Hair Masks 101: Your Ultimate Info Guide, Plus 15+ Masks We Love

Up your #shelfie game with these strand-savers, organized by hair type.

When you’ve put your hair through its paces, you know it’s time for reinforcements. No longer considered an extra step by most vigilant hair care advocates (ourselves included), hair masks have been part of a lot of our regimens since our first forays into hair color.

Usually brought to our awareness first by salon professionals as our initial line of defense after coloring, hair masks have now evolved to host a myriad of hair issues. They’ve now become a household staple, targeting everything from dryness and damage to split ends and even curl enhancement.

Read on as we deep-dive into why hair masks are essential to healthy-looking and healthy-feeling hair, as well as a list of some of the best ones we’ve tried now that we’re doing a lot more at-home self-care:

hair masks 101
Hair masks are integral to a wash-and-care regimen, especially for overprocessed, dry and curly hair types.

Hair masks can greatly improve the condition of one’s hair by providing strands with an intense shot of moisture and nutrients that may not be within the scope of a regular rinse-off conditioner. Depending on its claims and benefits, a mask (or “masque,” if your product likes to Franglais) is usually left to sit on the strand for a specific amount of time—usually anywhere from around 10 minutes to even overnight—to properly infuse its ingredients into your locks.

Heavier and more concentrated than rinse-off products, hair masks are best used as a weekly (or twice a week) supplement to a normal wash-and-care routine. They are used primarily to provide an extra dose of moisture, hydration and, in some cases, fortifying and strand-strengthening ingredients for hair that’s looking (and feeling) particularly parched. Some experts caution clients to not go for overkill if your hair doesn’t really need it, however, as these potent formulations can cause build-up and leave fine hair limp when used too liberally.

Are you a more-is-more gal? Whether you’re looking for more slip, strength or shine, there’s a mask that tailors to your needs. Not all masks are created equal, and some formulas are lighter in feel than others and may lend themselves to more frequent use.

The average consumer might just chalk things up to ordinary semantics, but is there really a difference between the three?

Short answer: no. Similar to how masks work in skincare—non-aggressive, just loads of extra TLC that can move in and out of your routine as needed—all three are mostly tailored as restorative products for hair that has special needs at the moment.

However: Though used interchangeably by a lot of people, there are some nuances in their formulations—as in all products, as not all shampoos are the same either—but the most obvious variance is in the feel and suggested frequency of use.

Deep conditioners

These are simple, straightforward, wet-crème products commonly marketed in tubs. They generally provide that steroid shot of silkiness to hair that smoothens down any leftover roughness after you’ve rinsed off your everyday conditioner, and are considered harmless to overdose on; some experts even suggest daily use, for those with extremely dry or damaged hair. Those who have reasonably healthy locks and merely need a weekly product to soothe wear and tear via heat styling usually see improvements with a once-a-week deep conditioner indulgence. We like Suave Professionals Moisture Mask with Almond + Shea Butter as an at-home treat for normal to dry hair.

Hair treatments

The phrase itself has its roots in the salon industry and was typically used as a one-shot deal to target an acute problem. To wit: A lot of hairstylists and colorists include a moisturizing hair treatment after a coloring or bleaching session. By the same token, some straightening and chemical procedures, like keratin straightening, are usually referred to as a hair treatment (and not a hair mask or deep conditioner) because of their problem-solving properties. A lot of “emergency” conditioning products, like those said to mend split ends, are positioned as treatments as well and may be marketed as liquids in twist-off vials (like a syringe, but for your scalp!) or come in little tubes, such as the godsend Nexxus Keraphix Damage Healing Hair Reconstructing Treatment, which resurrects our chemical-processed locks.

Hair masks/masques

True-blue hair masks are thicker and tackier in feel than a deep conditioner and may require a longer time before you can rinse them off. Unlike issue-targeted hair treatments, hair masks deal with more chronic buildup of hair damage and dryness from heat or overprocessing, and, curiously, can have ingredients that give even an even more intense conditioning experience than normal deep conditioners. Usually scooped out of tubs and patted onto strands (we like Bed Head by TIGI Resurrection Treatment Mask), some fans report more efficient absorption when the mask is left to set under a shower cap with some steam from a hot shower.

