Hair care brand Olaplex quickly won a wide following during the pandemic with products it says build chemical bonds that strengthen hair.
Hundreds of glowing reviews posted online by influencers, hair stylists, and other customers seem to support this claim, with some calling the products “life-changing” and “magic.” The #olaplex hashtag, one of dozens of social media hashtags devoted to the brand, is linked to TikTok videos with more than 1.5 billion views, and used on more than 14.3 million Instagram posts.
But some customers who spoke to Insider said the products did the opposite of what they promised. In some cases, they received refunds after reporting problems with hair breakage and loss to Olaplex.
Insider spoke to two people who have received refunds and another who has requested a refund from Olaplex. In a Facebook group with 3,100 members devoted to discussing Olaplex and hair loss or damage, several others have said they received or requested refunds from the company.
In response to questions about the refunds and the safety of its products, Olaplex said: “We are proud to help our millions of customers achieve their best hair possible and every customer inquiry is important to us.”
“If a customer happens to not be satisfied with their purchase, we are always willing to explore a possible refund,” the statement continued. “Our products are thoroughly tested both in-house and in independent third-party laboratories and we remain confident in the evidence showing that Olaplex products are safe and effective.”
It’s difficult to know just how many refunds Olaplex has issued. But the reports of hair damage and requests for refunds come as the company faces two lawsuits and a steep drop in its stock price since going public last year.
Olaplex customers report hair breakage and loss
New Jersey-based makeup artist Rosie Genute said Olaplex refunded her $80 in October, five months after she posted a video to TikTok describing problems with hair breakage.
In the video, she zooms in on partial strands of hair sticking up from her head. “A lot of this is breakage that came up after using Olaplex,” she tells viewers.
Genute told Insider she started using Olaplex shampoo, conditioner, leave-in treatment, and oil at the end of 2021. Within three weeks, her hair appeared shinier and less frizzy. But soon after, she developed dandruff and her hair started falling out in clumps as she showered, she said.
By March, Genute said her hair had turned dry and brittle with strands breaking in half, and she spotted flaky red spots on her scalp — all issues she had never experienced before.
Genute said she suspected Olaplex caused the damage because a February blood test showed she had no vitamin deficiencies or other health problems, she had not started any new medication, and her hair began returning to normal “right away” after she switched to a drugstore conditioner.
Months later, as her hair continued to improve, Genute contacted Olaplex saying she thought its products damaged her hair.
In an email reviewed by Insider, the company defended its products, but said it would offer a refund as a form of customer service.
“Although we believe in the safety of our products, we also believe in providing the best customer service and we would be more than happy to assist with your purchases made within the last 12 months from OLAPLEX.com or an authorized retailer,” the company stated. Companies frequently offer refunds to customers who have complaints about products.
Olaplex has also publicly addressed claims of hair loss on Twitter and TikTok, saying its products are independently tested and “results do not indicate that using our products can lead to hair loss.”
Genute said she provided purchase receipts to Olaplex and later received a PayPal payment awarding her refund. But she’s not satisfied with the company’s response.
“[Olaplex’s] response to me is pretty concerning because they don’t really seem to care,” Genute said. “They said they’ll offer to refund whatever I bought in the past 12 months, but they still say ‘we stand behind our products and the science behind it and we’ve done all of the product testing.’ They just are kind of vouching for themselves rather than sounding concerned.”
New York City-based marketing manager Amanda Fontenot has also sought a refund from Olaplex. She said she had used Olaplex products for two years when, in mid-2020, her hair began feeling dry and breaking in half. She said she also experienced redness and swelling around her face and hairline. She said she visited a dermatologist, who diagnosed her with psoriasis and eczema, and suggested she switch to hypoallergenic hair products.
Olaplex refunded Fontenot $250 in Sephora store credits after she sent an email detailing her hair and skin problems, according to customer service messages reviewed by Insider. Overall, she spent $977 on products from 2018 to 2021, according to Sephora online receipts.
Becky Barnhouse, a campground manager who lives in Ojai, California, is seeking a refund after buying $161 worth of Olaplex products in October per her stylist’s recommendation.
Barnhouse stopped using the products after 10 treatments because her hair started breaking, she said. She said she’s lost about half of her hair’s volume, giving her enough for a “walnut-sized bun” on the top of her head.
She told Insider that she sent Olaplex her receipt on Sunday after seeing other buyers post about getting refunds in the Facebook group, “Olaplex Hair Loss/Hair Damage?”
She’s said she’s still waiting to hear back from Olaplex. “I’m not touching them again,” she said of Olaplex products.
Lawsuits and more refunds
Olaplex sells several products, including moisture masks and shampoo. Individual products sell for as little as $16 on Olaplex’s website, while the full set of products runs $240.
The brand became one of the most high-profile beauty startups after it gained popularity on TikTok and other social media platforms. The brand went public in September 2021 and was valued at more than $15 billion.
Since then, its stock price has fallen 75% and Olaplex slashed its forecast for 2022 sales.
The company is also facing lawsuits. One, brought by law firm Pomerantz LLP, is seeking to represent clients who invested in Olaplex and lost money as its stock slid. Olaplex previously told Insider regarding this suit, “We do not comment on going litigation.” Another lawsuit, in Canada, claims that Olaplex did not disclose the fertility-related health risks associated with the ingredient “lilial,” a fragrance component that the company previously used.
The consumer lawsuit in Canada highlights its “No. 3 Hair Perfector” product, alleging that Olaplex did not disclose risks linked to the ingredient, which the European Union directed cosmetics companies to stop using after March 2022.
Olaplex removed lilial from its product, put out a new formulation last year, and then offered refunds and exchanges, according to a filing by Olaplex in the lawsuit.
In the filing, Lavinia Popescu, a research and development executive at Olaplex, wrote that the company took action to remove lilial from products in 2021, well before the EU’s deadline. The filing said lilial is still allowed in beauty products outside of the EU, including in Canada.
“As a matter of good customer service and in view of the false information circulating on social media arising out of the events in the European Union, Olaplex voluntarily chose to reimburse consumers who contacted them with lilial-related concerns after March 1, 2022,” the filing said.
Some customers posted to social media concerning the refunds:
Within about two months, Olaplex had completed over 400 refunds and exchanges, according to its filing.
The company’s filing also noted that it had “proactively” devised a new version of the product that didn’t contain lilial, which Olaplex said in a February social media post it had previously used “in small amounts as a fragrance.”
Olaplex did not comment specifically on the Canadian lawsuit or refunds. A lawyer for Olaplex declined to comment on the status of the suit.
Do you work at Olaplex or have information to share? Reach out to Alex Bitter at [email protected] or via encrypted messaging app Signal at (808) 854-4501, Allana Akhtar at [email protected] or on Signal at (248) 760-0208, and to Sindhu Sundar at [email protected] or on Signal at (984)-377-3887.