My quest for healthy hair will likely never end. There's no shampoo and conditioner duo, hair oil, or leave-in conditioner that I won't try in my quest for shine, bounce, and hydration—especially considering the specific needs of my curly hair. But while I take the best care of my hair I can, I still find myself dealing with damage (like split ends, dryness, and a dry scalp) because of factors like changing weather, pollution, and water quality. So, to mitigate damage when those issues rear their ugly heads, I keep a few of the best hair masks for damaged hair in my beauty cabinet at all times to save the day.
"A hair mask is an intense deep conditioner—usually much thicker in consistency— that should be used on hair that is dry or on chemically treated hair," explains Carolyn Aronson, founder and CEO of It's A 10 Haircare. "Incorporating a hair mask into your haircare routine improves the condition of the hair shaft. With an influx in moisture and hydration, the hair can become healthier and stronger."
Hairstylist and brand educator for The Mane Choice Cataanda James agrees, adding, "Hair masks provide an accelerated boost of nourishment to the strands, which is what makes these formulas more intense than traditional conditioners."
But unlike traditional conditioners, hair masks are not meant to be used every day or even every time you wash your hair. Plus, hair masks are varied in terms of the benefits they provide, how long they should be left in, and the hair types they're formulated for. All these variations can be a little overwhelming, so I asked Aronson and James to break down everything there is to know about hair masks. And, with their help, I've rounded up some of the best hair masks, whether you're struggling with damage, dehydration, or you're simply looking to inject a little extra moisture into your hair routine.
- Best Hair Mask for Color-Damaged Hair: Kérastase Resistance Mask for Severely Damaged Hair
- Best Hair Mask for Heat-Damaged Hair: Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask
- Best Hair Mask for Breakage: The Mane Choice Ancient Egyptian Anti-Breakage Hair Mask
- Best Hair Mask for Natural Hair: SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque
- Best Hair Mask for Straight Hair: ALTERNA Haircare My Hair My Canvas Cool Hydrations Nourishing Masque
- Best Hair Mask Overall: Act + Acre Restorative Hair Mask
What to Look For in a Hair Mask
According to James, there are three main types of hair masks: moisture, protein, and those that combine the two. "Protein-based hair masks strengthen your hair and help rebuild the bonds that are often broken down by over-manipulation from styling your natural texture and curls, or from chemical treatments," she explains. "Hydrating and moisture-based hair masks replenish essential nutrients to the hair for a healthier look and feel, and they defend against further damage."
Therefore, if you're considering incorporating a hair mask into your regimen, take a good look at your hair and consider what aspects of its health you'd like to improve. "Assess your hair for any split ends, dryness, or breakage," Aronson advises. "Depending on the state of your hair, it may indicate which type of hair mask you would need to resolve the issue. If your hair is dry and brittle, you may need a hair mask that provides intense hydration. If you have breakage or split ends, a protein or bond-building hair mask is best."
James adds that it may be helpful to write down your concerns while assessing your hair, so that you can easily employ process of elimination and cross-reference your list with the hair mask options you see while shopping. "Hair masks will have key benefits and ingredient call outs on their packaging, most commonly found on the front of the label. If you do not see your concern called out, that particular product may not yield the best results."
- Hair Type and Texture
And if you're having trouble identifying the type of TLC your hair needs, James suggests taking an online self-assessment "to determine your individual hair type, texture, and to pinpoint specific hair concerns that you would like to address." In particular, she recommends The Mane Choice's Hair Quiz, which recommends products based on the user's preferences, hair type, needs, and lifestyle.
"Textured and chemically treated hair typically are a good fit for hair mask treatments, as the strands can be prone to dryness or breakage," says Aronson. "Textured hair thrives when moisturized and hydrated with quality ingredients and water. The same goes for chemically treated hair: It needs ingredients that will restore the hair shaft after being broken down by chemicals."
James agrees, adding that curly hair tends to be drier than straight hair. Plus, she says, "Hair masks also help ease detangling to promote strands' elasticity for length retention and curl formation."
