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Whether from bleach or excessive heat styling, if you’re suffering from major breakage, split ends, or fried strands, using a protein-rich bond builder can be a godsend along the way during your road to recovery. Finding the best bond builders for damaged hair is especially essential if you want to lighten up your locks again without doing even more harm. If you’ve ever wanted to go lighter (or worse, platinum blonde), you know that failing to protect your strands can lead to spongy, cotton-candy like locks that are extra-prone to straight-up falling off, let alone looking severely compromised. In fact, many experienced colorists will actually use bond builders as a bleach or lightener additive in order to prevent damage before it’s able to attack.

However, even if you’ve already wreaked havoc on your mane, investing in one of these trusted strength-rebuilders is essential for restoring your hair’s integrity over time. In addition to a good deep conditioner (use it twice a week and keep it on as long as you can), ensuring that you’re delivering the proper balance of moisture and protein breakage is the key to ensuring that you don’t lose all of your hair. And frankly, no one wants to see the major investment they put down on color go to waste on account of breakage. At least, I sure as heck don’t.

I have to admit, I’ve been there too. Years ago when I first moved to LA, and was on a serious post-grad budget, I decided to get my blonde highlights done at a hair school (I won’t name names). The result of a supposed “balayage” job came out in the form of copper-hued hot roots and greenish-blonde ends that I certainly didn’t not ask for. In an attempt to avoid spending more money for a pricey color correction at a salon (because I sure as hell was never going to set foot in a hair school ever again), I decided to take matters into my own hands and DIY re-bleach my own locks with an at-home highlighting kit purchased from the drugstore. I’m sure you can guess what happens next, and I don’t need to tell you that, duh, that was a big, big mistake.

It turned out even more orange, and even after a hasty run to the local Sally’s beauty supply shop for some toner and an hour or so later, I was still mortified. My hair still felt intact though, and I was certain that the following week I would be able to test my luck and try again without any issues. Well, the third time was the charm (and not in a good way), and sure enough, my hair started to break off.

Now, not only was my color a disaster but I also now had breakage-induced bangs, which was another look that was dealt to me without my “consent.” Anyway, after this absolute debacle, I became committed to restoring the health of my hair and repairing the self-inflicted damage that I had caused. Hence, I consider myself a pretty solid expert with what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bond builders. Here are the hair-saving potions that worked for me and that, unlike dying your hair at home, I do personally recommend.

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STYLECASTER | Best Bond Builders

Courtesy of Amazon.

I can’t think of many colorists that I know that don’t recommend Olaplex for clients
who color their hair. It’s pretty much the gold standard when it comes to preventing and repairing damage due to bleach and dye. My hair just loves this magic potion. While it’s not an instant-gratification type of treatment (and really, the majority aren’t) I saw results in about a month. Seriously, I really do believe in this product damage-reversing magical powers.

STYLECASTER | Olaplex dupes

Courtesy of OGX.

OGX Restoring + Bonding Plex Bonding Cream Leave-in Treatment

This under $10 dupe for Olaplex’s No.3 and No.4 treatments
has an impressive almost-five-star rating and is backed by a whopping 2,400+ glowing reviews. Of course, it’s also gotten some love on Reddit, too. “My hair was very dry and straw-like after over-processing it and after a shower, I ran about two pumps of this through my hair and made it feel a million times better. The next shower, my hair didn’t even need conditioner!,” says one enthusiastic fan of the brand.

STYLECASTER | Olaplex Dupes

Courtesy of pH Plex.

pH Plex Protect & Repair Set

Comparable to Olaplex’s No.1 and No.2, this two-pack contains
step one (a patented damage-prevention lightener mix-in) and step 2 (a damage repairing post-bleach treatment that combats breakage at the molecular level). “I found the salon exclusivity of some products tiresome and personally switched to pH Plex, which was developed explicitly for home use with a professional attitude,” according to one Redditor.

STYLECASTER | Olaplex dupes

Courtesy of Ion.

Ion Absolute Perfection Color Sealer

Similar to Olaplex’s No.2 and No.3, this preventative powder bond protector
can be mixed into bleach to help neutralize its damaging effects and used after to help repair. According to one Redditor,”I’ll never bleach without it again honestly, because it prevents damage unbelievably for the price. I figured for the price it was too good to be true so I almost didn’t give it a chance, but I’m glad I did.”

STYLECASTER | Bond Builders

Courtesy of Schwarzkopf.

Schwarzkopf Blonde Me Keratin Restore Bonding Mask

This affordable keratin-infused mask is a great hydrating treatment to leave on for an hour or so because it delivers protein to rebuild weak bonds
, but also replenishes moisture levels to avoid over-drying from too much protein (most of the Olaplex line does either one or the other). “It works! Results most noticeable once [the] hair is dry,” says one fan of this mask.

STYLECASTER | Olaplex Dupes

Courtesy of K18.

K18 Molecular Repair Hair Mask

This recco actually comes from my boss — a bright icy blonde with long, (somehow) extremely healthy-looking hair. “This product actually works better than Olaplex, and it’s cheaper,” she says.

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