Is your hair feeling dry, dull or frizzy? We test the best treatment masks to give your locks healthy moisture and shine
If you’ve noticed your hair feels dry and brittle, frizzes and tangles more easily, or simply looks dull and flat, it’s probably in need of a good dose of hydration. Hair can become dehydrated for a variety of reasons – chemical or heat treatments can strip the hair of moisture, as can chlorine, salt water or hot weather. A good treatment mask can do wonders for dry, damaged and stressed hair, moisturising and nourishing the hair more deeply than a daily conditioner.
In addition to hydrating and repairing damaged hair, some hair masks contain ingredients designed to smooth out frizz, boost natural curl patterns and soothe sore and itchy scalps. A treatment mask is an excellent weekly addition to your hair-care routine, and can really help bring hair back to its glossy, bouncy and best life.
Whether you want a restorative treatment for damaged hair or simply something to add extra moisture to dehydrated locks, you’ll find a hair mask that perfectly suits your needs here. Read our guide below on how to choose the best hair mask for your hair, and over the jump for our favourite treatments for all hair types.
How to choose the best hair mask for you
What does a hair mask do?
A hair mask works similarly to a daily hair conditioning treatment, but formulated with richer ingredients to penetrate more deeply inside the hair and nourish from within. A mask contains similar ingredients to a conditioner: natural oils such as jojoba, coconut or shea and replenishing hydrators such as aloe or hyaluronic acid; but a mask is typically heavier in texture than a daily conditioner, and sits on the hair for longer to allow the moisturising ingredients to be more fully absorbed by the hair. Unless your hair is very parched, a treatment mask is probably too heavy for daily use – but used weekly or fortnightly, a mask will boost the condition, strength and shine of your hair.
What causes dry and dehydrated hair?
Chemical treatments such as bleach and permanent dyes; heat styling such as blow-drying, straightening and curling with tongs; and exposure to environmental factors such as hot sun, central heating and swimming in the sea can all remove the hair’s natural moisture, leaving it more prone to snapping and splitting.
To strengthen locks and prevent damage, your hair needs moisture to plump it up and help keep it soft, supple and more able to resist breakage. A hair mask with a blend of proteins and antioxidants will revive your hair and help it grow stronger; a nourishing hair mask will help prevent the ends of hair splitting and breaking, which will help it grow longer before shedding.
Which hair mask should I use?
The type of hair mask you choose will depend on the natural texture and current condition of your hair. Bleached and heat-styled tresses tend to be on the dry side, so will benefit from a mask containing bond restoring ingredients to target the damage in the hair shaft. Curly hair will benefit from ingredients such as shea butter designed to tackle frizz and dryness, leaving natural hair soft and bouncy. Fine hair that tends to be limp will benefit from a lightweight hydrating treatment that won’t weigh the hair down and leave it looking lank – look out for masks with aloe or hemp seed oil that will boost shine without dragging down the lengths.
How do I use a hair mask?
Every hair mask comes with its own set of instructions for use, but most are designed to be used on freshly-washed and towel-dried hair then left for 5-15 minutes to work their magic. Massage the treatment in as directed, paying particular attention to the lengths and ends of hair; you may also want to comb the mask treatment through using a wide-toothed comb to ensure good coverage all the way along the lengths. Some treatment masks are designed to be left in overnight, leaving you with wonderfully soft and shiny hair in the morning.
After using the mask, rinse out with lukewarm water and dry the hair gently (air-drying or plopping are good options as they allow the hair to retain all the moisture you’ve just put in with the mask), then style as usual. Always read the instructions carefully before application to really get the most out of your hair mask.
How we test hair masks
At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing gives us the best and most complete information about a product. We test all the hair masks we review by using the product as directed over one week, and noting the results compared to typical condition of the hair when using shampoo and conditioner only.
We note the directions for use – including the amount used and recommended time for leaving the product in the hair – as well as how pleasant the product smells and feels in use and how hair looks and feels, both immediately afterwards and with continued use. We also note the recommended hair type/texture for each product.
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The best hair masks you can buy in 2023
1. Christophe Robin Hydrating Melting Mask with Aloe Vera: Best premium hair mask
Price when reviewed: £27 | Check price at Amazon If your hair is parched and in need of serious hydration, Christophe Robin Hydrating Melting Mask with Aloe Vera is one item you need in your shower caddy. Aloe is a fantastic hydrating ingredient that’s also great for soothing the scalp; this lightweight mask can be applied to the whole hair and scalp, and leaves the hair soft, smooth and manageable without feeling limp or greasy.
This isn’t the cheapest hair mask on the market, but you only need a tiny dollop of the product to cover your hair from roots to tips, and it’s quick to use too: two minutes is sufficient for an intense, moisturising treatment. After use our hair felt fuller and looked luminous and healthy.