On the other hand, if your hair is on the thin side and it's not curly or textured, both Aronson and James note that masks may not be best.
"Generally, hair masks are heavy due to the use of creams and oils, and can weigh finer hair textures down," says Aronson. In those cases, James suggests using a light hair lotion or cream for hydration instead.
Best Hair Masks for Damaged Hair
Best Split End-Fighting Hair Mask
For damaged hair that can’t seem to rebound to a healthy state, K18 is the way to go. It’s the A team, the all-star, and the MVP for distraught strands. I reach for this heavy hitter right after getting my hair bleached or after a week of straight heat styling because I’m blindly confident that my hair will be refreshed by it’s split-end bonding superpowers. Perhaps my favorite part about it though, it’s that it’s leave-in friendly. I don’t have to set aside a special set of time to soak and rinse—it fits perfectly into my routine.
Pros: Heavy duty repair; Works on all hair types; Doesn’t need to be washed out
Customer Review: "I use this about once a week, and it does help my hair health. It’s easy to use, and my hair feels smoother and has significantly less split ends than before I started using it." -Sephora
Best Hair Mask for All Hair Types
"This deeply moisturizing formula makes detangling easier, improves manageability and infuses the hair and scalp with intense hydration to help reduce breakage," James attests. "It contains sea soothing complex and sarcosine, and is infused with biotin, Vitamins A, B, and C, and sea minerals, all of which help maintain hair's moisture balance and improve manageability. I recommend this for all hair types."
Pros: expert-approved; reduces breakage; detangling
Cons: contains sulfates
Customer Review: "I love this stuff!! It helps to make my long hair soft and beautiful. I have highlighted hair and sometimes it can look dried out. This product helps to prevent breakage and a beautiful shine to my hair." -Sephora
Best Hair Mask for Fine Hair
If you have fine hair, you know the hair mask struggle. A few minutes of “repair” and you’re left with oily, flat roots that don’t recover for three to five washes. Sound familiar? If it does, allow me to direct your attention to Vegamour. The brand, which is famed for its hair thickening abilities, created this uber-hydrating mask in a way that allows even the finest hair to remain weightless and voluminous (well, as voluminous as possible). Just three to five minutes of this treatment, and your hair will be left moisturized, stronger, and less frizzy–for up to 72 hours.
Pros: Doesn’t weigh down hair; Good for all hair types and textures
Cons: Some say it leaves residue on the scalp; small container
Customer Review: "ACTUALLY GOOD!! My hair feels and looks so soft after I use this. And it smells really good. But it’s very expensive and you don’t get a lot of product." -Sephra
Best Keratin-Infused Hair Mask
I know: this is called a deep conditioner—not a hair mask. But rest assured the powerful formula is still going to give your hair the intensive pick-me-up it's craving. Aronson highly recommends this product, writing, "It is keratin-infused for that extra boost of protein which helps rebuild hair strength." Once you rinse it out, you'll notice your hair is better prepared for heat styling, smoother, and silkier.
Pros: protein-infused; expert-approved; cruelty-free; infused with natural ingredients like aloe vera; detangling
Customer Review: "This stuff really works! It helps my really dry hair behave and not get all knotted." -Walmart
Best Damage-Reversing Hair Mask
Per this product's name, it's formulated specifically for hair that's been damaged from chemical treatments, heat, and/or dye. So if split ends, brittle strands, dullness, and breakage are among your hair concerns, you're going to want to add this to your shower set up, STAT. It gets to work at a rapid pace, and I promise you'll notice a difference in your hair's health after just one use.
Pros: easy to use; fast results; reverses damage; softening
Customer Review: "My processed hair was breaking off in little pieces. I couldn’t even touch it or detangle without breakage. This saved my hair after 2 uses. Do not over use it though. Once a month is great." -Sephora
Best Overnight Hair Mask
Consider this the answer to your SOS. Bumble and Bumble created an overnight treatment that gives damaged hair an intensive treatment while you catch up on sleep. All you have to do is apply a generous amount of product from root to tip before bed, secure your hair with a shower cap (or place a towel down on your pillow), and wait until morning to jump in the shower and see results. You’ll be mesmerized by how healthy your hair looks and feels. If you don’t have time for an overnight treatment, you can reap a decent amount of benefits by just leaving this on for 20 minutes.
