Our hair has been through a lot over the years. It seems like every heat styling tool under the sun has run through it (and those chunky blonde highlights circa ’07 certainly didn’t do it any favors!). So, this is the year of showing your locks some love. And the best way we know how to do that is with a hair mask.
Here’s why: “Hair masks are packed with powerful ingredients that sit on the scalp and infuse each hair strand with nutrients in a way that you just don’t get with a regular shampoo and conditioner,” says Adina Mahalli, a hair and skincare expert for Maple Holistics.
Whether you’ve been drying out your tresses for years, or you’re just trying to give them a little extra moisture this winter, we tapped five experts on exactly what you need to know when choosing a mask for your specific hair type. Scroll on to learn more.
When determining how often to do a hair mask, consider two things: how damaged your strands are and your current hair care routine.
“For most hair types, once a week should be sufficient; however, if you tend to style your hair frequently using heated tools, and if you tend to use a lot of leave-in product, then your hair may require more intense conditioning,” says Dr. Jenelle Kim, founder of JBK Wellness Labs and master herbologist & formulator.
If there’s one thing your dry locks are thirsty for, it’s moisture. And lots of it. However, it’s important to note that there are two types of hair masks that can be confused when looking to meet this need: protein-based and moisture-based, explains Delilah Orpi, owner and CEO of The Holistic Enchilada.
“Protein masks are best for hair that needs strengthening and moisture masks are best for dry hair,” adds Vanessa Barthelmes, a senior color technician.
If your hair is dryand damaged — especially around the ends — then opt for a mask that is “deep-conditioning,” says Dr. Kim. “To hydrate and strengthen dry and weakened hair, look for products that contain ingredients such as: coconut oil, honey, CBD, Polygonum, argan oil and Shea butter.”
Additionally, Orpi advises to steer clear of any masks that contain drying alcohols in the ingredients. “These include Ethanol alcohol, Ethyl alcohol, Propanol alcohol, Alcohol denat., Isopropyl alcohol, Isopropanol alcohol and Benzyl alcohol,” she says.
Oily hair may seem tricky to deal with, but it’s not impossible to tackle.
“For those with oily hair, it is important to balance the need to remove excess oil and retain essential moisture in order to prevent the scalp from becoming flaky and dry,” explains Dr. Kim. The goal for this is to use ingredients that nourish the hair without weighing it down (as a plus, this will prevent the kind of greasy hair that no amount of dry shampoo can save).
Look out for these elements: nettle, tea tree oil, peppermint oil, charcoal and clay, says Dr. Kim. “These potent ingredients can help to balance the scalp's natural oils, detoxify, improve circulation and relieve dandruff and itching for healthier hair.”
Lastly, be mindful of application. “Keep the mask off the scalp,” explains Barthlemes. “Apply to the mid-lengths and ends. Otherwise, your scalp is going to be more oily from all the moisture you are putting into your scalp.”
Choosing the right hair mask for fine hair starts with using only natural, high-quality ingredients, explains Dr. Kim. It may cost extra, but the long-term results are worth it.
If a lack of volume is your hair’s issue, then opt for a mask with plumping and volumizing properties, says Angelo David, owner and artistic director of Angelo David Salon. “Often, they contain proteins, such as rice or wheat protein. Rinse thoroughly, towel blot your hair and detangle gently.”
Finally, choose a light mask for fine hair. “Avoid heavy thick masks that can weigh hair down and look for masks with lightweight oils like jojoba,” says Orpi. “I also like to use my masks before I shampoo to prevent my fine curly hair from being weighed down, which is considered a ‘pre-poo.’”
Product buildup is a serious problem for curly-headed gals since a lot of product goes into moisturizing those curls. To solve for this, Mahalli says that “curly hair would benefit from a hair mask that contains naturally balancing ingredients to remove buildup, such as lavender essential oil, combined with hydrating oils like sweet almond oil or olive oil.”
If you can’t find a curly-specific hair mask that suits your needs, don’t fret. You can use a hair mask for dry hair since it helps define curls and infuse moisture into dull locks. After styling, just be sure to finish with a shine-enhancer, recommends David. And similar to fine hair, opt for a light mask instead of heavy. “This will prevent the hair from sagging down and looking droopy post-treatment,” explains Barthlemes.
“Using a weekly hair mask can be an effective way to control frizzy hair,” says Mahalli. “Ensure that your hair mask is infused with ultra-emollient ingredients that coat your hair in moisture. Ingredients such as Shea butter, Moroccan argan oil and coconut oil are all ideal to look out for in an anti-frizz hair mask.”
You’ll even want to go one step further after your hair mask. “I would also add a post-treatment of argan oil mixed with a leave-in conditioner to add additional hydration and combat frizz,” describes Barthlemes.
Color-treated hair requires two different kinds of hair masks each week: protein- and moisture-based. “One for protein to strengthen the hair and one to moisturize the hair,” says Barthlemes. “This will alternate strengthening and moisture leading to less breakage.”
If you’re worried about having your color stripped from a hair mask, natural ingredients will be your go-to. Look for masks with restorative botanical ingredients, such as nourishing jojoba oil and sesame oil.