Key details – Size: 200ml; Key ingredients: Aloe vera, flaxseed oil; Hair type: Dehydrated, dull; Application: Massage into scalp and hair, leave on for 2 minutes, rinse
2. John Frieda Detox and Repair Hair Mask: Best budget hair mask
Price when reviewed: £7.99 | Check price at BootsNot just for breakfast: John Frieda’s Detox & Repair hair mask uses avocado and green tea to deliver maximum nourishment to dry locks. Formulated for dull and lifeless hair that needs a pick-me-up, this hair mask uses a blend of antioxidant-rich oils including avocado and hemp to remove product build up and condition the mid-lengths and ends. The result is a silky barnet that looks healthier and feels softer.
Suitable for all hair types and textures, this mask is of particular benefit to those with bleached or heat-damaged hair. Thick and creamy in texture, a little of John Frieda’s affordable hair mask certainly goes a long way and won’t leave hair looking limp. For best results, massage a walnut-sized amount of the mask into wet, clean hair and leave it in for 3–5 minutes before rinsing well.
Key details – Size: 250ml; Key ingredients: Green tea, avocado oil, cannabis sativa seed oil; Hair type: Dry, stressed, damaged; Application: Leave in for 3–5 minutes, rinse
3. Olaplex No. 8 Intense Moisture Mask: Best premium hair mask for bleached hair
Price when reviewed: £28 | Check price at LookFantasticStepping out of the salon with freshly coloured hair feels great; but since the chemicals used in colour treatments weaken hair, it should come as no surprise to hear that strands are more likely to split or snap as a result of dyeing. The solution? Grab a bottle of Olaplex No. 8 Intense Moisture Mask. This miracle mask uses a patent bond repairing ingredient to strengthen weakened hair shafts and infuse the hair with much-needed moisture. Olaplex No. 8 also contains strengthening rice bran protein and softening hemp seed oil. For a more intensive treatment, combine Olaplex’s No. 8 mask with the No. 3 bond repairing pre-shampoo treatment.
At £28 for 100ml this potent treatment mask doesn’t come cheap; but it’s worth its weight in gold if you have very damaged hair.
Key details – Size: 100ml; Key ingredients: Bond Building Technology™, bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate; Hair type: Bleached, broken, split ends; Application: Apply to clean, damp hair, leave on for a 10 minutes, then rinse
4. Sally Beauty Damage Undo Restructuring Masque: Best budget hair mask for bleached hair
Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at Salon SuppliesAn affordable alternative to Olaplex, Sally Beauty’s Damage Undo system features a range of six products to strengthen, restore and rebalance damaged hair. This nourishing treatment mask is step number five in the system, and contains hydrating aloe vera and panthenol to return moisture to dry and damaged hair; and hydrolysed vegetable protein to strengthen and volumise hair. The mask has a clean, herbal smell and feels soft and non-greasy on the hair. Hair feels nourished and soft immediately after use, and stronger and fuller with regular use.
To use, work into scalp and lengths and leave for five minutes once a week. Optionally finish with the Multi Benefits styling cream in the same range.
Key details – Size: 250ml; Key ingredients: Coconut oil, glycerine, aloe vera and panthenol; Hair type: Bleached, broken, split ends; Application: Apply to clean, damp hair, leave on for a 5 minutes, then rinse
5. Kerastase Resistance Therapiste Masque: Best premium hair mask for damaged hair
Price when reviewed: £46 | Check price at LookFantasticAsk any hairdresser which treatment works best on damaged hair and most will point you in the direction of Kerastase’s near-magical balm – a cult classic in the beauty world. Whether you’ve grown too attached to your straighteners, use bleach or dye regularly, or simply haven’t been taking care of your hair as much as you should, Kérastase’s Resistance Therapiste Masque will soothe and restore damaged hair that’s reached breaking point. The moisture-boosting formula is enriched with amino acids that work to replenish protein levels in the hair for strands that look stronger and healthier.
With continued use, you can expect soft, smooth and shiny hair. Used in conjunction with a regular trim to manage any split ends, and a break from heat styling and colouring, it will support the regrowth of healthy new hair.
Key details – Size: 200ml; Key ingredients: Amino acids; Hair type: Damaged, brittle, split ends; Application: Leave in for 2–3 minutes, rinse
6. The Body Shop Banana Truly Nourishing Hair Mask: Best budget hair mask for dry hair
Price when reviewed: £10 | Check price at The Body ShopIf you’re looking for a hair mask to go bananas for, The Body Shop Banana Truly Nourishing Hair Mask is the one. Its thick, silicone-free formula is easy to apply without making a mess, and on rinsing out, the banana purée conditioner leaves hair soft, shiny and smelling gorgeous. It’s reasonably priced, too.
