Hair Masks: ITG Investigates


We know about face masks, largely thanks to Patrick Bateman and every movie makeover montage ever (fluffy robe, bouncy friends and cucumber slices on your eyes = optional). They always seemed rather gimmicky and scary-looking on, though admittedly very satisfying to peel off. But what was I about to put on my head (times six)? Stevie Dance gave us the scoop on her DIY version, and I applaud her naturalistic nature, but I decided to try out a few of the pre-made versions before I started slapping yogurt on my head. For one thing, I like to eat my yogurt. For another, you know, call me a lab rat, but I like trying out new products.

Here’s what we know: hair masks (sometimes “masques”) only want to help. They’re smoothed on after you’ve shampooed, rinsed, and lightly towel-dried your hair. Depending on which kind, you apply anywhere from a few dabs to a palmful of the stuff and wait 2 to 30 minutes (ample time to wonder what the hell is on your head and, if you’re me, whether or not all of these products are going to make your hair fall out, because some of them are for ‘treated’ hair and I haven’t done any such thing) and then rinse it out and reap the benefits of deep conditioning!!!! (enthusiasm varies, and, again, is optional).

Note: I did not try these all at once, nor would I recommend it, because then your hair will be greasy as anything and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

1) I began my foray into hair mask-ing with Rahua’s new Omega-9 Hair Mask ($58), which, I admit, I chose first mostly due to the kicky Amazonian-inspired label and the fact that it’s vegan (and although I’m not, I like the idea of beauty products that are). The texture feels more like a body balm than a hair product: it’s soft and heavy and not for the short-on-time or the thin-of-hair. Initially, after my hair dried, it felt a little weighed down—not great combined with late-summer humidity. But in the days that followed that first application, my hair felt notably stronger, shinier, softer, healthier: it’s like that feeling when you’ve gotten a cut and it just bounces.

2) Warren Tricomi’s Repair Green Walnut Masque ($34) smells very, very good. I recommend sniffing it, even if you don’t buy it. It’s similar in texture to the Rahua mask, but is peppered throughout with small aquamarine-colored beads, which I initially worried wouldn’t wash out, but did.  The packaging directs you to apply one to two dabs of product once a week—a notably light load compared to some of the others—and boasts of a “nano-technology that transports therapeutic ingredients of green walnut and hydrolyzed Protein Polymer [sic],” which will apparently heal your hair long after rinsing. Friends, I believe it. The aftermath was breezy: my hair was shiny, light, soft. I also find it endearing that the tub refers to your hair as your “ultimate accessory,” because they’re not wrong?

3) The Frederic Fekkai PrX Reparatives Intensive Fortifying Mask ($49) and its “rich, luxurious emollients” do not mess around. It’s the thickest of the mask pack and formulated specifically for damaged or color-treated hair, and I imagine if you fall in either of those categories, you might be inclined to use it twice a week, as the tub suggests. It felt sort of like applying thick, whipped (unsalted) butter to my scalp. My hair is not particularly damaged and is not currently color-treated, so, for me, it was a bit too thick, but I think if you need some serious repair, my Bergdorf Blondes, this would be your ticket.

4) Aesop’s packaging is generally fantastic, but I am especially fond of the Rose Hair and Scalp Moisturising Masque ($33). The tube is primrose-red, for one thing, which stands out in the landscape of my shower, and the directions come in English and French (entertaining for those of us who took French class in high school and want something to read while we let it soak in) and are frankly a little pushy. The measurements are exact (two tablespoons, which I eyeballed, because I drew the line at bringing measuring spoons into my bathroom) and the instructions are emphatic, with liberal use of all-caps, italics, and boldface (“CONDITIONING masque,” “lightly massage,” “peak condition”). Also, Aesop wants you to keep it on for ten to thirty (!!) minutes, the promise being if you use it weekly, your scalp and hair will be in the aforementioned “peak condition.” Aesop was the only line to mention the scalp, which I find interesting, because it is literally the root of all this drama, and I’d imagine more often than not (if one takes all the dandruff-shampoo commercials to heart), people’s scalps are dry, and the consistency of the mask itself was a good middle-to-heavy-weight option for those seeking moisture. Also, the rose petal/lavender fragrance combination is killer.

5) Initially, the Molton Brown Mer-Rouge Deep Conditioning Mask ($40) reminded me of Crème de la Mer. Yes, because of the name, but also the fact that it, too, was developed around a special seaweed. Atlantic Ocean “mer-rouge” seaweed, to be precise. The formula is infused with mandarin, jasmine, and ambergris, and I would not mind my hair smelling like this combination all the time. Given its light-to-middle weight, this is a good frequent-use option, and I, for one, am going to use it a few more times without fear of getting greasy hair—a look I’m convinced only works on Pete Doherty. And Kate, while they dated.

6) Like its name implies, Original Mineral’s Seven Day Miracle Moisture Masque ($31.95) is meant to be used over the course of a week. The opaque plastic jug is shaped like a glass milk bottle, and inside is the most edible-smelling of the masks I tried, if you’d like your hair to smell like a cookie (no judgments). Fortified with organic argan and macadamia-nut oils, the creamy solution should stay on for anywhere from two minutes to “longer for a more intense masque.” A friend with great hair had recommended it to me for a holistically restorative experience, and I must say, I did feel rather de-stressed after application—and after experimenting with no fewer than six hair masks, that’s no small feat.

