How To Use a Hair Mask: 

Expert tips & tricks

Gary Urrutia of Cup of Excellence organization

SEP 19, 2022


It's easy to see why hair masks have grown so popular recently. Hair masks are a way in which anyone can bolster their healthy hair maintenance routine. Hair masking is simple enough to do at home and more affordable than getting an intense treatment at the salon.

If you've ever wondered how to use a hair mask, you're not alone. This popular hair care product can be found in many stores and online, but it's not always clear how to properly use it.

In this complete guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about hair masks, from what they are and how they work to the best ways to use them for your hair type.

What is a Hair Mask?

A hair mask is an at-home treatment used to significantly improve the condition of your hair. It's an intense conditioning treatment typically left in the hair for a while before being rinsed off. 

How Hair Masks Work

Honduras coffee farmers during harvest

Hair masks work by penetrating the actual hair shaft and profoundly infusing hair with moisture, proteins, vitamins, and nutrients. 

This helps improve the hair's overall health and makes it appear shinier, softer, and more manageable.  

Using a hair mask will revive dull hair. After hair masking, you'll also notice improved softness, frizz reduction, and easier hair manageability. 

  • Hair masks work by penetrating the actual hair shaft and profoundly infusing hair with moisture, proteins, vitamins, and nutrients.

The Main Benefits of Hair Masks

The benefits of hair masking go beyond the visuals of simply making hair look better. 

Hair masks actually improve hair health and ensure stronger hair growth. 

By coating the hair cuticle, the hair mask ensures that hair grows stronger. And your hair is less likely to be harmed by harsh chemical treatments and environmental or lifestyle factors that may also damage hair.

Aren't Hair Masks and Conditioners the Same Thing?

Although both products are designed to add moisture to the hair, there are also significant differences. 

  • A hair mask penetrates into the hair shaft, giving you deeper care that penetrates into the hair cuticle. Some conditioners can absorb into the hair shaft, though many do not. This is why hair masking can provide a deeper level of rejuvenation, smoothening, and hydration that conditioners can not.

  • The ingredients in a conditioner are different from those in hair masks. A conditioner is typically lighter and contains more water-based ingredients. Hair masks usually have richer, oil-based ingredients, making them denser and thicker than the typical conditioner. The thickness of a hair mask's formula allows for a more complete hair coverage.

  • A conditioner is meant to be rinsed out soon after application, while hair masks are typically left on for a longer period of time. This is because the heftier ingredients in hair masks need more time to penetrate the hair shaft.

  • Hair masks can hydrate hair on a deeper level than conditioners, the heavy-duty lipids, and oils that hair masks include making them unsuitable for daily use. Conditioners are far less moisturizing than hair masks, so they may be used daily or more frequently.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Applying Your Hair Mask

blonde woman applying hair mask on hair with brush

Hair masking is quite simple and can be done quickly at home. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to get the most out of any hair mask you choose.

1. Clean hair thoroughly 

woman with shampoo lather in hair

Wash your hair with shampoo as you would typically, massaging your hair and scalp to wash away any build-up. Then, rinse the shampoo from your hair and scalp thoroughly. You may use conditioner, but this is not necessary.

2. Dry until damp

brunette woman damping hair with hands

Towel dry your hair until it is damp. For curly hair textures, you may want to use a cotton T-shirt to dry your hair instead of a terry cloth towel. This will prevent friction damage. 

3. Apply hair mask

brunette woman applying hair mask on hair with brush

Gently massage the hair mask into your hair with your fingers making sure to cover all hair. You may use a wide tooth comb to ensure the product is spread throughout the hair evenly.

4. Cover and wait

hands holding shower cap

Cover your hair with a plastic shower cap and wipe away any product left on your skin. Leave the mask on for the amount of time specified in the instructions.

5. Rinse

woman rinsing hair under shower

After you have left the hair mask for the amount of time indicated on the package, remove the shower cap and rinse the mask from your hair and scalp with hot or lukewarm water. 

Make sure that all of the product has been thoroughly washed from the hair.

6. Dry and style

woman passing hands through long brown wavy hair

Allow your hair to dry and then style. You will immediately notice a significant improvement in your hair's texture and manageability. 

What Ingredients Should You be Looking for?

Hair mask in cup with brush, natural oil and dried plant next to it

Hair masks address specific concerns such as dryness, frizz, or damage. When shopping for a hair mask, look for one that contains ingredients that will address your specific concerns.

So, in short: choose the mask depending on your hair type.

