Hero Complex: An Interview with Dean Christal of Olaplex
Olaplex’ Dean Christal grew up in the beauty business. “My brother, Don, started Alterna and California Tan. My Dad was a beauty distributor with 26 stores. My Mom ran a hair salon out of our house. I learned a lot through osmosis. After having a skateboard and clothing company for 20 years, my wife Darcy and I started to think about hair products. We launched Liqwd in 2009 to salons only and still have a loyal small following.” Olaplex also has a loyal following but it’s not small. The response to Olaplex, an additive used to prevent damage during color services, has been hugely positive and Christal shares the Olaplex backstory here with MODERN SALON.
MS: How was Olaplex developed? What were you hoping to achieve?
DC: I was doing stem cell research for a family member and met two doctors that had developed a UV reactive silicone coating that covers all medical implants. This is why your body does not reject artificial knees but will be infected by a splinter--fascinating technology. I spent three years and most of our savings developing this for hair. We filed patents, conducted experiments, but it wasn’t perfect and I nearly gave up.
One of the scientists working on the project gave me the name of Craig Hawker at University of California-Santa Barbara; he told me that he was the only person on earth that could solve the riddle. After hanging up that call, I immediately drove out to the university to meet Dr. Hawker. I told Dr. Hawker that we could change the world by making women more confident with amazing damage free hair during and after chemical services. He was intrigued.
The next day, I met with Craig and Dr. Eric Pressly at Eric’s garage in Santa Barbara. It was full of surfboards, lawn chairs and lab equipment. Eric handed me 100 ml of a beer-like looking liquid and told me that this ingredient would cross-link sulfur hydrogen in the hair. I went home and I permed a few hair swatches. I neutralized one with Hydrogen Peroxide and the other with Olaplex. I knew immediately that we had something incredible.
I met Joe Santy (leading industry educator and author) a few months later at Cosmoprof North America. He’s a perm expert and was blown away by the results. After Joe played around with the formula for a few months he called me and said “You ready to get into the color business?” Joe had just put what we now call Olaplex into 40 volume developer for one hour, two times in a row, with zero damage. He couldn’t believe it. Neither could I. The chemists were saying “Of course, what were you thinking?!”
Months later, I was introduced to Tracey Cunningham (celebrity colorist) by Lona Vigi, a mutual friend and celebrity stylist in Los Angeles. After a thirty minute meeting one rainy night in Beverly Hills, I gave Tracey a bottle of Olaplex and she used it the next day on Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez. Tracey told me that she would never color again without it. That’s when the real work began, making Olaplex in Eric’s garage every night, just to satisfy Tracey.
MS: Do you think you have created an entirely new category with Olaplex?
DC: Olaplex is not a category. It is a unique patented chemistry that cross links sulfur hydrogen bonds in the hair. Imitators are attempting to call it a category to mislead stylists and consumers using ordinary silicones and copolymers that are incapable of performing to the standards of Olaplex.
MS: You are very personal and attentive on social media, responding to salon owners and stylists who are using Olaplex. Has social media been a big part of your success story?
DC: Social media, especially Instagram, has been amazing for Olaplex. It’s pure, honest, spontaneous and real. Hairdressers see exactly what is happening right when it happens. It’s free of manufacturer or salesperson influence. Olaplex grew out of social media, nothing else. We wanted word of mouth advertising because we knew that the chemistry would speak for itself. We chose to compliment and thank virtually every colorists for posting. They are artists and expose themselves everyday on social media. They deserve response and respect. Hairdressers speaking to each other sharing their positive results…what better way to find the truth?
MS: Were you able to respond to the overwhelming response?
DC: Making everything in California and working with excellent partners, we have just been able to keep up with demand. Our staff primarily consists of licensed hairdressers sharing all duties within the company. Their deep understanding of stylists needs makes the wheels turn faster and much more efficient. All of them were big Olaplex fans before they came on board.
MS: What is the education around Olaplex?
DC: Our education is primarily web based via our Olaplex App which is free on Android and Apple. This app contains about 50 videos with mixing instructions, live models and amazing colorists including Tracey Cunningham, Guy Tang and Justin Anderson. We have a YouTube channel with webinars and guest stylists. Beyond that, we have a private Facebook group called Olaplex Users which is how we communicate with stylists on a daily basis. We are addressing one of the biggest problems with education by providing real time technical support. If someone has a question, they can post on the forums and they will get a response almost immediately. This allows us to help those that are mid-process. With typical education, you go to a class and then do not communicate with the educators much afterwards. Our goal is to change how education is approached and always be readily available.
MS: Where is it distributed?
DC: In the U.S., at SalonCentric, Cosmoprof, State Beauty Supply, RDA Beauty Supply, Armstrong McCall, Raylon, Four Star Beauty Supply, Aurora Beauty Supply, Island Beauty, Champion, and our own website at http://www.olaplex.com. You can find Olaplex in over 150,000 salons in the US.
MS: What’s next for Olaplex?
DC: Our goal is innovation, not imitation. We do have something in the hopper that will add a completely new professional service to the menu of all stylists and ruffle a few feathers along the way. We are really excited about it.