Pros: Deeply hydrating; Good for all hair types; Repairs and protects
Cons: Feels a bit slimy
Customer Review: "I have really really thin, long hair. This means two things: it gets tangled immediately if you even look at it the wrong way, and I'm riddled with dry, split ends. This masque has helped so much with both of these issues. The ends were a serious problem; they felt like straw and looked awful. I noticed a HUGE difference after just one application: the ends are smoother and much softer. I also use this whenever I need to detangle my hair, esp after uh, certain strenuous activities. My hair just becomes so knotted that brushing through is extremely painful and takes literally an hour. If I put this in for half an hour and wash it out, the tangles just melt away. It's expensive, but I don't have to use too much of it to get the results I'm looking for, so with my thin hair, the tub lasts me a while." -Sephora
Best Preventative Hair Mask for Damaged Hair
Repairing damaged hair is half the battle—making sure your hair doesn’t suffer any more is the other half. Enter: Oribe’s strengthening mask. Its sole goal is to make each hair more durable, stronger, and better able to withstand heat or styling-induced breakage. The mask can be used for 20ish minutes, but I personally like to load up (especially with my baby hairs), slick my hair back into a bun, and let the formula work its magic all day long. Once I shower, my hair feels noticeably thicker and healthier.
Pros: Prevents against future damage; Smells great
Customer Review: "Worth the hype: This left my chemically altered blonde hair so smooth and soft and bouncy and just feeling amazing/ I blow dry brush my hair after every shower, causing a massive amount of damage, but this masque helped it so much." -Sephora
Best Hair Mask for Every Hair Density
Very few products will work the same on fine, thin, straight hair as they will on curly, thick, coily hair. It’s *really* hard to formulate a hair mask to do it all. That is why the team over at Ouai decided to create a restorative treatment mask in different variations, each of which cater to a very specific hair type. The mask for thin hair won’t weigh anything down, whereas the mask for thick hair will provide adequate hydration. It’s why the mask has become a cult favorite—it really does what it says. Plus, every single option has a lovely floral scent.
Pros: Specialized treatment; Restores hydration and shine
Cons: Doesn’t leave hair extremely soft
Customer Review: "I love the scent, and I love the way my hair has been feeling since I started using it. I've used it three times now, and my hair remains soft and tamed after its use until the next use. I was worried about residue, but I haven't had any after." -Sephora
Best Hair Mask for Regrowth
In addition to strengthening and hydrating every last strand, this hair mask provides anti-inflammatory benefits to your scalp. So that dandruff, irritation, and itchiness? Consider it soothed. As a result, new hair growth is going to be stronger, healthier, and generally more resilient. This is an allergen-free formula with no synthetic fragrances, contains a Color Guard formula to maintain your color-treated hue, and is going to provide protection from UV damage. If you want to up the ante on the benefits, pair the mask with the Head & Hair Heal shampoo and conditioner.
Pros: Calming and soothing to scalp; Good for sensitive skin
Cons: Not necessary for oily scalp
Customer Review: "I love the scent, and I love the way my hair has been feeling since I started using it. I've used it three times now, and my hair remains soft and tamed after its use until the next use. I was worried about residue, but I haven't had any after." -Maria Nila
Best Fragrance-Free Hair Mask
I'm obsessed with Act + Acre's hair products. This hair mask, along with the rest of the line, is infused with natural ingredients like castor oil and shea butter, both of which help with my curl definition and support healthy hair growth. There's no shortage of fatty acids and proteins in the formula either, which make it a savior for even the driest, most dehydrated strands.
Pros: editor-approved; gentle scent; contains natural ingredients; vegan; free of sulfates, silicones, parabens, and phthalates; color-safe
Customer Review: "After a day out in the sun, I always use this hair mask. It seems to balance my hair and puts the texture back to normal." -Revolve
Best Hair Mask for Straight Hair