If you bleach or chemically treat your hair you are probably already well aware of Olaplex, the miracle hair treatment that prevents hair damage and dramatically improves the condition of chemically processed hair. The Olaplex system is made of three different products, two to be used by professionals at the time of your hair appointment, and a weekly deeply conditioning pre-shampoo treatment that you apply at home. The hair bonding formula is patented and heavily guarded, but it’s not surprising that competing products are already in the market. One of those competing products, launched by cosmetology and hair giant L’Oreal, is the Smartbond in-salon treatment. But do they work the same? and which one should you ask your hairdresser for?

How Does Olaplex Work

Every time you have a colour service that lightens the hair, such as bleaching your hair blonde, some of the disulfide bonds that give your hair strength break. This is the reason why your hair feels considerably weaker after bleaching, and why you can’t go from dark brunette to platinum blonde in a single salon appointment, if you want to keep your hair that is. Enter Olaplex and their patented technology that re-builds those disulfide bonds and prevents them from breaking in the first place when applied at the same time as bleach or oxidizing dyes. This means your hairdresser can pull a Kim Kardashian, enter the salon with dark hair and come out the same day with bright, healthy, platinum hair. While not cheap, Olaplex is well worth the price-tag and your hairdresser will also provide you with a weekly conditioning treatment that further improves the condition of your hair.

How Does L’Oreal Smartbond Work

L’Oréal Professionnel Smartbond’s main component is malic acid, that when added to the color or bleach is absorved into the hair shaft during processing, and prevents the damage from occurring. Instead of rebuilding the disulfide bonds that get broken, like Olaplex does, Smartbond prevents damage from happening by acting as a lubricant between the protein chains to keep the hair elastic and reduce damage. According to L’Oréal’s Senior Scientific Advisor, Atoshi George  “It acts like a mopper-up of bleaching agents and helps some of the weaker bonds to reform.” However, L’Oreal won’t provide data on how many of those bonds actually reform because the main benefit of Smartbond is preventing them from breaking in the first place. There is a huge network of L’Oreal hairdressers that have been testing the product and raving about it, and L’Oreal has the labs to produce great hair products with a solid scientific base, though they have been accused by Olaplex of stealing the patent. So Smartbond works, just in a different way than Olaplex.

Difference Between Olaplex and Smartbond

The main difference between Olaplex and Smartbond is that Olaplex is the only product currently in the market that actually repairs hair that has been chemically damaged through straightening, bleaching or colouring treatments. Smartbond prevents further damage, and may help slightly with rebuilding those protein bonds that cause hair damage, but Olaplex is the only product that specifically targets them for repairing.

In terms of procedure and cost, both Olaplex and Smartbond are three-phase treatments, with two in-salon treatments and an at-home conditioner. The at-home version is just a more diluted version than the one at the salon, and can usually be bought at authorised retailers or even through the internet (but beware of fakes, as with any trendy product). Olaplex is usually more expensive than Smartbond, but the difference is not dramatic and varies depending on your location.

Which One Should I Choose?

If your hair feels brittle or sheds easily due to one too many highlighting sessions, Olaplex is the clear option, and some salons even suggest a series of stand-alone Olaplex treatments to repair hair ahead of a drastic change in colour. Even if your hair only has minor damage from heat styling, you will notice a difference by using Olaplex n.3 at-home treatment. And for those with rainbow hair Olaplex is definitely a must-have and can be mixed both with the bleach and with the colors if you are using rainbow dyes that need a developer.

However, that doesn’t mean you need to go looking for a new salon if your trusted hairdresser only uses Smartbond or is a L’Oreal exclusive salon. Preventing bleaching damage is never a bad thing, and Smartbond will help reduce damage, and allow much more drastic changes in hair color with minimal damage. However, if your hair is already damaged you will need to stock up on protein treatments to repair it, as Smartbond won’t do it for you.