The beginning of the pandemic put many of our regular beauty treatments on hold — facials, pedicures, massages. I, like many others, went over a year without getting a haircut. While salons have since reopened, I spent most of the past 18 months growing my hair out and tying to figure out what I can do at home in order to keep it healthy.
There’s a reason experts recommend regular trims, as my hair quickly became overly dry and brittle during that period, thanks in part to my reliance on a super-hot flat iron (the only thing that gets my hair looking halfway decent during Zoom calls), and hair-pinching ponytail elastics (for when I don’t have the time to style).
Needing some professional advice, I shared my distressed hair status with my longtime stylist — Juan Carlos Maciques of Oscar Blandi Salon in New York City. As someone who deals with celebrities on a regular basis, Maciques has seen his share of hair abuse, and his advice was simple: incorporate a once-a-week hair treatment into my shower routine.
“Masks are a great option for anyone who has dehydrated, brittle or overprocessed hair that has been depleted of moisture, which is often the case with hair that’s been around too long,” says Maciques. “Masking is one of the easiest things you can do at home to make your hair look healthier.”
Maciques suggests scanning labels for ingredients such as proteins and keratin to strengthen hair, lipids like coconut or olive oil to create shine and moisturizing ingredients including vitamin E, avocado and argan oil. He also recommends these quick tips: “Hair that’s overly wet won’t absorb nutrients, so be sure to gently towel dry after shampooing and before applying a mask. And consider wrapping your hair in a warm towel fresh out of the dryer to help the formula penetrate more quickly and deeply.”
Over the course of a few months, I tried several hair masks and my hair has never looked healthier or felt so soft — the results are no doubt worth five minutes of my time each week. Many of these products will remain part of my beauty regimen even as we begin to get back to our regular routines. Here are my favorites.
Moisturizing hair masks to fix dry, damaged hair
This mask has an intoxicating mix of coconut and woody scents, similar to what you would experience after walking through the door of a spa. It contains ingredients like alpha keratin 60ku (a funny sounding name for a protein that fills in damage), brown algae (which is loaded with vitamins like niacin to protect hair against heat damage), and amaranthus caudatus seed (an extract filled with moisture-restoring peptides and polysaccharides). The mask’s silky texture will leave your hair feeling pretty much the same way. The product’s only drawback is its 1.7-ounce size — you’ll love it so much, you’ll go through it quickly!
With such a serious name and price tag, I knew this product would take a serious approach to damaged hair. The formula includes three unique moisturizing ingredients: abyssine, a nourishing molecule produced by micro-algae found on the Pacific Ocean floor; hyaluronic acid, which acts like a sponge soaking up moisture; and caviar pearls that when crushed, convert into a creamy, moisturizing emulsion.
“I find this mask makes blow drying faster and easier, plus styles seem to last longer after use,” says Maciques. Its sleek black packaging will fancy up any shower, and the scent, which smells a bit like cologne, will have the men in the house reaching for it, too.
The number 5 in the name stands for this product’s ability to recognize and fight the five universal signs of hair damage: split ends, weak strands, tangles, brittle and fried hair. “And it does so with over 90 grams of protein, an ingredient crucial for repairing damage and preventing future problems,” says Dr. Rocia Rivera, L’Oréal’s Vice President of Scientific Communication.
The formula, which has the consistency of yogurt, can be used three ways: as a leave-in conditioner, as a co-wash booster or as a traditional rinse-off. Tip: If you use it as a leave-in (which will protect your hair up to 450° during heat styling), be sure to apply it a few inches away from your roots to prevent oilies. Even more: you get a whopping 23 ounces for $10.
This mask’s thick formula dispenses from the tube almost like toothpaste. Its micro-encapsulated sugar molecules deliver ingredients like tananu and maracuja oil (fatty acids that help seal hair’s damaged cuticles), blood orange and primrose extracts (to soften strands), argan oil (to repair and hydrate) and nettle (to increase shine). But it’s the fruity scent, with its top notes of pineapple, tangerine and cardamom, that will convince you to leave the product on past the allotted five minutes. Bonus: The packaging, made from biodegradable and 100% recycled materials, comes with a paper card that’s embedded with wildflower seeds for planting.
This mask is loaded (I repeat, loaded) with natural, good-for-your-hair ingredients, including keratin and macadamia nut seed oil (to reduce frizz and tangles), Kaempferia galanga (a ginger that provides UV protection), wild mango butter (for deep moisturizing) and edelweiss, lychee and sunflower seed extracts (to encourage hair growth).
“Unlike regular conditioners, masks are typically concentrated and penetrate the hair more deeply, which is why they’re an important part of your regular hair maintenance,” explains Michele Burgess, Executive Director, Product Development at Oribe.
Simply apply this hair mask after shampooing and rinse after five minutes. And yes, this mask contains the fan favorite Oribe fragrance (Italian bergamot + white peach + cedarwood), which holds its scent even after blow drying.
This once-a-week mask wins for best packaging, with its four single-use 1.5-ounce shot bottles. “Filled with moisturizing and shine-enhancing ingredients like apricot kernel oil, sage leaf and candelilla extracts, they’re the ultimate thirst quencher when it comes to hydrating dry hair,” says Anna Kimble, Education Director at Drybar.
Simply spritz the pink cream throughout your strands (if your hair is short, you can use half and save the rest for later), massage in and rinse after five minutes. “For finer hair types, avoid the root area and concentrate the product on the ends, where hair tends to be drier and more damaged,” Kimble adds.
This product had me at "3-minute"! The stylish gold tube is filled with moisturizing turmeric butter, an ingredient that adds moisture to coarse and curly hair, along with green tea seed oil to smooth hair and add shine. (Bonus: studies have linked catechins in green tea to hair growth.) The twist open tube makes the cream easy to dispense in the shower — just be sure to utilize the excess dollop that dribbles out of the top once the cap is shut closed.
Naturally absorbent white clay has been used in facial masks for years, and now it’s making its way into the hair care category.
“Super fine or oily hair can get weighed down by the conditioning agents in moisturizing masks,” says Michele Garofalo, a principal scientist at Dove. “Yet clay works by removing styling buildup and dead skin cells without stripping natural oils, which is why it’s a good option for this hair group.”
Plus the formula is infused with minerals to add just the right amount of moisture. Simply apply the cream after shampooing from your hair’s mid-length to the ends, then leave it on for three to five minutes before rinsing. A win-win-win at only $5.
This mask was first introduced in 2013, but it remains a bestseller thanks to the three natural ingredients that provide beyond amazing moisturizing benefits: avocado and olive oils (both filled with hydrating fatty acids) and lemon oil (which contains vitamin C to help with scalp dryness and flaking). Stylists have recommended this mask for years to add moisture back into the hair post-chemical treatments like coloring.
The little sister to its more expensive and well-known mask sibling, the Leonor Greyl Paris Masque Quintessence, this nourishing cream tames frizz and conditions hair thanks to an infusion of plant oils, including an orchid extract which makes strands easier to style. Hair strengthening jojoba and colza oils, silk proteins, and wheat ceramides round out the five-star ingredient list. Because it’s not super thick, you can use it as your everyday conditioner, or if you’ve got overly dry or coarse hair, apply it weekly as an intensive treatment for twenty minutes before shampooing.
For more stories like this, check out:
- 20 expert-approved products to fight frizz
- 10 expert-recommended shampoos that can help tackle a dry, itchy scalp
- Hair experts say these products can help with split ends, frizz and damage
- Give your hair tools a break: 17 products to effortlessly air-dry your locks
- Dermatologists break down the benefits of apple cider vinegar for your hair and scalp