recommended by experts

The Best Hair Masks, According to Hair Experts

Photo: 1977 Conde Nast

Whether your curls are feeling dry or your highlights looking a little dull, a hair mask can very well be the solution — they restore moisture and softness and even brightness to your locks. Consider a skin-care analogy: If daily conditioner is akin to your lighter-weight, water-based body lotions, hair masks are more of a body butter, explains Ash Fritzler, master stylist at The Bird House salon. They are “like a richer version of your regular lotion,” and often a critical part of your broader hair-care routine.

To find the best masks for all kinds of hair types, we talked to six experts, including salon owners, stylists, and a founder of the new Crown Affair line. Although, according to Shirley Hagel, an advanced creative stylist at Parlor Hair Salon, “hair type” isn’t always the most important guiding factor in this context. “For me, choosing a mask isn’t so much about whether hair is thick or thin,” she says. Rather, her most important consideration is “what the hair needs” — whether that be hydration, damage-repair, nutrient replenishment, etc. And before we dive into the specific brands that Hagel and our other experts turn to for those varying needs, here is some general advice that emerged from the group: Aim to use a mask about one to two times a week (in place of your usual conditioner), leave it on for about ten to 15 minutes, and rinse with cold water to enhance shine.

Best overall hair mask

We heard about the benefits of Olaplex’s products when we talked to hair stylists about the best shampoo for colour-treated hair, and the line’s “repairing treatment,” which works like a mask, is no exception. “If my clients have a colour service with me, I’m sending them home with Olaplex Step 3,” Fritzler says. But it’s not only for the colour-treated among us: “Whether they have thin hair or curly hair,” Fritzler says she’s seen the transformation this formula can bring to her clients with once a week use. “It’s so versatile, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who feels like their hair is compromised in any way” (and, by the way, “even pollution exposure can compromise hair integrity”). Developed by chemists, Olaplex uses a patented bond-building technology that is said to reconstruct the hair at the strand level, so that the products don’t just soften your hair but actually help rebuild the damaged parts (though the sulphate- and paraben-free formula can certainly make all hair types softer and shinier). Dhiran Mistry of the David Mallett salon recommends the mask as a general powerhouse: “It will help reform shattered hair bonds,” as he puts it.  

Best indulgent hair mask

If you’re willing to splurge, this Leonor Greyl mask comes recommended by both Mistry and Cohen. “It’s expensive, but it’s so good,” says Mistry, who says that the rare ingredients — cupuaçu and manketti nut oils, both known for their moisturising and restructuring properties — “promote fancy looking and really hydrated hair.” (Turn to pretty much any red-carpet image for what he means by “fancy-looking.”) It also combats frizz, is silicone- and paraben-free (meaning that it won’t cause buildup on the scalp), and colour-safe. And one final bonus, according to Cohen: “I love the way it smells” — a “subtle exotic scent,” as the brand’s CEO Caroline Greyl has previously put it.

Best (somewhat less expensive) indulgent hair mask

Dianna Cohen, founder of the new hair-care line Crown Affair, says that her “favourite hair mask of all time” is this one from Christophe Robin. She calls it “the most universal hydrating mask,” and says that you would just use a 5p-sized amount if you have finer hair, and more if you have thicker or curlier hair. Cohen says she uses it about twice a week, and though the price is still steep (though about thirty pounds less steep than the Leonor Greyl), ingredients like the Prickly Pear seed oil, which is rich in vitamin E, make it worth the cost. “From an antioxidant perspective, vitamin E is better for restoring the protein and keratin of your hair, and makes it shinier and silkier while not clogging your scalp or causing buildup,” says Cohen (she notes that masks can often cause buildup if you use them too close to your scalp). She leaves the mask on for about 15 minutes, and then rinses it out with cold water. If you want to truly luxuriate with your hair mask, Cohen told us the ingredients in the Christophe Robin mask take well to heat — apply it under a shower cap, and then put a hot towel on top.

Best lightweight hair mask

“This is our tried and true that works with nearly every hair texture, from straight to wavy to curly,” says Stephanie Louis, founder of Stylebox Salon. “It’s not sticky and it’s super light.” Louis says that Verb’s Ghost line is generally reliable for healthy-feeling hair (she’s previously recommended the Ghost shampoo) and that it will also help restore a healthy look for those who have dry hair from chemical processing or colouring. Like all of Ghost’s products, the mask is paraben- and sulphate-free, meaning it won’t dull colour-treated hair; it also contains glycerin, which has a softening effect. Moringa seed oil, meanwhile, which is derived from the moringa tree and known for its nutritional compounds, including fats and proteins, works to add back that moisture. Louis notes that because the formula is so light, those with curlier hair textures may not see immediate improvement after using the mask — but give it two to three months of regular use. [Editor’s note: This product is currently out of stock, but is available to preorder.]

