Here’s the bad news: Pretty much anything and everything we do to or expose our hair to can wreak havoc on our strands. Daily washing, heat styling, brushing, and even going outside in the sun or cold can all take a major toll on our tresses. Using a conditioner after every wash is obviously important, but if you feel like your hair is dry, brittle, dull, or generally lackluster, it’s probably time to call in some more serious reinforcements—namely, a hair mask.
These days, masks can do everything from add moisture and shine to fight frizz and undo damage, says stylist Krysta N. Rojas, owner of Base Salon in Chicago. The secret to choosing the right one for you? Pinpoint your “problem” and focus on finding a solution, she says. “Figure out your most pressing concern you have with your hair,” she suggests. Then, selecting the hair mask to treat that concern is easy. Rojas recommends using a mask in lieu of your standard conditioner at least once per week. While most are meant to be left on for several minutes, Rojas says not to stress if you don’t have the time. “Even if you don’t let it sit for the full amount of time recommended, you’re still getting more benefits than you would from your conditioner,” she explains.
There are plenty of options available, so to take the guesswork out of selecting the right hair mask for you, we handpicked 29 of the most popular options and asked 29 testers to try them out at home. After using the hair masks for two weeks, the testers judged each one based on consistency, whether or not the masks delivered on their promises and the overall look of their hair after use. The highest-rated products made the list.
Drunk Elephant Silkamino Mega Moisturizing Masker
Restores, repairs, and replenishes
Counteracts heat damage
Soft and airy are two words to describe this mega-moisturizing mask from Drunk Elephant. It’s lighter than most conditioners and melts into the hair so well that we’ve applied it before work (in a tight bun, of course) and spent a full eight hours in the office without anyone realizing we had anything on. The mask is so effective that it feels like it’s reversing years-worth of heat damage and skipped haircut appointments. Seriously, after use, you might notice once dead, straw-like ends are alive, well, and silky smooth. The results are similar to a professional-level deep conditioning treatment: Never greasy, never weighed down, only bouncy, voluminous hair that’s easy to style. This option is great for those looking to treat their hair in between heat styling, either in the form of an all-day mask or a 30-minute pre-shower pick-me-up. While we haven’t noticed any, some say it leaves behind a waxy residue if you don’t wash it out completely.
Price at time of publish: $28
Hair Type: All | Size: 7 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Shu Uemura Ultimate Reset Treatment Mask
Woody and earthy scent
Japanese-sourced rice extract
Protects and hydrates
Hair can feel greasy after use
While this pick is pricey, it’s a great option if you’re looking to invest in a mask that can really do it all. It scored a perfect 5 out of 5 during testing because of how well it combats dryness, frizz, split ends, and damage all in one fell swoop. We credit the Japanese-sourced rice extract in the formula; it helps hydrate and protect the hair. The mask also smells amazing, with a fragrance that combines fruity notes along with subtle floral elements, sandalwood, and musk. It’s so creamy, which feels nice upon application, but you’ll want to make sure you rinse it out as best you can to avoid a greasy residue.
Price at time of publish: $72
Hair Type: Damaged, Dry | Free of: Gluten, Sulfates, Parabens, Phthalates | Size: 6 oz. | Cruelty Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Damaged Hair
Olaplex No 8 Intense Bond Moisture Mask
Restores damaged hair bonds
A little goes a long way
Some hair types might require extra hydration
Like most other products from Olaplex, the No.8 Bond Intense Moisture Mask has reached cult-like status—for good reason. It touts a proprietary technology that repairs the disulfide bonds that are broken when hair is colored or chemically treated, helping it stay stronger and healthier for longer. It’s super creamy, and although rich, it’s easy to spread throughout the hair, regardless of length and texture. The bottle itself is relatively small, but a little bit of product goes a long way, so you don’t have to use as much product as you might think. Results take time—you won’t notice anything crazy after one use—but the more you use the mask, the faster hair springs back to life. The intensive treatment also works wonders on split ends and tangles, reducing the amount of knots and shedding. Those with curlier hair might want to follow up with a hydrating leave-in after using the mask. Though curls are still receiving the intended bond repair and strengthening treatment, they might require a little extra moisture to avoid feeling coarse and dry.
