Everything You Need to Know about How to Use Hair Masks Correctly

Those gloopy, DIY from-the-fridge hair masks on TikTok? Yeah, we watch them too. 😳 But when it comes to what goes on our hair...(and our scalps!) we look to the pros for the best hair masks to achieve the silky, glossy, healthy-looking hair results we’re after.

Self-care rituals for well-being and beauty are on the rise, and weekly hair masking is definitely a big part of the “spa treatment at home” trend.

But the endless variety of hair masks to fix hair problems and enhance hair’s texture (not to mention all the conflicting advice from influencers) can be overwhelming. How can you possibly decide the right hair mask to repair damage, add shine, get rid of frizz? 

In this guide, we’ll simplify and demystify the world of hair masks. With the help of Color Wow Chief Chemist, Dr. Joe Cincotta, we’ll look at what a hair mask is and what the benefits are.

(Spoiler alert: no matter what your hair type or condition, adding a hair mask to your routine will make an immediate, major difference in the healthy look and condition of your hair. Bottom line: We’d hate for you to miss out on the hair-transforming, life-changing benefits of hair masking!) 

What is a Hair Mask?

what is a hair mask? a concentrated conditioning treatment designed to be left on your hair for a longer time period... to nourish, fortify and hydrate the hair.

Before diving into the benefits and application techniques of hair masks, let's understand what they are and how they work. 

Hair masks are concentrated conditioning treatments designed to be left on your hair for a longer time period so that powerful ingredients can penetrate the hair cuticle to nourish, fortify, and hydrate the hair.

Hair masks are typically formulated with a variety of ingredients to target specific hair concerns, such as dryness, damage, or frizz.

When you apply a hair mask, the formula (often a thick, rich, creamy consistency) coats each strand of hair, creating a smoothing, protective barrier that remains, to some extent, after the mask has been rinsed off.  

As the mask sits on your hair, it slowly releases its potent blend of nourishing ingredients, allowing them to deeply penetrate the hair shaft and work their magic from within.

After rinsing, the barrier that’s left on hair’s surface helps to lock in moisture, soften strands, smooth hair’s surface and help prevent future damage from external factors like heat styling and UV rays.

Hair Mask vs Deep Conditioner: Is There a Difference?

Hair masks and deep conditioners serve similar purposes, offering up a more intensive treatment for addressing damage, reducing frizz, and improving overall hair health. They provide similar benefits (restoring moisture, enhancing softness, strengthening hair) so the terms are often used interchangeably. 

The truth is: whether labeled “hair mask” or “deep conditioner”, these supplemental, interim treatments are key to maintaining healthy-looking, responsive, vibrant hair, especially for anyone with dry, damaged, or color-treated hair.

The Benefits of Hair Masks

Wondering whether using a hair mask regularly really makes a difference? Here’s what you can expect from a hair mask, and just a little extra time and effort... 

1. Deep Hydration and Moisturization:

water droplet

Hair masks excel in delivering deep hydration to your strands, penetrating the hair shaft to replenish moisture lost due to environmental factors, heat styling, and chemical treatments.

This intense moisturization restores the hair's natural shine and softness, making it look and feel healthy.

2. Damage Repair and Strengthening:


Regular use of hair masks can significantly repair and strengthen damaged hair. These treatments are packed with nourishing ingredients that help to temporarily seal split ends and fortify the hair's structure.

As a result, you'll notice a reduction in
breakage and split ends, leading to stronger, more resilient hair.

3. Detangling Aid:

detangling comb

For those with long or curly hair, detangling can be a chore. Hair masks can simplify this process by softening the hair and making it more pliable.

This reduces the risk of breakage during combing and styling, making detangling a breeze.

4. Enhanced Manageability:

woman's hair icon with sparkle

One of the key benefits of hair masks is their ability to transform the manageability of your hair. By conditioning and smoothing the hair cuticle, masks make your hair easier to detangle, style, and maintain.

By hydrating and lubricating strands at the core, hair has renewed body and suppleness.

5. Frizz Control:

frizz icon

Hair masks are a godsend for anyone battling frizz. They help to tame flyaways and reduce frizz by moisturizing the hair and sealing the cuticle.

This leaves you with smoother, sleeker hair that's less prone to frizziness, even in
humid conditions.

6. Restores Softness and Shine:

sparkle icon

The intensive conditioning properties of hair masks can dramatically improve the texture and appearance of your hair.

By restoring moisture and nutrients, these treatments leave your hair feeling incredibly soft and looking brilliantly shiny.

