As the days get shorter and cooler, you may have already started refocusing your beauty routine for the fall. A hair mask is a great place to start if you’re looking for ways to undo summer damage. Have burning questions on how to use a hair mask? We’ve got the answers.
We connected with Michelle O’Connor, Matrix global artistic director and brand ambassador, who says masking is a way of life—one that’s way less time-consuming than you ever realized. Here’s everything you need to know, including how often to use a hair mask, its benefits, and our must-have formulas for addressing common hair woes. Take notes because hair mask 101 is officially in session.
Who should use a hair mask?
According to O’Connor, almost every head of hair could use a bit of extra love regularly. If you’re questioning whether you need a hair mask, give your strands a quick feel. If they’re looking a little limp or those split ends are starting to bother you, it might be time to try a treatment on top of your regular system of products.
“The benefits to using a hair mask can include increased shine, improvement in the overall look of hair, and improved texture in hair,” O’Connor adds. Who doesn’t want that?
How often do you use a hair mask?
Do you use a hair mask before or after shampooing?
Masking seems pretty straightforward, but there are a few application nuances you should be aware of. First things first, masks should always be applied on wet hair after shampooing (we’ll dive a bit deeper into this below). In general, washing your hair beforehand helps remove impurities and build-up that can prevent your mask from properly absorbing into your strands.
Now that shampooing is out of the way, you may wonder if you should complete your washing cycle before your mask. Questions like, “Do you use hair mask before or after conditioner?” are common salon inquiries. Most of the time, masks are intended for use before conditioner, though exceptions exist. In some cases, heavier masks can replace your conditioner altogether; doubling up on the two can make your locks greasy or weighed down. Read each mask label closely to understand the best possible usage.
Is it better to put a hair mask on dry or wet hair?
As we mentioned, hair masks are applied to hair after shampooing. However, you don’t want your hair to be so sopping wet that your mask slides right off. Experts recommend applying masks to towel-dried hair so the nutrients have a chance to penetrate strands.
Do you wash your hair after a hair mask?
Unless the instructions indicate the formula is a leave-in, you should always rinse off a mask after use.
How to Use a Hair Mask in 5 Easy Steps
Get hair masking just right every time in this five-part routine. Spoiler alert: It can take much less time than you think!
Wash your hair.
Cleanse with a shampoo based on your hair type and concerns. If the mask you use is part of a larger hair care range, use its complementary shampoo to ensure you get the best possible results from the entire system.
Wring out excess water.
After you’ve washed your hair, wring out excess water. You can do so by gently twisting your wet hair with your hands or by blotting your hair with a cotton T-shirt or microfiber towel. If you only have a terry cloth bath towel, carefully blot your hair with it instead of rubbing it back and forth. Terry cloth’s rougher material can create harsh friction against your delicate strands, resulting in frizz or damage.
Apply your mask.
Apply your mask in downward motions to the mid-shaft to the ends of your hair, avoiding the roots. The general rule of thumb is to start with a dime-size amount, but you can add more or less depending on your hair texture and length. Use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to rake the product through, ensuring even distribution.
Relax and wait.
Play some tunes or shave your legs as you let your mask do its job. Five to 10 minutes usually suffice (the perfect amount of time to watch a beauty tutorial video), but double-check with the product description. If you want extra spa vibes, wrap a warm towel around your head to help your mask sink in.
When the time is up, rinse every last bit of the product away. For this step, many experts advise turning down the temperature and rinsing with cool (if you can stand it) or lukewarm water. Hot water can dry out your hair. Cool water, however, can help seal hair’s cuticle to lock in all that shine and moisture you just infused into it with your hair mask.
Refocus Your Hair Care Routine With 11 of Our Favorite Hair Masks
If you need hair mask inspiration, here are five innovative formulas you can shop now from the L’Oréal portfolio of professional brands. If your hair didn’t feel special before, it certainly will now.
Redken Acidic Bonding Concentrate 5-Min Liquid Mask
If you’re already familiar with Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate range, you won’t want to miss the latest addition to the collection. The 5-Min Liquid Mask is crafted with the brand’s highest concentration of Conditioning Care Complex, offering immediate hydration and bond repair on any hair type or texture. Plus, its fluid texture quickly melts into hair, ensuring fast and uniform distribution that won’t weigh down your locks.
