How To Use A Hair Mask For Silky, Hydrated Strands

This is a hair intervention.

If you're wondering how to use a hair mask, Bustle asked hairstylists for tips. No matter what your ...

Do you find that even after your hair has been spritzed with leave-in conditioner and slathered in serum, it’s still missing something? If it’s dry, damaged, and generally behaving badly, then it may be time to up the ante and incorporate a hair mask into your routine. They’re among those beauty elixirs that feel ubiquitous but also sometimes sort of vague, and so you may be wondering how to use a hair mask. Read on because Bustle pinged a couple of hairstylists for the expert intel.

Why Use A Hair Mask?

Whether your hair is color treated, damaged from too much heat styling, or just naturally dry, stylist and colorist Juliana Ohlmeyer says everyone can benefit from a hair mask. “It is like the equivalent of taking vitamins — it’s that extra boost for your hair, depending on what it needs,” she says. Basically, hair masks are an effective way to strengthen and hydrate strands, whether you’re determined to grow waist-length hair (breakage is your sworn enemy, in this case) or if you’ve got a hair type that tends to be more fragile and dry, like curly types.

Devin Graciano, hairstylist and head of product development at Goldie Locks says to think of hair masks as a “triage” for damaged, fragile, or vulnerable hair. “The foundation of their formulations are a lot more concentrated than your daily conditioners as well as leave-in conditioners and are made to work deeper into the hair strand,” Graciano says.

Which Ingredients Should You Look For?

Graciano breaks the most common hair masks into three main categories: protein treatments, moisture masks, and bond builders. They’re designed to do one (or a combination) of three things: strengthen, hydrate, and repair. Strengthening masks will typically consist of wheat, silk, keratin, or soy proteins, and, Graciano notes, these masks are ideal for those whose hair goes through a lot of chemical processing like bleaching or relaxing. Ohlmeyer adds rice extract to the list of things to look out for in strengthening hair masks. While masks that promise to also repair hair bonds will typically use technology along with strengthening and hydrating ingredients.

If your main goal is to hydrate, check for ingredients like avocado oil, aloe vera, shea butter, marula oil, almond oil, and buckthorn oil. You’ll also find coconut oil in a lot of moisturizing hair masks, but Ohlmeyer says she’s not a fan. “A lot of brands will add this to their product, but I don’t think it treats the hair at all. It creates too much buildup which blocks the moisture and nutrients from breaking through,” she explains. Like most ingredients and products, you’ll have to embrace the trial and error phase to figure out what works for your hair.

But the right hydrating hair mask is the perfect proactive addition to your hair care routine, Graciano says, because they’re all about rejuvenation and preventing damage down the line. “These types of hair masks work wonders for those with concerns like dry, brittle, dull, unruly, or unmanageable hair that is also prone to frizz,” Graciano says.

How To Incorporate Hair Masks Into Your Routine

How frequently you use a hair mask depends a lot on what kind of shape your strands are in. For instance, someone who’s just gone platinum blonde may want to apply a hair mask more often than someone who hasn’t colored their hair at all, Ohlmeyer explains. It also depends on how often you’re washing your hair as most masks are pre- or after-wash treatments. Generally, though, both stylists say once a week (in lieu of your normal conditioner, if it’s going on after shampooing) is a good rule of thumb. And, remember, like most hair treatments, you typically want to avoid the scalp and roots, and instead apply mid-length to ends. “Your scalp produces an abundant amount of nutrient rich oil that feeds hair closest to the scalp, so you don't need to use a hair mask past the upper mid-strand,” Graciano notes.

Both stylists recommend using a wide tooth comb in front of a mirror to make sure the product is even distributed. And Ohlmeyer says you may even want to pop on a plastic cap over your mask. This will trap the moisture and the heat from your scalp, helping the ingredients penetrate even further into your cuticle to promote strong, hydrated, and healthy hair.

Shop Hair Masks

The Bond Repairer

This reparative treatment is a favorite among professional stylists and for good reason. It addresses dry, damaged hair with intense moisturizers and uses patented technology to rebuild broken bonds for stronger hair.

The Intense Hydrator

This hydrating hair mask from Graciano’s brand boasts a rich, concentrated formula of proteins, vitamins, fatty acids, and antioxidants to repair and restore dry, damaged hair.

The Keratin Treatment

Good for all hair types, this restorative treatment features alpha keratin — the protein most prominent in hair — and other ingredients to rebuild, strengthen, and soften strands.

The Clay Detox

Hair masks are most often associated with moisture and repair, but this clay mud mask is designed as as pre-wash treatment to remove buildup and detoxify before shampooing.

The Drugstore Buy

This hair mask boasts almond oil, ceramides, and a protein-rich repair concentrate to nourish, repair, and fight the signs of damage.

The Ultimate Nourisher

Ohlmeyer calls this mask her all-time favorite for its combo of protein and moisturizers. It packs Japanese-sourced rice extract, perfect to nourish and strengthen color-treated and heat-damaged hair.


Juliana Ohlmeyer, hairstylist and colorist at Bassia Bassia salon in New York City

Devin Graciano, hairstylist and head of product development at Goldie Locks