Is it straight or curly? Is your hair chemically processed? How much damage does your hair have? Examine the condition of your hair and choose accordingly based on your needs.

  • Forwavy or curly hair, use an oil-based mask containing natural lipids such as argan oil, coconut oil, and other nourishing ingredients such as shea butter, olive oil, or avocado oil.

  • For dry and damaged hair, look for a mask with a protein treatment and ingredients such as hydrolyzed wheat or brown rice protein. Natural proteins strengthen hair making it more resilient to breakage.

  • For frizzy hair, use a hair mask that contains hydrolyzed keratin to smoothen hair cuticle. Keratin smoothes hair follicles which will calm frizz, making hair appear sleeker and more manageable when styled.

  • For oily and greasy hair, use a hair mask containing clay or charcoal to help absorb excess oil. If you use a hydrating mask on oily hair, you may want to apply it on the midsections and ends of your hair and use less on the scalp.

It's important to know that the quality of pre-made hair masks depends on what ingredients are used in their formula. 

As with all hair care products, when choosing a hair mask, you should look for the specific ingredients that your hair type needs. 

Avoid hair masks that include harmful chemicals such as sulfates and sodium chloride.

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Hair Masking on dry vs. wet hair

woman drying hair with blowdryer

Hair must be clean so that the hair mask can coat your hair thoroughly, ensuring you get as many of the benefits out of the mask as possible. However, you also want to ensure that you are applying the mask to hair that is damp rather than wet. If hair is too wet, the hair mask may run down your neck as you are waiting to rinse it off. 

Although it is technically possible to apply certain hair masks onto dry hair, hair is most absorbent when damp. When dry, it is less permeable, making it harder for the hair mask to penetrate deeply into your hair.

Using a hair mask for brittle or dry, damaged hair

When hair is too dry, it becomes vulnerable to damage and frizz. Dry hair is also weaker than well-moisturized hair making it extremely brittle and unable to hold heat styling. 

There are many causes as to why hair becomes dry or damaged:

  • Chemical treatments such as coloring, bleaching, or chemical straightening might look great fresh from the salon, but without proper hair maintenance, hair becomes brittle and dull due to how these treatments strip natural oils away from hair.

  • Environmental factors such as arid climates, indoor heating, and swimming in chemically treated or salt water swimming pools can also make hair more vulnerable to frizz due to the reduction of atmospheric moisture. The absorbency of fabrics covering hair during the cold months can also absorb hair moisture, making it more vulnerable to friction damage.

  • Heat tools and heat styling such as blow dryers, hair straighteners, and curling wands damage hair by overheating your hair's moisture. The slight "sizzle" noise you may hear is the sound of moisture literally being evaporated by the heat of the styling tool. Overuse of heat styling tools damages the hair cuticle and weaken hair, causing breakage, split ends, and frizz.

  • Overwashing and using shampoo too regularly. Since they are designed to break down hair oils, many shampoos, especially clarifying shampoos, remove beneficial oils from hair.

  • Certain health conditions which affect your body's ability to retain moisture, such as hypothyroidism and Menkes syndrome.

Ingredients to look for in a hair mask

Hair masks have the ability to restore hydration and illuminate dried-out, dull hair. Look for a mask that contains a hydrolyzed keratin treatment as one of its ingredients. Hydrolyzed keratin is a protein molecule that can fill in the spaces of the hair shaft that may have been taken or weakened due to damage. In addition, hydrolyzed keratin is able to bind to hair naturally since hair is naturally mainly composed of keratin.

As hydrolyzed keratin replaces the protein stripped from hair, it strengthens hair while also building a protective layer around it so that hair can retain the moisture that it needs. 

Hydrolyzed keratin also has hair smoothening properties which will calm down frizz and help dry or brittle hair become more manageable.

Collagen is another essential ingredient to look out for when it comes to hair masking for damaged and brittle hair. Collagen is a great ingredient that helps to improve hair elasticity. It also helps to protect hair against damage.

Using a hair mask on thin hair

Hair thinning may result from biological factors such as hereditary baldness, stress, or pregnancy. Some people may also naturally have hair that is thinner than others due to genetics. 

Hair thinning may also be caused by chemical treatments or the environmental and lifestyle elements mentioned earlier, which cause damage to the hair. 

Ingredients to look for in a hair mask

For thin hair, use a hair mask with brown rice protein and  hydrolyzed keratin. These ingredients can "plump up" hair by building a protective protein layer around the hair shaft. Hair masks which include a protein treatment, are designed to bulk up hair. When used correctly, a hair mask can help to add volume, shine, and strength to thin strands

Brown rice protein nourishes the hair root, helping thin hair grow stronger, and thicker.