Sounds too good to be true? Read one editor’s full review on the mask—including some pretty convincing before and after photos.
Redken All Soft Heavy Cream Mask
If running your fingers through your hair makes you a little afraid it’ll all just snap off, it’s time to try a mask tailor-made for brittle strands. Trust Redken’s All Soft Heavy Cream Mask to do the job. The deep conditioning treatment is made with the brand’s Moisture Complex with argan oil to transform the look and feel of dry, straw-like hair and add softness and shine.
Kérastase Nutritive Masquintense Hair Mask
The Nutritive Masquintense Hair Mask is specially formulated for severely dry hair, so it’s a healing treatment for locks that undergo rigorous styling every day. The formula—with plant-based proteins and niacinamide (B3)—strengthens, detangles, and adds shine to dry hair.
On a side note, we can’t get enough of the way this hair mask smells. If you’re already a hair mask fiend, you’re probably well aware of the Kérastase’s cult-status formula and scent. The scent is rich, floral, and divine.
Matrix Miracle Creator Multi-Tasking Hair Mask
Strapped for time? If you have even 60 seconds to spare, try Matrix’s Miracle Creator Multi-Tasking Hair Mask. This multi-tasking hair mask boasts 20 results and only has to sit on your hair for one minute. It smooths, detangles, controls flyaways, helps prevent split ends, and much more.
“A mask doesn’t have to be inconvenient,” expands O’Connor. “It [takes] you less time than it takes to make a bag of popcorn in the microwave.”
Boost the mask’s 20 benefits long after stepping out of the shower with a few spritzes of the line’s Multi-Tasking Hair Treatment. You won’t be sorry you did!
L’Oréal Professionnel Metal Detox Mask
Is hard water wreaking havoc on your hair color? Mask it away with L’Oréal Professionnel’s Metal Detox Mask. The formula is made with a patented technology that helps remove metal particle deposits from hard water on your hair, ensuring your salon color looks its best. It’s a great detoxifying follow-up to the system’s Metal Detox Shampoo and an ideal precursor to the Anti-Metal High Protection Cream leave-in. Thanks to protection against UV impact, oxidation, and hot tool heat, this leave-in will have you looking like you just touched up your color at the salon—every day.
L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Curl Expression Intensive Moisturizer Mask and Moisturizer Rich Mask
This one’s for the curls! L’Oréal Professionnel’s Serie Expert Curl Expression collection has two masks designed with curly and coily hair in mind. Opt for the Intensive Moisturizer Mask if your curls are sensitized, or try the Intensive Moisturizer Rich Mask if your mane is especially unruly. Both will hydrate your hair and restore shine and softness, so you can’t go wrong. Plus, their star jasmine, orchid, and freesia scent will make your hair smell irresistible.
Mizani Strength Fusion Recover Mask
Mizani Strength Fusion Recover Mask is a real treat for those looking to reverse damage from chemical services like relaxers, texturizers, and color. It contains ingredients like superfood spirulina, as well as strengthening protein, B vitamins, copper, and iron. Top this mask with a plastic cap to really reap its benefits.
Biolage Professional Strength Recovery Deep Treatment Pack
Regarding fragile hair, Biolage Professional’s Strength Recovery Deep Treatment Pack has your back. Vegan squalane, a natural emollient that protects and repairs hair, is the hero ingredient in this rich, creamy mask. When used after the Strength Recovery Shampoo, you can experience up to 73% less breakage after one use.
Pureology Hydrate Superfood Treatment
If you’re a hair color addict who just can’t stay away from your stylist’s chair, here’s good news: We’ve found the perfect product for your color-treated hair. Pureology’s Hydrate Superfood Treatment contains the brand’s exclusive AntiFadeComplex, so rest assured you didn’t drop hundreds on a very Instagrammable shade of pastel pink only to watch it run into the drain.
Shu Uemura Art of Hair Urban Moisture Hair Mask
With so many hair products available, choosing just one can be overwhelming for those of us with hair that’s just in the middle. For manes that are neither extremely thick nor thin, neither coarse nor soft, invest in a hair mask for all seasons with Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Urban Moisture Hair Mask.
It can also protect against environmental pollutants (think dust and smog) that may get lodged in your hair, a major bonus if you work in a busy city. You’ll be glad you showed your hair some extra love when it feels silkier and smoother after treatment.