Bond-building has become the next innovation space for hair care.
Throughout 2021, a new class of bond-builder hair care products and brands have cropped up, offering consumers more options for strengthening, smoothing and repairing their damaged hair. For instance, the new brand K18 has quickly grown following its consumer-facing launch in Dec. 2020 and its professional hair salon expansion in March. With $24 million in venture capital, K18 currently has an out-of-home brand awareness campaign running in Los Angeles and Austin.
Meanwhile, The Inkey List launched a single bond repair product in January 2021, and Amika debuted a collection of four bond repair products in February. On August 30, Philip Kingsley Haircare plans to launch a single bond-building product, and Sebastian Professional will launch a bonding and styling leave-in spray with Ulta Beauty on September 1.
Consumers have come to associate bond-building and bond repair products with Olaplex, which first launched in 2014. These newer brands and products could give the brand a run for its money. For example, K18 already plans to be in 80 countries by the end of 2022, as well as enter into prestige beauty retail. It is currently sold in 20,000 salons globally, though Olaplex dwarfs this with nearly 500,000 hairstylists who use its products in the U.S. alone.
The K18 OOH campaign consists of eight billboards in Los Angeles and three billboards in Austin. A branded popsicle truck offering product sampling and treats popped up around several places in Los Angeles between August 19-20. In Austin, 20 K18 sponsored branded pedicab rides to the industry conference Behind The Chair, where K18 also had a dedicated booth. The advertisements feature statements like, “It works. Really.” and “Question everything. Like what the hair-care industry has been telling you.”
“For K18, the skinification of hair means getting deep inside [the hair strand] like what a retinol [does for skin]. It is not surface-level, like makeup — which is how hair products have historically acted,” said Michelle Miller, K18 svp of marketing.
Much like Olaplex refers to itself as a “technology company,” K18 is trying to brand itself as a biotech company. But K18 is also trying to position itself as the only hair-care product of its kind that you need, no matter what hair type you have. The line only has only one product, which sells for $75. The Inkey List also only sells a singular bond builder, for approximately $13. Philip Kingsley’s is $42 and Sebastian Professional’s is $34. Meanwhile, Olaplex currently sells eight individual bonding products, including shampoo, masks and oil, for $28 each, and Amika’s range from $18-$64, depending on their size. In July, Olaplex launched its first back bar product since 2014.
“[Additional products] ride against our brand principle of being easy to use,” said Mark Curry, The Inkey List co-founder, CEO and lead chemist. “[We’re not interested in] multi-step products for doing just one thing. Our product is a single-step way to achieving the benefit that we think a lot of people need, no matter how straight or curly the hair is.”
Curry concedes that The Inkey List has not invested as much time into product education and marketing, but said there are plans for this for the first half of 2022 when the brand expands into new undisclosed retailers.
Olaplex was notably in a protracted legal battle with L’Oréal over patent infringement, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit tossed a $66 million Delaware federal court ruling in favor of Olaplex in May. According to a statement from Olaplex, L’Oréal and Olaplex have since reached an “amicable agreement” of all legal disputes, and the terms of the agreement will not be disclosed.
“Olaplex created the bond-building category and remains the No. 1 brand in this space seven years later,” said Tiffany Walden, Olaplex COO. “Our proprietary, patented technology relinks and strengthens broken disulfide bonds, making hair permanently healthier until it is damaged again. Other products that purport to be in the ‘bonding’ category don’t work like Olaplex.”