However, for those who aren’t a fan of the banana fragrance, The Body Shop also offers a Replenishing Shea Butter mask. If you want to feel good as well as look good, note that both masks are cheaper than the majority of other vegan, cruelty- and silicone-free options. If you need an affordable treatment you can use regularly, The Body Shop is the option to go for.
Key details – Size: 250ml; Key ingredients: Banana puree, cocoa butter, shea butter, Brazil nut oil; Hair type: Dry, frizzy; Application: Leave on for 10 minutes, rinse
7. Davines LOVE Curl Mask: Best premium hair mask for curly and wavy hair
Price when reviewed: £26 | Check price at Cult BeautySometimes, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle with curly hair – especially in humid weather which will cause your locks to misbehave. Treat curly and wavy hair to the right kind of extra moisture, though, and you’ll be able to restore order. Davines LOVE Curl hair mask uses a blend of almond oil and rice bran protein to hydrate and balance unruly tresses, leaving curls sleek and bouncy.
Delivering just the right amount of moisture into the hair shaft, LOVE Curl Mask is super-easy to work into your existing hair care regime, too, since you simply replace your conditioner with the mask. Leave the mask in for 10–15 minutes before rinsing and you’ll be rewarded with a frizz-free hair transformation.
Key details – Size: 250ml; Key ingredients: Almond extract, oryza sativa (rice) bran wax; Hair type: Thick, unruly curly/wavy hair; Application: Leave on for 10–15 minutes, comb, rinse
8. Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie: Best drugstore hair mask for curly hair
Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at LookFantastic Like a green smoothie for hair, this leave-in Shea Moisture treatment uses a coconut-rich formula to treat dry and dehydrated locks and is ideal for Type 3 and 4 curls. Silk protein and neem oil condition and add definition to curls without weighing them down, while the coconut oil helps your strands to lock in moisture and deliver dazzling shine. It’s a great all-in-one treatment that smooths and hydrates hair; and as it’s a leave-in conditioner it doubles as a styling cream.
This coil-boosting hair smoothie is formulated without sulphates, parabens or mineral oils, ingredients that can dehydrate natural curls. This Shea Moisture hair mask leaves hair soft, shiny and full of bounce, and smelling great too – all a great price.
Key specs – Bottle size: 326ml; Key ingredients: Coconut and neem Oils, shea Butter, silk protein and hibiscus extract; Hair type: Thick, unruly curly/wavy hair; Application: Apply to damp hair, style as desired and leave in
9. Philip Kingsley Elasticizer: Best hair mask for coloured hair
Price when reviewed: £20 | Check price at LookFantastic Those with dry hair should take note of the fact that this Philip Kingsley conditioning treatment revived no less a head of hair than Audrey Hepburn’s, which was revived from its overstyled, coloured and weakened state with this product in the 1970s. Made especially for the Hollywood starlet, the Elasticizer has remained a holy grail hair hero ever since. Packed full of natural oils and antioxidants to retain moisture levels, improve elasticity and reinforce protein in the hair, this mask will leave your hair healthier, shinier, smoother – and less likely to break or split.
It’s a godsend for holidayers with bleached and highlighted hair, too, since the formula protects locks from UV damage and will stop it turning brassy or fading. In fact, it works wonders on any type of hair that’s suffered its fair share of damage. Note: while this mask is made for hair that undergoes regular thermal and chemical processing, the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer shouldn’t be used three days before or after chemical treatments, since it can affect the results.
Key details – Size: 75ml; Key ingredients: Castor seed oil, glycerin, olea Europaea (olive) fruit oil; Hair type: Dry, limp; Application: Apply, put on shower cap, leave in for 20–60 minutes (or overnight)
10. Grow Gorgeous Repair Strengthening Hair and Scalp Mask: Best hair mask for sensitive scalps
Price when reviewed: £25 | Check price at LookFantasticHeat-styling gadgets don’t only damage your locks, they can leave you with a dry and irritated scalp, too. While most masks are made only for the hair, the Grow Gorgeous Repair Strengthening Hair and Scalp Mask also sets out to treat your follicles. A product that delivers noticeable results after the first use, this mask’s combination of peptides and amino acids will leave hair soft, sleek, shiny and manageable.
Featuring a bio-active blend of ferments that are rich in essential minerals, this hair mask is designed to be rubbed into the scalp to stimulate hair growth while also cleaning and calming. It smells amazing (as do the shampoo and conditioner from the same range with which we’re also obsessed) and only needs to be left in for five minutes, once or twice a week, to work its magic. For a more intense treatment on particularly damaged hair, it can be left in for up to 20 minutes.
Key details – Size: 200ml; Key ingredients: Zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, peptides, amino acids; Hair type: Dry, brittle, heat-damaged; Application: Leave on for 5–20 minutes, rinse