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Bond repair. Bond building. Bond maintenance. You've undoubtedly heard one or all of these terms at your salon, in the media, and maybe even from your favorite hair-care retailer. Until recent years, you could only access this ultra-reparative category of hair-care products at salons or during a service with a licensed professional. Now, however, professional and consumer brands offer a breadth of products you can purchase in stores or online for use at home.
This category of products — which can include, but isn't limited to, shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, oils, and styling creams — seems like a one-stop-shop for damaged, dry, and/or fragile hair (even more so than products with protein-based ingredients such as keratin). But like anything that seems too good to be true, the bond repair category begs a few questions: Does it really work? Also, how does it work? Who can use it, and who should use it? Below, see all these questions answered by experts.
Your hair is naturally made up of a bunch of chemical bonds too small for the eye to see. Bond-repair products are meant to help fix them and improve hair health by using similar chemistry.
More specifically, bond builders were created to target three different types of chemical bonds that naturally exist in hair, according to Missouri-based colorist Colissa Nole. "Disulfide, the strongest bond, stabilizes your protein chain," she explains, adding that protein chains contribute to overall hair health and elasticity.
Second on the bond chain of command are hydrogen bonds, which are "responsible for your hair's resistance to external elements such as water and heat and holding the texture and shape of your hair."
Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector
Redken Acidic Perfecting Leave-In Treatment
Salt bonds are the weakest type of the three; they break when the hair is too alkaline or too acidic. Bond-repair products, Nole says, are often made with pH level in mind to strengthen those salt bonds and further contribute to healthy hair. Cosmetic chemist Ginger King and cosmetic chemist and BeautyStat founder Ron Robinson both concur.
According to King and Robinson, bond-building is not just a marketing term. Still, the efficacy of bond-building products comes down to each product's ingredient makeup, so bond builders just need to be chosen carefully from user to user.
Because most at-home bond-repair products — which typically take the form of masks, shampoos, and conditioners — are made with patented ingredients and technologies, King says she can't exactly explain how they all work chemically. However, there is one type of ingredient that qualifies a product as a true bond builder. "The common thread is that all technologies start with amino acids," she explains. Amino acids are "the building blocks of proteins," says King.
This basically means that they work similarly to keratin and other protein treatments — by strengthening hair with ingredients that naturally occur in hair strands — just on a much deeper level. As Robinson explains it, "some ingredients can work on [the] hair's surface, the cuticle, and other ingredients like the [amino acids] used in Olaplex may work deeper, in the cortex."
Amika The Kure Bond Repair Shampoo
K18 Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask
In Olaplex, for example, amino acids are present thanks to (prepare for a big, complicated term) bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, a patented conditioning ingredient. "The dimaleate part helps to prevent disulfide bond damage, often seen during bleaching," King says.
K18's products are similar in this regard, King also points out. "They have their own patented 18-peptide technology — peptides are a chain of amino acids, and being 18 of them, there must be some sort of bonding effect," she says. Furthermore, Redken's Acidic Bonding line features amodimethicone, which has a chemical structure that includes amino groups.
King highlights that these very science-y sounding ingredients often have "amino" or "amo" somewhere in their name. Otherwise, glycine and L-cysteine are two other great amino acids to look out for on ingredients lists, she adds.
Every brand has a different formula or technology at play in their products, so it's hard to say if all bond-repair systems really work. But as far as the general idea of bond-building in hair care is concerned, it's a resounding "yes" from hair colorists.
"It is a great thing that we get to send our clients home with a [bond repair] hair prescription to maintain healthy hair for their upcoming services," says Los Angeles colorist Nikki Lee. Using bond-repairing products, she says, always results in client happiness — especially for those who are coloring or lightening their hair and need extra protection against chemical damage.
Nole echoes that sentiment. "I absolutely 100 percent agree with using bond maintenance – in the salon, at home, in your shower, your parents' shower, at your friend's house," she jokes. "Anyway and anywhere you can add a bonding technology into your beauty routine, do it."
In her experience, clients who use bond-repairing products between salon appointments see a significant hair health transformation. "I've had guests that have come in with detrimental damage and leave with their hair being healthier than when they came in with, simply after just one use," she adds.
Anyone and everyone can use bond repair products, no matter the hair length, texture, color, or history. "[Bond builders are suitable for] all textures," explains Lee. "Damaged hair tends to need the repair regimen. Coarse hair may need something more intense, but still, the bond repair will work." Nole agrees that bond builders have shown results across all hair types and textures in her experience.
The Inkey List PCA Bond Repair Hair Treatment
In Common Crystal Cashmere Treatment Kit
Los Angeles-based colorist Riawna Capri says she generally recommends these reparative products to clients who are in severe states of hair damage. "I would recommend a bond hair treatment to a new client who walked in with a botched hair color where the previous stylist overlapped and basically broke her hair off," she explains further.
On the other hand, Nole urges all of her clients to take on a bond-building regimen. "There isn't one single person that doesn't require extra strengthening from within," she says.
Still, like with all matters of hair, there isn't one universal solution to individual issues. "It's not a one-size-fits-all situation," Nole says. That's why she recommends consulting with a professional to figure out which bond builders will be best for you and how often you should be using them.
The quickest and easiest way to get a good bond-repair recommendation for your specific hair situation is simply to ask your go-to hair colorist, as Nole recommends. She explains that colorists' recommendations are often based on client results; however, they can also be dictated by their salon's brand partnerships — just something to keep in mind when getting a recommendation from a salon professional. Otherwise, she says, it's really up to personal preference and what brands you've liked in the past.
She generally recommends the Olaplex system of products, which include shampoo, conditioner, masks, oils, styling cream, and other treatments that you can buy in select salons or online from retailers like Amazon and Sephora. Capri, however, prefers that her clients use In Common Crystal Cashmere at-home treatment system (Capri and Lee co-created the product line).
But those obviously aren't the only bond-repair systems out there. If you want to look into other options, you just need to keep an eye out for those amino acids King mentioned earlier. As we've already mentioned, Olaplex, K18, Redken, and In Common's at-home bond-repair systems are great places to start. Amika's The Kure line also features its own amino acid complex. Robinson recommends using bond-repair products from brands that have done (and shared) research on the before and after results. Redken is one example.
With all this knowledge at your fingertips, whichever one you choose should lead to a big "thank you" from your hair.
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