How to Use a Hair Mask - Your Questions Answered

Now that you understand the benefits and ingredients of hair masks, let's dive into the proper application techniques to ensure you get the most out of your hair mask.

Step 1

Before applying a hair mask, it's important to prepare your hair by washing it with a gentle shampoo and towel-drying it until it is damp. 

This will help the hair mask to penetrate the hair more effectively. But did you know that the temperature of the water you use to wash your hair can also make a difference?

Warm water opens up the hair cuticle, allowing the mask to penetrate even deeper, while cold water helps to seal the cuticle and lock in the benefits of the mask.

Step 2

Next, take a generous amount of the hair mask and apply it evenly to your hair, focusing on the lengths and ends. Use your fingers or a wide-toothed comb to distribute the product thoroughly.

Dr. Joe's hair mask application tip:

“Unless a mask is specifically designed to be massaged into your scalp, it’s important to apply only to hair strands. Many masks have thick high levels of emulsifiers or waxy ingredients that could block or clog hair follicles if you rub the product into your scalp.

After you apply a mask, there’s no problem if you gather you hair up on top of your head to keep it out of your way while it processes... just don’t assume you’re doing something healthy for your hair by rubbing any type of hair mask into your scalp.”

Step 3

Once the recommended time has passed, it's time to rinse off the mask.

Use lukewarm water to thoroughly remove the product from your hair. Avoid using hot water as it can strip away the natural oils and leave your hair feeling dry and brittle. 

For best results with any hair mask you use, always read and follow manufacturer’s directions – or go online to check usage instructions and find how-to tutorials. 

How Often Should You Use a Hair Mask

How often you give your hair a hair mask treatment depends on your hair type and its specific needs. Dry, damaged hair or color-treated hair will definitely benefit from using a deep hydrating hair mask once or twice a week.

If your hair is in relatively good condition, adding a rich, nourishing hair mask into your routine once every two weeks or so will boost hair’s suppleness, resilience and glow. 

How Long Should You Keep a Hair Mask on?

How long you leave a mask on your hair depends on what the manufacturer recommends. 

As a general guideline, most hair masks suggest leaving them on for 10-20 minutes to allow the ingredients to deeply penetrate and nourish your hair. You will still benefit if you rinse the mask off sooner, but ideally you should follow the instructions on the package (or online).

Can You Leave a Hair Mask on Overnight?

Ideally, no, you shouldn't. One common mistake many people make is leaving the hair mask on for too long. While it may seem tempting to leave it on all night for maximum benefits, this can actually have adverse effects. 

Extended exposure to certain ingredients can cause hair to become greasy, weighed down, or even damaged. Stick to the recommended timeframe to ensure you achieve the best possible results without causing any harm to your hair.

Does a Hair Mask Replace Conditioner?

A hair mask does not necessarily replace conditioner, but it can complement or enhance your hair care routine. 

Hair masks are typically more intensive treatments that deliver higher concentrations of active ingredients to deeply nourish, hydrate and strengthen hair. They are used less frequently than conditioners—usually once a week or bi-weekly, depending on your hair's needs. 

Conditioners, on the other hand, are essential for regular use after shampooing to detangle, smooth, and moisturize the hair, making it more manageable. You can use a rinse-out conditioner in the shower, or a leave-in conditioner on damp or dry hair. (Or both, if you have dehydrated, damaged or frizz-prone hair.) 

Read more about the different types of conditioners in our guide.

Do You Use Conditioner after a Hair Mask?

Hair masks deliver dramatic benefits. But if you want, you can follow up with a superlight, leave-in conditioning treatment to further boost suppleness, shine and amplify heat protection benefits.

Color Wow Money Masque hair mask and ultralight Money Mist leave-in conditioner are a perfect conditioning combo to create the look of ultra-glossy, luxe, expensive looking hair that’s in optimal condition.

Can You Put a Hair Mask on Dry Hair?

According to Dr Joe, “Some masks are formulated to be used on dry hair. But most masks are intended for use on freshly shampooed, damp hair because, ideally, the shampoo has cleared away build-up and left no residues behind on the hair (like our Color Security shampoo) so there are no films or impediments that block the mask from penetrating into the hair."

"And secondly, wet or damp hair is more porous, so nourishing ingredients penetrate more quickly and easily.”

Which Ingredients Should I Avoid in Hair Masks?

“Waxes, oils, butters and emulsifiers are ingredients that give hair masks a thick, rich, creamy texture...but are not ideal."

