The 20 Best Hair Masks for Damaged Hair, According to Experts and Editors

Healthy strands, here we come!

Woman with textured hair smiling
(Image credit: Getty Images)

My quest for healthy hair will likely never end. There's no shampoo and conditioner duo, hair oil, or leave-in conditioner that I won't try in my quest for shine, bounce, and hydration—especially considering the specific needs of my curly hair. But while I take the best care of my hair I can, I still find myself dealing with damage (like split ends, dryness, and a dry scalp) because of factors like changing weather, pollution, and water quality. So, to mitigate damage when those issues rear their ugly heads, I keep a few of the best hair masks for damaged hair in my beauty cabinet at all times to save the day. 

"A hair mask is an intense deep conditioner—usually much thicker in consistency— that should be used on hair that is dry or on chemically treated hair," explains Carolyn Aronson, founder and CEO of It's A 10 Haircare. "Incorporating a hair mask into your haircare routine improves the condition of the hair shaft. With an influx in moisture and hydration, the hair can become healthier and stronger."

Hairstylist and brand educator for The Mane Choice Cataanda James agrees, adding, "Hair masks provide an accelerated boost of nourishment to the strands, which is what makes these formulas more intense than traditional conditioners." 

But unlike traditional conditioners, hair masks are not meant to be used every day or even every time you wash your hair. Plus, hair masks are varied in terms of the benefits they provide, how long they should be left in, and the hair types they're formulated for. All these variations can be a little overwhelming, so I asked Aronson and James to break down everything there is to know about hair masks. And, with their help, I've rounded up some of the best hair masks, whether you're struggling with damage, dehydration, or you're simply looking to inject a little extra moisture into your hair routine. 


What to Look For in a Hair Mask

  • Benefits 

According to James, there are three main types of hair masks: moisture, protein, and those that combine the two. "Protein-based hair masks strengthen your hair and help rebuild the bonds that are often broken down by over-manipulation from styling your natural texture and curls, or from chemical treatments," she explains. "Hydrating and moisture-based hair masks replenish essential nutrients to the hair for a healthier look and feel, and they defend against further damage." 

Therefore, if you're considering incorporating a hair mask into your  regimen, take a good look at your hair and consider what aspects of its health you'd like to improve. "Assess your hair for any split ends, dryness, or breakage," Aronson advises. "Depending on the state of your hair, it may indicate which type of hair mask you would need to resolve the issue. If your hair is dry and brittle, you may need a hair mask that provides intense hydration. If you have breakage or split ends, a protein or bond-building hair mask is best."

James adds that it may be helpful to write down your concerns while assessing your hair, so that you can easily employ process of elimination and cross-reference your list with the hair mask options you see while shopping. "Hair masks will have key benefits and ingredient call outs on their packaging, most commonly found on the front of the label. If you do not see your concern called out, that particular product may not yield the best results."

  • Hair Type and Texture

And if you're having trouble identifying the type of TLC your hair needs, James suggests taking an online self-assessment "to determine your individual hair type, texture, and to pinpoint specific hair concerns that you would like to address." In particular, she recommends The Mane Choice's Hair Quiz, which recommends products based on the user's preferences, hair type, needs, and lifestyle. 

"Textured and chemically treated hair typically are a good fit for hair mask treatments, as the strands can be prone to dryness or breakage," says Aronson. "Textured hair thrives when moisturized and hydrated with quality ingredients and water. The same goes for chemically treated hair: It needs ingredients that will restore the hair shaft after being broken down by chemicals."

James agrees, adding that curly hair tends to be drier than straight hair. Plus, she says, "Hair masks also help ease detangling to promote strands' elasticity for length retention and curl formation."

On the other hand, if your hair is on the thin side and it's not curly or textured, both Aronson and James note that masks may not be best.

"Generally, hair masks are heavy due to the use of creams and oils, and can weigh finer hair textures down," says Aronson. In those cases, James suggests using a light hair lotion or cream for hydration instead.

Best Hair Masks for Damaged Hair

How to Use a Hair Mask

We're all pretty well-versed on how to wash our hair, and even how to style it with leave-ins, gels, and creams, but hair masks require a different routine that lies somewhere in between that of your everyday conditioner and your favorite leave-in.

Instructions may vary from product to product, so be sure to check the container on your favorite hair mask before applying. Generally speaking, however, a mask is meant to be applied to damp, clean hair. You can comb the product through to ensure even application. 

"If you have straight, fine, thin hair, consider only applying the mask from the mid-lengths to ends of your hair," says James. "This will still allow you to reap the benefits of the hair mask without weighing your hair down or causing any excessive oiliness at the root."

On the other hand, for those with thick, dry, textured, curly, or damaged hair, she advises, "Start with the minimum recommended and increase as needed. You will know when you have ample amount for your hair density and texture because there will be even distribution of product and your fingers will glide through from root to ends while releasing the tangles."

Then, leave the hair mask on for the time recommended on the bottle (some masks are meant to be left on for 30 minutes, while other, more high-potency options are to be left on for only ten minutes). "Some hair masks require longer times than others or heat to maximize its benefits," explains Aronson. "If a more intense conditioning treatment is required, use heat by covering the hair with a plastic cap or sitting under a hair dryer for deeper penetration."

Personally, I like to leave my hair masks on for the maximum amount of time suggested, and I contain my drenched strands in a shower cap while the conditioner sits. This both maximizes the formula's hydrating effects and keeps my skin from getting covered in the mask. 

How Often to Use a Hair Mask on Damaged Hair

As for how often should you use a hair mask? Both Aronson and James say that frequency completely depends on the needs and condition of your hair.

"If your hair is more dry or brittle, then a weekly hair mask is recommended in order to maintain hydration," says Aronson. "If the hair is in a healthier state with no chemical manipulation, then a monthly hair mask is more appropriate. Also, in the winter you may find you need to use a hair mask more frequently due to dryer weather."

James seconds this. "Based on your hair type, you should consider deep conditioning your hair after each wash day for drier, more damaged strands and/or hair that has been over manipulated," she says, "Or, once or twice a month for maintenance works fine if your hair isn’t lacking nourishment or showing any deficiencies."

Meet the Experts

Cataanda James
Cataanda James

Cataanda James is a natural hairstylist and brand educator for The Mane Choice. Currently, she's based in New York City. 

Carolyn Aronson
Carolyn Aronson

Carolyn Aronson has over 20 years of experience working as a hairstylist and salon owner in multiple states across the US. Her brand, It's A 10 Haircare, champions self-love through haircare and is also involved in a number of philanthropic efforts both at home and abroad. 

Samantha Holender
Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and keeps up with the latest trends in the beauty space. She has previously written for Us Weekly, Popsugar,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Follow her on Instagram @samholender.