Some may need just one, and even more hair aficionados (us included) may have all kinds of leave-on conditioners on their shelves, as hair needs can change on a day-to-day basis. Choose which specific verbiage appeals to your hair needs at the moment, and don’t be afraid to test out different formulations respecting any allergies or reactions you may have to certain ingredients.

Now for the fun part…

…Broken down by need, because we love you, too:

hair masks normal to dry hair
Normal to dry hair can benefit from a weekly dose of deep conditioning.

Normal to Dry Hair

What to look for: masks that tout moisture, hydration and extended conditioning to refresh normal hair and give dry, tired, overstyled hair a shot of nourishment to spring back to life
Other label lookouts: “recovery,” “restoring”

1. Nexxus Humectress Moisture Restoring Masque
The Holy Grail of moisture-maintenance masks, if there ever was one.

2. Dove Anti-Frizz Oil Therapy Hair Mask
Buriti oil helps smoothen and soften in one go.

3. The Good Stuff Intensive Nourishment Cream
This fast-absorbing cream is a no-rinse treat for those days when you need a bit more help.

4. Bed Head by TIGI Recovery Treatment Mask
The potent blend of hydrators in this weekly mask makes for a great #SelfCareSunday indulgence.

5. TRESemmé Botanique Nourish & Replenish Hydration Mask
Coconut milk and Aloe vera make up a deep conditioning botanical blend that imparts softer, silkier strands.

hair mask colored hair
Colored hair requires formulas that enhance shine and protect from bleed-out and color-fade.

Colored Hair

What to look for: masks that claim shine, vibrance and frizz-free smoothness with a formula that brings out the best highlights in your hue, while also providing moisture to soothe for processed strands
Other label lookouts: “color,” “brightening”

6. TRESemmé Botanique Color Vibrance & Shine Intensive Mask
Protects new color and leaves it looking salon-fresh for up to 2 months!

7. Love Beauty and Planet Blooming Color Murumuru Butter & Rose 2-Minute Magic Masque
Replace or reinforce your conditioner with this moisturizing, vibrance-inducing mask, especially during those critical first few days after your color appointment.

8. Bed Head by TIGI Colour Goddess Miracle Treatment Mask
Use at least once a week to condition and protect color from fading.

hair mask for very damaged hair
Bleached hair requires religious care and maintenance.

Very Dry to Damaged Hair

What to look for: formulas that promise repair, restoration and deep intensive conditioning for chemically compromised hair that’s been through the wringer
Other label lookouts: “intense,” “deep conditioning,” “healing”

9. Nexxus Keraphix Damage Healing Masque
Super clutch for your first at-home hair wash after the salon, it restores hair’s protective barrier which could have been compromised by chemical processing.

10. Emerge Back to Life Hair Mask
This no-nasty, ultra-moisturizing formula is perfect for dyed curly hair.

11. TRESemmé Repair & Protect 7 Instant Recovery Mask
An all-in dose of moisture and replenishment for every cause of damage you can think of across the spectrum, from braiding to blow-drying to bleaching.

12. Suave Professionals Coconut Milk Infusion Intense Restore Mask
As the name suggests, it employs an infusion of coconut milk to help nourish tired, damaged, strung-out strands back to life.

hair mask for natural hair
Natural hair skews really dry, so intense hydration is key to maintaining everyday hair health.

Natural Hair

What to look for: formulas (oftentimes with naturally-derived ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter) that provide a lot of moisture and shine, while retaining natural curl shape, bounce and texture
Other label lookouts: “overnight treatment,” “natural hair,” “for curls”

13. Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Anti-Breakage Hair Mask
Shea butter and pure coconut oil fight frizz and enhance shine.

14. SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque for Curly Hair
Ideal for all curl types across the board. Pro tip: Use with a hair steamer for maximum hydration!

15. Dove Amplified Textures Moisture Spa Recovery Mask for Coils & Curls
Best used once to twice a week after shampooing for soft, shiny, defined ringlets.

16. SheaMoisture Moringa & Avocado Power Greens Reconstructor
Strengthens weak, brittle strands and minimizes breakage, making it a great post-braids or post-relaxing treatment.

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