Friday, September 9, 2022

Olaplex has some interesting chemistry

Via the New York Times, a dive into a hair care product (Olaplex) and the chemistry behind it: 
The bulk of hair is keratin, which is made up of alpha helixes, or twisted ladders of protein held together by disulfide bonds. Those bonds largely determine both the hair’s strength and its curl factor (more bonds equal more curl). Those same bonds are damaged by things like color, perming and heat styling, as well as the mechanical stress of brushing and combing.

Olaplex’s claim is that it repairs the disulfide bonds, thanks to a hero molecule called bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate — clearly not named by a marketing team. Technically, the repair claim may be an overstatement: Olaplex doesn’t fuse broken bonds but instead creates a different kind of bond, said Joseph A. Schwarcz, a chemist and the director of the McGill University Office for Science and Society. (Dr. Schwarcz nonetheless pronounced Olaplex “a clever concept.”)

Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and a founder of, a website and podcast on which scientists examine product ingredients and industry promises, was skeptical of Olaplex’s claims. The company’s top-selling product, its No. 3 Hair Perfector, says on the label that it is “NOT a conditioner” (capital letters are Olaplex’s); it’s designed to be used before shampoo and rinsed out.

I guess there's a claim of a Michael addition to a maleate, but I gotta see evidence of that before I really believe it I guess. Plenty of chemistry and chemists in this article. 


  1. Structural investigation on damaged hair keratin treated with α,β-unsaturated Michael acceptors used as repairing agents
    Group looked at it

  2. even free maleic acid adds thiols - and if you use thiourea instead of thiol, the addition/elimination of RSH is reversible. Thiourea is actually used as a catalyst to isomerize maleic acid to fumaric acid in water (fumaric acid is the thermodynamic product, and it is also far less soluble and so it precipitates from the reaction mix)


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20