Hair Masks That'll Give You the Healthiest Strands of Your Life
Conditioner is a key step in every hair-care routine, but it can only do so much. Hot tools, color, UV rays, pollution, and even just the daily act of wetting your hair in the shower can contribute to dryness and damage, and every once in a while you need something more intensive. If you want to keep your hair looking and feeling its healthiest, applying a hair mask regularly will work in your favor.
"Typically hair masks include a mixture of butters, oils, strengtheners, and hair softeners," says Irinel de León, celebrity hairstylist and Ouidad brand ambassador. "Think of a hair mask as an at-home nourishing treatment for your strands, just like we can apply face masks weekly." People who have curly hair and/or rely on heat styling stand to gain the most from hair masks, but everyone can benefit from using one, says de León. She suggests applying a hair mask once or twice per month. (Related: Try These DIY Hair Masks to Treat Dry, Brittle Strands)
To grasp why hair masks are so beneficial to dry and weak hair, it helps to understand how hair health deteriorates in the first place. Each strand has an outer layer called the cuticle, which resembles a row of scales up close. The cuticle functions as a protective gatekeeper — it controls how much moisture or hair product can penetrate or escape the strand depending on how raised the "scales" are. When something such as heat or color application damages your hair, it can chip away at the cuticle, says Laura Polko, celebrity hairstylist and Nature Lab Tokyo brand ambassador. And when the cuticle becomes compromised, that allows moisture to more easily escape, often resulting in dry, frizzy hair. Styling habits aside, curly hair types are at a disadvantage when it comes to retaining moisture simply because ripples in hair can also cause tiny tears in the cuticle. This is where hair masks come in — they can help fill those cracks in the cuticle, repairing and restoring hair to a greater extent than conditioner alone, says Polko. (Related: Cardi B Shared the DIY Hair Mask She's Used to Grow Her Hair)
The internet is filled with DIY hair mask recipes that incorporate various foods for hair health, and some of them are actually worth trying. Still, rinsing out a concoction with sweet potato and honey isn't everyone's idea of a fun time. For those who want the ease of grabbing a ready-to-use mask, there are tons of options in stores and online, and many cost no more than the ingredients for a DIY hair mask anyway.
Whether you go DIY or store-bought, you have a few options as far as how to apply a hair mask. "If you need to be quick, apply in the shower so it can sit for three to five minutes while you're shaving," suggests Polko. "If you have extra time, apply the mask to dry hair, focusing on the ends or any damaged areas, and leave it on as long as you can, even as long as overnight [before rinsing it out]. If you really need an extra boost, you can put a shower cap on overtop and apply heat using your blow dryer." (Heat helps lift the cuticle, allowing products to better penetrate.)
If you suspect your hair could benefit from a regular reparative treatment, here are some of the best hair masks to try.