Olaplex scientist’s bid to disrupt billion-dollar hair care industry

Wellness

Materials scientist and beauty icon, Dr Eric Pressly, was just 30 when he helped to create the world’s most famous hair-bonding product, Olaplex. Now he’s started his own brand, epres Hair Care, and it’s set to disrupt the multi-billion care industry.

Hair products were never part of the career plan for materials scientist, Dr Eric Pressly. He was interested in starting a pharmaceutical company after finishing his PhD and working on clinical trials. But a sliding doors moment in 2012 changed his career trajectory when he was approached by the founders of Olaplex, Dean and Darcy Christal to create a new hair care product.

Working tirelessly in his surfboard-littered garage in Santa Barbara, California,  Dr Pressly developed a bond-building formula that would change the game. Today the products, used by the likes of Drew Barrymore and Kim Kardashian, are used in almost every leading hair salon in the world.

Pressly’s creation, a hair-bonding repair solution, is used by many leading hair salons around the world and is readily available as a “take home” solution from most major hair product retailers. Olaplex is now valued at around $US14 billion. Dr Pressly, himself, has more than 100 patents in bond-repair technology.

A new direction, improved technology

When Pressly finally left Olaplex he wasn’t sure if he would stay in the hair product industry, he told Forbes Australia. As the father of a new baby son, he wanted to focus on his growing family, travel and the career of his wife, a singer-songwriter.

However, the pull of science and improving formulations eventually got the better of Dr Pressly, and he began working on improving his repair-bonding technology once again. He wanted the formula to not only repair hair damage, but reverse it altogether.

“I knew I had the better technology. So I focused on making it easier, simpler, more reliable and better for the planet than everything [I had created] in the past.

Dr Pressly’s plans to travel with his wife, a singer-songwriter, and new baby were derailed because of COVID, so he went back to the drawing board, creating new hair formulations that rivalled his previous inventions.

“What I really enjoy about the cosmetic space is the ease of getting into the market versus pharmaceuticals.”

He was approached by the now co-CEO of Epres, Michael Sampson – who has worked in leadership positions for a number of huge names in beauty, such as L’Oreal – to develop some new hair technology. At the time, Dr Pressly had just started his family and had admits had “got used to the simple life”.

“I knew if I hit the go button, is it going to be like this…busy! I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to do that. But the technology was too good not to.”  

Dr Eric Pressly, founder of apres | Source: supplied
Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Drew Barrymore have previously been users of Olaplex | Source: Getty Images

Unlike its main competitors that can take hours in the salon chair to work, Dr Pressly says epres TM has been designed to be a simple one-step solution that works within 10 minutes. He says it has also been developed with the environment in mind – containing only four vegan, biodegradable ingredients.  He says the product was created for “performance first” – it needs to work “or people won’t use it again” – but it also needed to be quick to use and sustainable.

In February this year (long after Dr Pressly left the company), Olaplex was sued by 28 women who claim its products caused hair loss, blisters and other conditions. The company said in a statement on Instagram that its products “do not cause hair loss”. “We are prepared to vigorously defend our Company, our brand, and our products against these baseless accusations,” it said on the social media platform.

“epres TM is a testament to our commitment to balanced science and exceptional results and I consider it my best invention yet,” Dr Pressly said. “It’s the culmination of years of research and development, addressing various hair damage issues in a single step.

So far the company has launched in 10 countries across Europe, North America and now Australia and New Zealand. Another five countries will follow soon, starting with Singapore next. “We’re being selective premium markets, premium partners, because one of the advantages of self-funding the is that we can we don’t have to grow into areas where we can manage that growth,” he said. “It’s also about preserving the brand and being in the markets where we ideally want to be.”


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