Brown rice protein and  hydrolyzed keratin will instantly give thin hair the appearance of being fuller since using the mask will literally increase hair strands in density. This is because these proteins are literally bulking up upon the hair on a molecular level.

Using a hair mask on keratin-treated hair

Also referred to as a "Brazilian blowout," keratin treatment is a semi-permanent salon treatment that breaks the bonds of curlier textured hair and then seals these straightened bonds. A keratin treatment at the salon is time-consuming, taking 2-4 hours to complete–unless you go for an at-home keratin hair botox treatment

Ingredients to look for in a hair mask

For keratin-treated hair, look for a hair mask that is also rich in keratin

Secondly, look for a mask that also includes amino acids, and proteins. Using a mask that has been treated with keratin helps to bolster the smoothening and straightening effects of your salon treatment, making it last longer. 

Since many keratin treatments can only be administered at a salon, using a keratin-infused hair mask is an inexpensive and easy way to keep your hair looking nice and sleek without having to return to the salon sooner than you need to.

Using a hair mask on color-treated hair

Dyeing or bleaching the hair, followed by coloring, makes it highly vulnerable to drying out and becoming damaged. Over-processing and damage from coloring are some of the most common problems that lead to unhealthy hair. When hair is overprocessed, the cuticle is stripped away, exposing the cortex. Once the cortex is exposed, it becomes susceptible to environmental damage and everyday wear and tear. 

Ingredients to look for in a hair mask

An excellent way to combat this damage is by using a hair mask fortified with soy protein. Soy protein helps to rebuild the damaged hair and helps to restore your hair's natural moisture balance.

Colored hair requires extra care and attention to maintain its vibrancy and prevent fading. Color will have less of a sheen and appear more muted and dull when hair loses its hydration. Look for a mask that will help to add moisture and protect your color-treated locks.

An advantage to hair masking is that color-treated hair will appear more vibrant and glossy after use.

Final thoughts

Everyone knows that great, healthy hair is a major confidence booster and can also be a vehicle for self-expression. What condition is your hair in? Is it damaged from heat styling, or are you constantly battling frizz and flyaways? It's time to give your hair some extra TLC by using a hair mask to nourish, strengthen and revitalize that hair.

Taking the time to properly care for your hair always pays off. Using a hair mask once a week keeps your hairstyle looking salon-fresh longer with healthy, shiny, bouncy hair. 

Using a high-quality hair mask once a week can be a significant game changer when it comes to keeping your hair healthy and resistant to damage and breakage.

Hair Care = Self Care

Damila's Deep Treatment Mask is the perfect choice for damaged, thin, or colored and chemically treated hair. This mask is packed with nourishing ingredients like collagen, brown rice protein, and hydrolyzed keratin which work together to deeply hydrate and condition your strands. In addition, the mask also contains soy protein, which helps to seal in moisture and prevent color from fading. 

Try it today with a special discount.

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Bruno B

CMO @ Damila. Current learning project: Spanish.

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Hair Mask FAQ

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How Frequently Should I Use a Hair Mask?

A high-quality, deeply hydrating hair mask should only be used once a week. Hair masks are designed to be so moisturizing that you may be tempted to use them frequently. But you must opt out of overusing hair masks. 

Using a hair mask more frequently than recommended may cause an oversaturation of oils in the hair, weighing it down and making it appear greasy. Since they are designed to be deeply hydrating, overuse may cause build-up leading to scalp inflammation, itching, or flaking.

Sometimes, if your hair is extremely dry and damaged, a hair mask may be used more than once a week. However, if your hair is extremely damaged and needs deeper care, it's best to proceed with caution. You may want to consult a stylist before implementing hair masking more than is recommended into your hair care routine.

How Long Should a Hair Mask Stay On?

The length of how long you should keep a hair mask in your hair depends on the specific mask you are using. Most hair masks usually require somewhere between 10-20 minutes, while others might only need 3-5 minutes.

Some masks may even be left on for several hours or even overnight though these are far less common. 

What happens if you leave a hair mask on too long?

Leaving a hair mask on for too long may be doing more harm than good. Since hair masks are abundant in lipids and oils to hydrate hair, oversaturation of these ingredients may weigh down the hair and give it a greasy appearance. If this happens, use a clarifying shampoo to neutralize oils