This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.
All hair starts off being healthy and hydrated. Over time, and due to causes like heat damage and chemically treated or dyed strands, hair will become dry and susceptible to breakage (i.e., split ends). If you're like me, you might notice that your hair seems to get extra dry during the winter months. According to Leigh Hardges, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, it's not actually caused by cold weather. The woolen hats and scarves we wear to keep warm absorb moisture from your hair, drying it out. "Forced heat from homes and cars also dry out our hair," Hardges adds. If you tend to drink less water in the winter, it can contribute to a dry scalp and cause shedding.
Ask any stylist, and they'll tell you that the key to keeping your hair healthy and hydrated is a hair mask. "Once you notice that your hair is harder to comb through and it tangles a lot, then it's dry, and you need to start doing a deep conditioning mask once a week," Nunzio Saviano, founder of the Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City says. Hair masks are similar to conditioners because you apply them after shampooing and rinse them out before styling. "Masks are a denser, more concentrated version of a conditioner. They have different purposes like moisture, strengthening, or thickening, but typically they are for dry and damaged hair to help repair," Hardges says.
The Best Hair Masks for Every Concern
Best Hair Mask for Dry Scalp: Head & Shoulders Royal Oils Deep Moisture Masque Conditioner ($3, Walgreens)
Masks are safe to use on every hair type and texture, but you should look for specific keywords on the label to find the right product for your hair. "Masks that cater to thick, curly hair will say 'moisturizing' and 'hydrating' and have rich oils and butters. For finer hair textures, you want to look for masks that are 'fortifying' and 'strengthening' that are heavy in proteins to help build up hair strands," Hardges says.
Hair masks can be used as weekly treatments in the shower for two-three minutes before rinsing out, but to maximize the benefits, you need to leave them on for at least 20 minutes, Saviano says. Apply the mask from the mid-shaft to the ends of your hair, and then put a shower cap. I usually struggle with finding a shower cap that is large enough to hold all of my long, thick hair, but Kitsch has a great one that's super cute for $24. Not only is the shower cap big enough, but it also stays in place and is comfortable, so it's perfect for my weekly hair mask, especially when I leave it on for the full 20 minutes. Your natural body heat will open the hair cuticle, allowing the mask to penetrate deep into the hair shaft. After 20 minutes, take the shower cap off and rinse your hair with cool water to seal the cuticle.
Masks can also be used on healthy hair to help prevent dryness and damage before they even happen. "If you're doing a mask as a preventative treatment, you should do a scalp treatment and mask at the same time to keep your scalp and hair healthy from the roots to the ends," Saviano says. He recommends doing this dual treatment once a month. I love using the Nexxus Clean & Pure Invigorating Detox Scalp Scrub ($20, Ulta), which nourishes my hair while removing product and oil buildup.
Introducing a hair mask into your hair care routine doesn't have to break the bank. Read on to find six affordable masks that you can order online now.
Best Hair Mask for Dry Hair
I appreciate the convenience of this single-serve packet! It’s the perfect way to try out a new mask without committing to a big jar of the product taking up valuable shelf space in my shower. This mask is formulated with nourishing vitamins that leave my dry hair looking and feeling stronger, healthy, and hydrated. After shampooing, apply the mask through your hair (from the mid-shaft to the ends) and leave it on for five-seven minutes before rinsing.
Best Hair Mask for Normal Hair
“Glycerin gives slip to the hair to aid in detangling. It is a humectant that absorbs moisture from the environment, so it is optimal for locking hydration in the hair,” Hardges says. Not only is this mask loaded with glycerin that’s great for rehydrating the hair, but it also contains elastin protein that provides extra moisture. Leave the mask in for 3-5 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Your hair will be left nourished and so soft!
Best Hair Mask for Dry Scalp
If you have dandruff, you know that caring for your scalp is just as important as caring for the ends of your hair. Consider adding this mask as a weekly treatment to use with your regular dandruff shampoo. Formulated with pyrithione zinc (an anti-dandruff ingredient) and coconut oil, this mask hydrates while helping with flakes. It moisturizes your hair while removing excessive build-up on your scalp, allowing you to wash your hair less and extend the life of your style. After shampooing, gently massage the mask onto your scalp and hair for several minutes before thoroughly rinsing.
Best Hair Mask for Damaged Hair
The matcha green tea and wild apple blossom in this deep conditioning mask deliver antioxidants and nutrients to your hair and scalp. “Green tea delivers caffeine, which can also stimulate circulation and encourage growth,” Hardges says. Leave this mask on for two-five minutes and then rinse. If your hair is feeling extra dry, you can use this mask twice a week.
Best Hair Mask for Fine Hair
This plumping hair mask can be used in three ways: as a one-minute hair mask, as your daily conditioner, and also as a leave-in conditioner. The watermelon extract in this mask plumps and adds volume to thin, fine hair. Plus, it smells like summer.
Best Hair Mask for Aging Hair
Formulated specifically for the changing hair needs of women over 50, this mask is infused with biotin and argan oil for deep hydration. “Biotin is a vitamin B derivative that turns your nutrients into energy which is then used to grow hair, nails, and skin cell turnover. Argan oil contains fatty acids that prevent breaking and shedding by shielding the hair from free radicals,” Hardges says. Leave the mask on for two minutes or longer, and use it one-two times per week.