix damaged hair" late-night Google search, I discovered Olaplex.
The brand is a three-step system: Olaplex No.1 Bond Multiplier, No.2 Bond Perfector, and No.3 Hair Perfector. Together, the three formulas work to heal the bonds within your hair that have been damaged by heat, color, or chemical processing. The first two steps are professional products only available in salons, usually applied after coloring to immediately repair damage. But Olaplex No.3 is available for at-home use-you can find the $28 bottle at select salons or online (try Nordstrom, Amazon, Sephora, and Walmart). It contains the same ingredients as the professional versions and is free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
The online reviews for Olaplex No.3 were so compelling that I mapped out a nearby salon that stocked it and showed up as soon as they opened their doors the next morning. A few hours later, I was combing the rich formula through my hair. It's recommended that you leave it on damp strands for at least 10 minutes (although I left it for three hours that first time), then rinse it out and shampoo and style as normal.
I'd tried countless leave-in conditioners and deep-conditioning masks over the years, but nothing prepared me for the results I saw after just one Olaplex treatment. When my hair dried, it was the closest I could remember to my pre-Hot Tools days. While it certainly didn't straighten my hair, Olaplex did leave my strands softer, sleeker, and noticeably less frizzy. My hair looked and felt... actually healthy??? I didn't even feel the usual impulse to plug in my Sedu. (Related: Hair Masks That Combat Dryness and Frizz)
I continued to religiously apply my Olaplex No. 3 at least once a week. Don't let the small bottle fool you. You can use the treatment two to three times a week if hair is severely damaged, but if you stick to once-weekly general maintenance, the 3.3-oz size will last a few months, if not more. Because the formula is liquidy (you'll want to apply it over a sink or bathtub), a little bit goes a long way.
A few months later, I showed up for my haircut appointment, steeling myself for the "Your hair is falling apart" lecture from the hairstylist. It didn't come.
"Wow," she remarked instead. "Your hair looks healthy."