Price at time of publish: $30
Hair Type: All, Damaged | Free of: Gluten, Sulfates, Parabens, Phthalates, and Phosphates | Size: 3.3 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dry Hair
Christophe Robin Regenerating Mask with Rare Prickly Pear Oil
Moisturizes and nourishes
Softens brittle ends
Not a miracle worker
This intensive mask from Christophe Robin boasts a creamy formula that features prickly pear seed oil, an ingredient known to add shine, volume, and life to dull, brittle strands. It’s really blendable (no elbow grease is required to distribute it throughout an entire head of hair) and smells divine without being overpowering. The mask doesn’t have to be left in for a long time (a few minutes will do), so it’s a great choice for those that are short on time or patience. After consistent use, it softens, nourishes, and breathes life back into brittle hair. Let us be clear, though: It’s by no means a miracle split-ends treatment. You can tell a difference in the health of your hair when you stick to it, but nothing replaces a visit to your local hair salon for a much-needed trim.
Price at time of publish: $28
Hair Type: All, Damaged | Free of: Sulfates, Phthalates, Parabens, Petrochemicals, Mineral Oil, Silicone, Talc | Size: 8.33 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Curly Hair
Pattern Treatment Mask
Treats and defines curls
Can be drying
Curly hair comes with its own unique set of needs, so it’s imperative to choose a hair mask that is specifically made for your texture. Along with strengthening and softening (thank you, rice protein), this mask from Tracee Ellis Ross’s brand Pattern offers tons of benefits, namely elongating and defining curls, kinks, and coils. We love its watery, gel-like consistency that adds softness without weighing hair down. It’s a great detangler, too, which helps make hair more manageable and easy to comb fingers through (something that isn’t always easy). And the subtle floral fragrance is just the icing on the cake. After applying the mask, you can expect hair to feel soft, light, and nourished; you might even notice a decrease in frizz and flyaways too.
If we could change anything, it would be to get rid of the propylene glycol (a type of alcohol) in the formula since it can be drying for some people.
Price at time of publish: $25
Hair Type: Curly | Free of: Sulfates, Parabens, Phthalates | Size: 15 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Treated Hair
Davines NOUNOU Hair Mask
Adds softness and silkiness
Helps mend color- and chemically-treated hair damage
The truth of the matter is that color and chemicals can really do a number on your hair. It’s also true that the healthier your hair is, the longer your color (or style) will last and the better it will look. Point being, it’s very important to use a mask regularly if you’re coloring or chemically treating your hair. This one from Davines is ideal, helping to repair bleached, permed, or relaxed hair. How? It restores hydration and body with the help of antioxidant-rich Fiaschetto tomato extract from Italy and vitamin E while also invigorating the scalp and keeping it free from irritation. The result: Silky smooth strands. Our only bone to pick with this one is that it contains dimethicone, which is a non-soluble form of silicone that can lead to build-up.
Price at time of publish: $40
Hair Type: All treated hair | Free of: Sulfates | Size: 1.5oz. | Cruelty Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Fine Hair
Sachajuan Hair Repair
Hydrating and light
Pump distributes minimal product
Choosing a mask when you have fine hair can prove to be a bit of a conundrum, given that the moisturizing nature makes most options heavy and more likely to weigh down your hair. This is an exception—it’s actually super lightweight and turned us from skeptics into believers. It feels more watery (as opposed to oily) and adds moisture without flattening hair or making it look greasy. It scored a 5 out of 5 during testing for how easily it spreads, how well it tames flyaways and the fact that it doesn’t tug on delicate hairs (aka cause breakage). Those with super-thin, dry hair will appreciate that the formula makes a noticeable difference in the appearance of tangles and frizz, even after heat styling and going a few days between washes. Best of all, it never weighs hair down and requires you to wash more frequently than normal—a huge win. While the pump is relatively simple to use, it doesn’t distribute a ton of product, so you’ll have to push on it a few times in order to get the amount you need—not a biggie, but worth mentioning.
Price at time of publish: $37
Hair Type: All, Fine | Free of: Parabens | Size: 7.4 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Thick Hair
Fable & Mane HoliRoots Repairing Hair Mask
Great for thick, dry, or curly hair
Unlike fine hair, thick hair can hold a ton of product without being weighed down. This mask from Fable & Mane doesn’t skimp on hydration—in fact, it’s so rich and creamy, it reminds us of body lotion except for your hair. It has a smoothing effect that eliminates frizz, flyaways, and other pesky signs of dehydration or breakage and leaves strands silky and super-soft. Whether your hair is curly, straight, or somewhere in between, you’ll appreciate how the coconut cream and mango butter-infused formula deeply nourishes dull, dry hair and brings it back to life. We personally didn’t mind it, but some say the fruity fragrance can be a bit overpowering. If you’re sensitive to fragrance, you may want to skip this one.
