What Are Bond Builders? All About the Hair Repair Game-Changer

What Are Bond Builders? All About the Hair Repair Game-Changer

Alix Earle poses with wavy blonde hair and a soft glam makeup look

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In This Article

What They Are Benefits Types of Bond Builders Choosing a Bond Builder How to Use Them The Final Takeaway

When Olaplex came out back in 2014, most of us had never even heard of bond builders for hair, let alone knew if we needed them. The brand changed the game for hair repair, and now there’s a whole market of bond-building products, from brands like K18 to dedicated products from the likes of Living Proof and Amika. If you’re intrigued but wondering how they work and whether you should be using one, you’ve come to the right place—and yes, pretty much everyone can benefit. Ahead, we give you the lowdown on what exactly a bond builder does, the perks of using one, and how to use it for best results, complete with insights from a dermatologist and a hair colorist.

Meet the Expert

  • Kiran Mian, DO, FAAD, is a medical and aesthetic dermatologist at Hudson Dermatology and Laser Surgery.
  • Tina Deeke is a colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.

What Are Bond Builders?

The term is exactly what it sounds like: Bond builders are products that help repair the broken bonds in your hair. "There are three types of bonds in our hair: disulfide bonds, hydrogen bonds, and covalent bonds," explains medical and aesthetic dermatologist Kiran Mian, DO, FAAD. "Disulfide bonds are responsible for the shape and strength of hair strands, [and bond builders] use specific ingredients to rebuild or repair the bonds between our hair molecules."

Tina Deeke, a colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, tells us that bond builders also repair polypeptide chains in the hair that have broken down from coloring, chemical treatments, or the use of heat tools. “They repair disulfide bonds or polypeptide chains in your hair, making your hair feel silkier and shinier,” she says.

Benefits of Bond Builders

If you've ever processed your hair—or even applied heat to it—you can benefit from using a bond builder. "Bonds between our hair molecules get broken down from stressors, like bleaching, relaxing, or perming," Mian says. "Bond builders help repair these bonds, bringing hair back to its natural shape and reinforcing its strength. This helps prevent breakage, improves split ends, and [boosts] the overall appearance of hair."

Using bond builders is a straightforward way to improve your hair woes, enabling your strands to look better while also becoming stronger and healthier. Deeke says that bond builders can be effective tools even if you don't have any visible damage, and they're a fit for nearly anyone. However, she cautions: "If you are or are thinking of becoming pregnant, always check with your doctors first—some [will recommend against] certain chemical processes on your hair."

Types of Bond Builders

When Olaplex first launched, it was a professional product that you could only access through in-salon treatments. Since then, at-home brands have hit the market, as have retail leave-in products (from Olaplex and others) that contain bond builders. Whichever you choose, Deeke notes that these products have changed the game when it comes to processing your hair via treatments like color and perms. “These products have changed what we are able to do in the salon,” she says. “They really help professionals be more creative and help you continue the treatments at home.” Ahead, we explore the differences between a few main categories of bond-building products to help you determine which is right for you.

In-Salon Treatments

In-salon treatments are only available from a professional stylist. "Salon treatments are more concentrated and usually best for less frequent use [than home products], depending on other aggressors on your hair, like heat styling and dying," Mian says.

In addition to products for this specific purpose, Deeke says that bond builders are now part of the formulas of many other salon products—from hair color to chemical lighteners to shampoos and conditioners—so you won't necessarily have to get this done separately as it had been in the past. "Many color lines have bonder inside now, such as L’Oréal Multi-Techniques—typically used for highlights with bonder built in—or Redken Shades EQ, which has bonder inside and is great for almost all types of color-treated hair. Matrix also has included bonder in most of their color now," she explains.

Home Treatments

As you might suspect, at-home bond building treatments at home are less intensive, and as a result, they usually require more frequent use to keep up the results. "At-home treatments need to be used once a week for continued effectiveness," Mian says. Because they're less concentrated, it makes sense that they won't have the same longevity as a salon product. While you'll save money by not going to the salon, you'll likely make up for it in time spent doing your at-home treatments, but for many, that's a worthwhile swap.