Best masks for heat-damaged hair

If you’re someone who has dry hair from using heated tools or from chemical processing, Louis says this mask works well for all hair textures (from “bone straight to super coily curly”). “The best part of this mask is that you can use it on ANY hair — and I mean your own hair or extensions to revive them,” says Louis. “Because it’s both sulphate- and phthalate-free, it’s going to help hair retain moisture and stay soft.” She says the coconut- and fig-scented mask also smells “amazing,” and that the aroma really lingers even after you sleep on it. As for that “immediate softness” it gives hair, that’s thanks to ingredients like shea butter and essence of fig, which help restore moisture to hair without weighing it down.

It’s a 10 Miracle Hair Mask
£24
£24

Another product that will help bring some life back to heat-treated hair is this mask from It’s a 10, which Louis says is “Very reliable, mostly for over-processed straighter hair textures and also for people who blow dry or use heat tools on their hair a lot.” The mask’s restorative properties come from ingredients like antioxidant-packed oat kernel extract; apricot kernel oil, which adds moisturising vitamin A and E to the mix; and linseed extract, which calms the scalp and gives hair a softer, silkier feeling. “The It’s a 10 mask will help make the hair look less dull pretty immediately,” Louis says. And over time, through all its repair work, “it helps the hair become more voluminous.”

Best hair mask for scalp treatment

If your scalp needs a boost — meaning it’s been feeling a little dry, flaky, or sensitive — Hagel recommends this mask from Aveda, which is made with organic castor oil and Aveda’s “deep moisture complex,” including organic pomegranate oil, which helps stimulate scalp circulation and can reduce dandruff. Pomegranate oil contains antioxidant vitamin C, which encourages collagen production, fights free radicals that can damage the hair follicle, and combats potentially scalp-irritating buildup on the hair. Other ingredients include organic buriti oil, a deeply moisturising oil used for treating dry hair as well as dry and sensitive skin on your scalp, and organic olive oil. The mask is also safe to use with colour-treated hair, and “leaves the hair soft, supple, and shiny,” says Hagel.

Best hair masks for nutrient-deprived hair

£22

The masks’s moisturising quality comes from Fiaschetto tomato extract, which is packed with antioxidants and vitamin C. Fritzler uses it for all kinds of issues — chemical processing, sun damage — but especially recommends it for those who are dealing with brittle and breakage-prone hair due to medical conditions. “I’ve had clients who are going through medical stuff, whether it’s cancer treatment or autoimmune disease, and I’ve had really good feedback from them about this mask,” she says. Fritzler notes that if you are having breakage because of a medical issue, the mask won’t return your hair completely to its original state, but it does “restore some of those main nutrients in the hair, and makes it feel a little healthier and a bit more manageable, with more shine.”

If your hair is feeling both dry and damaged, Hagel recommends this mask from Aveda, which she says “uses quinoa protein to repair the hair.” It’s filled with other moisturising ingredients, like meadow seed foam and castor and jojoba oils, making it a strong contender for those with hair that feels both dry and damaged, according to Hagel.

Best hair mask for fine hair

Those with fine hair may not need to use a mask at all — “If you have fine hair, I think it’s good to talk to your hair stylist about why you want to use a mask,” says Fritzler. That said, we did hear about a mask created specifically to give fine hair some lift. According to Mistry: “The Shu Uemera Muroto volume hair mask works amazingly for finer hair and won’t weigh it down,” he says. The mask’s ingredient list includes deep-sea water, which is rich in nutrients and minerals that help keep hair hydrated and weightless. The formula is also meant to rebalance natural hair oils — another step toward keeping fine hair from falling flat on an oily scalp. And a final note from Fritzler about finer-hair types using masks, in general: “If you start using one and you’re starting to feel more oily, it might not necessarily be the product; it might just be that you’re using too much of it or haven’t rinsed all of it out.”

Best hair mask for growth

“It’s great for helping hair grow,” says Mistry because of ingredients like Creatine R, which is an amino acid complex that helps strengthen hair fibres, and maleic acid, which works in the hair fibre to seal cuticles and reinforce the strands–all of which will help keep hair healthy and breakage-free during the growing-out period. “The mask also helps hydrate the scalp and improves elasticity of the hair,” adds Mistry, and: as a bonus, “smells amazing,” — fresh and lightly fruity, according to reviewers.

Some other Strategist-recommended hair masks

Our beauty writer Rio calls this a ‘solid dupe’ for the Christophe Robin mask featured above. She writes: “Every review I read (and the instructions on the box, for that matter) made it clear that this was a product you had to use multiple times before seeing results, which I found extremely true. I wasn’t mesmerized after the first time I used it (it wasn’t bad, just not game-changing), but after about four uses, I noticed my hair felt smoother and less tangled, and was air drying beautifully, instead of turning from wet into a scary broom.”

Photo: ©2016 Tom Mannion

Rio also rates this vegan, cruelty-free option. “In the past, I’d found that “clean” hair care didn’t nourish my hair as intensely as their “non-clean” counterparts, but that’s happily, absolutely not the case with this mask. This formula is loaded with sunflower oil — a vitamin E–rich ingredient that protects, restores, and hydrates — as well as ungurahua, a palm oil that helps fortify weak or damaged hair.” [Editor’s note: This product is currently out of stock, but is available for preorder.]