"Why? These dense ingredients form a heavy coat on hair strands  which might FEEL like a luxurious treatment, but in reality, the density high viscosity masks actually BLOCK any nourishing actives or moisturizing humectants in the formula from penetrating into the hair, where the moisture is needed most.”

What Hair Mask is the Best? Let Us Introduce You to Money Masque…

color wow money masque

Created in collaboration with
celebrity stylist Chris Appleton and Color Wow, Money Masque is not just any hair treatment; it's a deep hydrating marvel designed for all hair types. 

This weightless formula, which has a unique rich-gel consistency, is Chris Appleton’s go-to one-step prep for achieving luxe, super healthy-looking hair on every hair type and texture.

Unlike other treatments that can leave a waxy, heavy buildup, Money Masque instantly absorbs into your hair, working its magic without weighing it down. 

The secret to Money Masque’s powerful tress transformations for all hair types? A ground-breaking new delivery system that allows vital humectants and nourishing marine-sourced actives to easily penetrate deep into the hair shaft to strengthen, fortify, and renew suppleness, ensuring your locks are not just beautiful but also resilient.

Essential for damaged, overprocessed or dehydrated hair, and ideal for anyone seeking a deep conditioning experience, Money Masque also provides heat protection, making it an indispensable ally in your hair care routine. 

Whether you're styling with heat tools or looking to repair and rejuvenate your hair, Money Masque delivers unparalleled results, making it a must-have for those in pursuit of effortlessly glamorous, healthy hair.

Find out how to use it with Chris’s tutorial below:

Incorporating a hair mask into your hair care routine can be a game-changer, offering deep nourishment, repair, and hydration that regular conditioners simply can't match. 

Whether you're looking to revive dull, damaged hair or maintain optimally silky strong, lush locks, the key is consistency and choosing the right product for your hair type. So, take the time to pamper your hair with a mask—it's a small act of self-care that pays off with big, beautiful results.

Other Hair Mask FAQs

Is it possible to over-use a hair mask?

Yes. While hair masks can be incredibly beneficial, it is possible to overuse them, which can lead to product buildup and weigh down your hair.

If your hair feels greasy, heavy, or limp, you may be overusing hair masks. Adjust the frequency of your hair masking routine accordingly to find the right balance for your hair.

Can you use a hair mask on fine hair?

Yes, but look for a mask that doesn’t contain heavy waxes or emollients. These will cling to hair, and weigh it down.

New hair mask technology, like Color Wow Money Masque, is perfect for fine hair because it absorbs instantly to nourish and hydrate deep within hair and doesn’t leave a heavy coating on hair’s surface. 

Can you use a hair mask on color-treated hair?

Dr. Joe explains, “When hair is color-treated, the outer cuticle layer has been lifted and hair structure altered. Color-treated hair loses moisture more easily, so it needs extra hydrating, moisturizing and fortifying ingredients.

I recommend using a super hydrating hair mask every week. Be careful of using masks that contain ingredients like essential oils or fragrances that could impact your hair color.

Money Masque, like all Color Wow products, contains no ingredients that could dull, darken or adversely affect hair color.

Do I need a special hair mask for my hair type?

“Some hair masks have specialized ingredients to help temporarily solve hair problems, like thickening agents that adhere to fine, thin hair. But the real job of a hair mask is to restore hair to optimal condition, and the key to this MOISTURIZATION, inside and out the strands. Every hair type or texture benefits from added moisture from a deep hydrating mask."

What is the best hair mask for grey hair?

"Grey hair is extremely dry and porous, and tends to be fine, weak and brittle.  The best product for this hair “condition” is a deep hydrating mask that helps “fill” the hair with missing moisture, which gives the hair renewed softness and fluidity." 

Do expensive hair masks work better than cheaper ones?

“The price of a product doesn’t guarantee performance. But high quality ingredients, and known strengthening actives that are bio-compatible with hair (like blue sea kale, sea kelp, algae) in high concentrations will definitely deliver more dramatic results and cumulative benefits than inexpensive oils, butters and waxes that smooth hair’s surface temporarily.” 

Can a hair mask make my hair grow?

“There are some medical treatments applied as hair masks that help with hair growth. These need to be prescribed by a doctor.

Over-the-counter beauty products do not make hair grow, but they can make hair smoother, stronger, and more resistant to breakage which enables hair to grow longer and look its healthiest.” 


Read more hair care tips and tricks on the Color Wow Blog:

Dr. Cincotta holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the City University of New York, and is currently VP of Research + Development at Color Wow.

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