Price at time of publish: $34
Hair Type: Dry, Curly, Thick | Free of: Sulfates, Parabens, Phthalates, Silicones | Size: 8 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
dae Deep Conditioning Hair Treatment
You have to keep up with it to see results
When it comes to your hair, we don’t blame you if you want to use the best, most clean ingredients possible. This hair mask from dae is a great option, as it foregoes any type of ingredient that’s going to cause build-up or contribute to product buildup. Instead, it leans on ingredients like moringa leaf extract, coconut oil, and jojoba seed oil, each of which are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. We’re obsessed with the smell—it’s kind of like a fruity rainforest—and doesn’t bother even super-sensitive noses. After one use, you’ll notice immediate results in the form of soft, easy-to-manage hair. However, we noticed that it doesn’t offer too many long-term effects. In order to see continued progress, you’ll need to use the mask weekly.
Price at time of publish: $28
Hair Type: All | Free of: Sulfates, Phthalates, Parabens | Size: 10 oz. | Cruelty Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
The mask you choose will come down to your hair type and desired results, but when it comes to the best in show, we like the Drunk Elephant Silkamino Mega-Moisturizing Masker. Not only does it help repair heat-damaged hair, but it offers a certain smoothness we weren’t able to find with any of the other formulas. We also love that it can go undetected in hair for an entire workday—taking multi-tasking to a whole new level. Another special mention goes to Shu Uemura Ultimate Reset Treatment Mask for its one-of-a-kind formula that works as well as it smells. Though it’s on the pricier side, the positive results speak for themselves.
Meet the Expert
Krysta N. Rojas is a stylist, colorist, and the owner of Base Salon in Chicago. She specializes in both curly hair and balayage.
How We Tested
Byrdie editors did extensive research on popular hair masks, taking expert recommendations and consumer reviews into account before choosing 29 to test out first-hand. Each tester considered each mask’s consistency, overall efficacy (like whether or not it did what it said it would), whether or not it left behind a residue, and how hair looked after consistent use before deciding on a rating from one to five. Those with the highest scores made the list.
What to Look For in a Hair Mask
If you’re struggling with dry, lackluster hair, the chances of your hair needing some extra protection around breakage is high. Look out for hair masks that contain protein (like the Pattern Treatment Mask) and oils like coconut, keratin, or argan oil, which can be found in the dae Deep Conditioning Hair Treatment.
A Concentrated Formula
Concentrated formulas are known for their ability to better penetrate the hair shaft, which helps the deep conditioner absorb easily. The more concentrated the formula, the better your hair tends to look afterward. The Olaplex No.8 Bond Intense Moisture Mask is a great choice, as it gets to work right away and helps repair broken bonds over time.
A Lightweight Finish
Some hair masks weigh the hair down or leave a sticky residue afterward, so you’ll want to select a formula that provides a lightweight finish, especially if you have fine hair. We’d recommend the Sachajuan Hair Repair for those with fine hair (since it’s so lightweight) and the Fable & Mane HoliRoots Repairing Hair Mask for those with thicker hair or hair that can hold more product without being weighed down.
Can you use a deep conditioner with regular conditioner?
If you’re someone with very damaged hair, you can totally use both, in fact, it’s advised! Simply, start with a traditional conditioner and follow up with a deep conditioner for extra hydration.
How long should you leave a deep conditioner in your hair?
It really depends on what deep conditioner you’re using, so be sure to read the instructions carefully. However, there’s (generally) no harm in keeping a hair mask in longer than recommended.
What is the difference between a hair mask and a hair conditioner?
Conditioner serves the hair by providing it with hydration, shine, and smoothness after shampooing during wash days, whereas hair masks nourish the hair and scalp and are often followed up with shampoo and conditioner.
Why Trust Byrdie
Caitlyn Martyn is a staff commerce writer at Byrdie, where she covers all things beauty. An avid product tester, Caitlyn likes to try the latest and greatest in makeup, skincare, and hair care to let readers know what’s worth it and what’s not.
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Her hair is fine, dry, and highlighted…meaning you better believe she uses a hair mask (including many of these) at least once a week.
Kaushik V, Chogale R, Mhaskar S. Alternative protocol for hair damage assessment and comparison of hair care treatments. Int J Trichology. 2020;12(1):7-15. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_3_20