Leave-In Conditioners

While dedicated bond building treatments for at-home use are available, leave-in conditioners that integrate bond builders are an even easier way to achieve extra repair, as many of us already use a leave-in conditioning product as part of our post-wash routines. Simply use these products as a regular part of your haircare maintenance, after every wash or however often the instructions say.

As with the way home treatments compare to in-salon options, leave-in conditioners with bond builders are more convenient but also contain smaller amounts of the reparative elements than a dedicated product. This makes them great for everyday maintenance and more difficult to overdo, but if you have significant damage or want quick results, you might prefer a more concentrated formula.

Choosing a Bond Builder

Salon vs. At-Home

Whether you go to a salon or opt for an at-home bond builder treatment is entirely up to you. If you're already headed to a salon for color or other services, it's a no-brainer to include a bond builder, and Olaplex remains a go-to for that. "The first bond builder to come to the market was Olaplex," Mian says. "This product uses a patented ingredient—bisaminopropyl diglycol dimaleate—to repair disulfide bonds, strengthening damaged hair." Deeke adds that a bond builder "works great while coloring to protect as you’re lightening or doing other chemical services."

Of course, you have other options in a salon, too. “K18 is my newest color protection go-to,” Deeke tells us. “Your stylist/colorist simply sprays the Pro Mist prior to coloring and follows with the leave in mask. It repairs the hair and leaves it looking so shiny, and it’s also very easy to use.”

Curious about other standout K18 products? “K18 also launched a detox and maintenance shampoo.” Deeke says. “[Plus], the K18 Mask is a great option as it helps reverse damage from heat. Besides lightening or coloring, it will help strengthen damage that might not be visible to you and protect the hair from coloring.” Mian likes this product as well, noting, “the ingredient in K18’s hair mask, the K18 peptide, is a string of amino acids that mimics keratin, replacing damaged keratin and allowing new bond formation. ”

Combining a salon treatment with at-home follow-up is an option as well. “The L’Oréal Absolut Repair Molecular Repair system starts in the salon with a professional treatment and continues at home with the shampoo, rinse, and leave-in mask,” Deeke says, adding that “with both K18 and L’Oréal, I suggest pairing with a moisturizing mask.” Another combo option is B3—which in this case doesn’t refer to niacinamide, but instead is a Brazilian bond builder system. “B3 is simple to use professionally, and it does not alter color or cause it to lift,” Deeke tells us. “The line offers at-home maintenance via shampoo, conditioner, and a leave-in to help prolong your color.”

The Best At-Home Bond Builders

For at-home usage, Deeke recommends products that have bond builders added, rather than using one as a separate step. “So many haircare lines are launching their version of a bonder system, such as Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate and Amika’s The Kure,” she suggests, also noting that that “Olaplex #9 is a leave-in for protecting your hair while blow-drying and is great for all types of hair.” As for frequency for at-home bond builders, Deeke tells us that “I typically recommend at least once a week for a mask, and if it’s a styling product, it can be used daily.”

How to Use Bond Builders

Bond builders are often much easier to use than you'd think. If you choose a product that has a bond builder built in, you'll use it following its normal instructions—no changes necessary. If you happen to be going to a salon, your stylist will be handling it all for you.

Still, both of our experts say that there's no one-size-fits-all way to use a bond builder, as every product comes with its own set of instructions. "Instructions depend on the product," Mian says. "Olaplex is designed to use on washed, damp hair, leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse, while [you apply] K18's mask after shampooing and don't rinse it out."

The Final Takeaway

Bond builders can bring damaged hair back to life, and they can be useful even if you don’t have visible damage because they repair hair and rebuild bonds between molecules from the inside out. In turn, this helps your hair look shinier and bouncier, while also making it stronger and healthier. While a decade ago, bond building was a dedicated service, now this technology exists in a wide array of salon and at-home hair care products. Knowing that basically anyone’s hair can benefit, bond builders are a great addition to your routine if you aren’t already using one.


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