—Alessandra Codinha

Alessandra Codinha, in a T by Alexander Wang top and Current/Elliott shorts, photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on August 25th, 2012

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  • ClosetCravings

    I'm with you; I would rather use a pre-made hair mask before slapping yogurt on my hair (that made me laugh). While I'm sure some might find diy beauty rewarding, but it's always resulted in less than desirable results for me (I still cringe over my failed pinterest-inspired diy pore strip debacle.) One of my faves is by WEN. It leaves my hair incredibly soft. The kind of soft where I keep touching it in utter disbelief and remark on how freakin' good it feels. It basically gives you Disney princess hair.
    Satisfy Your Cravings For Celebrity Style and All Things Stylish and Sweet

    • claire

      In regards to whether one should make their own mask or buy one, I think it all depends on your target issue...In my experience many masks or conditioners for moisture highlight certain ingredients that I could find in my kitchen. In terms of certain issues like to rebuild or reconstruct hair I would definitely buy one since i'm not a chemist lol oh and I love your blog :)

      • SK.

        I'm a chemist and I prefer buying masks, humorously.

  • Classntrash

    i always wondered about hair masks too...

    would you incorporate these into your routine?

    • ITGAlessandra

      I would! Probably not too frequently, because of the texture of my hair (light, and easily weighted down) and the level of conditioning (heavy). But all of the masks that I talked about had v. pleasing results. I think it's probably a good thing to do as the seasons change, to combat the end-of-summer too-much-sun and salt-water dry-out.

  • Charlotte

    ah! the cookie-scented mask and the warren tricomi are must-tries! my hair is so damaged from bleaching, re-bleaching, darkening, lightening again, the whole gamut...i should probably sleep in a bathtub filled with hair mask.


  • claire

    I absolutely love using hair masks!! Having chemically straightened hair really takes a toll on my hair's health so weekly masks definitely keep my tresses strong and long. I typically leave in my masks for an hour or 30 min if I sit under a dryer. The best D.I.Y mask I can recommend for drier hair is a mixture of pureed banana, olive oil & honey!!

  • 4jsc

    Love your writing!

  • VotreAmie

    Ahh, hair masks! I want to love you so badly. I do - I really do! I think, in my limited experience, that I've only experimented with the heavier kinds of masks (more than likely better for dry, damaged, color treated hair) and as a result have found my scalp getting oilier much faster (I like to leave as many days between shampoos as possible) and feeling no real notable difference in my strands. However, that being said, I haven't tried any of the above and am now most definitely intrigued! I've gotta say, I'm liking the sound of the Rahua, Aesop, and Original Mineral masks, but can't quite narrow it down.

    Alessandra, did you have a favorite amongst the many that you tried?


    • ITGAlessandra

      I can't choose just one-- it's why I reviewed six! But the ones you're talking about are great, especially if you don't have particularly damaged hair. I think the Rahua is a good once-in-a-while choice. It really made my hair feel stronger.


    Snaps! We almost got a hair mask last night. Now we feel like jerks.

  • the german girl

    A few years ago, a friend of mine always told us girls she occasionally rinses her hair with BEER to make it shiny and soft. We all laughed, but I once tried it and it works! The smell flies away quickly. Plus, you can drink the rest of it.

  • Laura

    My hair is rather newly triple-process bleached, and is so dry. Someone recommended Queen Helene's Cholesterol hair mask. The stuff took forever to wash out, and when my hair finally dried it didn't feel any softer than before. Has anyone else here ever used it?

    • claire

      I have actually. The same thing would occur with my hair it would feel really soft in the shower (if that makes sense), but once i dried my hair no difference. I definitely suggest trying the DIY mask I posted- honey, olive oil and a banana pureed. Mix it let it sit for about 30 min. to an hour and follow with your reg. conditioner. If not that try kerastase's deep conditioners that line never disappoints my hair.

      • Laura

        Perfect! I have a bunch of frozen bananas in the freezer just waiting to be used...thanks, Claire!

      • Laura

        Also, what ratio do you use for each ingredient?

  • Lindsay Sue

    I use a DIY hair mask that I love. Half an avocado with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. I apply it to wet hair, let it set for a half hour or so, then I wash it out. Leaves my locks amazingly soft and shiny. I usually get compliments on my hair the day after.

    • AmbienceChaser

      ... I just ate your hair mask for breakfast this morning.

  • Delphine

    as some kind of a hair freak (ie: love to try any weird-looking or new hair product), the very best hair masque for my hair (fine, color treated, slightly wavy) is the santa maria novella honey hair mask. It feels like butter, smells like honey, seems like it will never rinse off, but it actually does, and leaves your hair very bouncy and shiny and compliments-worthy
    in terms of new hair stuff, the kiehls scalp magical elixir oil works wonders as well!

  • Kitchen afternoon

    I purchased the Chronologiste kit from Kerastase, $145, totally worth it, money saved on in salon treatments. Last Saturday before my hair cut, the stylist used Kevin Murphy mask it was great. This summer, when i am rural, I have been apply L'Oreal's Mythic Oil heavily before bed and that has been the softest my hair has been. I also like Super's herbal hair mask, and for $8 Jojoba oil beofre and after swimming. I have never met a hiar mask I didn't like.

  • Woody

    Always a pleasure to hear Miss Codinha, but these scientific reviews are not very helpful... Inevitably you just repeat the copy on the package. In this format, perhaps only real novelties have value.

  • Lilu’

    leonor greyl masque fleurs de jasmin
    absolute number one!

    • Beatriz

      I agree to LG; been using the orchid with wonderful results. One question, however, for the chemists out there: what precisely is the difference in the composition of masques and regular conditioners?

  • Beautyidealist

    Definitely trying the AESOP hair & scalp mask now. Thanks for this post ITG!

  • stephanie

    I love this deep look into hair masks! My hair is super thick and mostly dry especially in the summer so I've always been on the hunt. Love that each description is detailed and I think my choice is Aesop!! Always loved Aesop products anyhow :)

    xx stephanie

  • Becca @ The Beauty Sample

    I usually don't bother with hair masks, but I feel as though my hair definitely deserves one after this summer. I'd love to try the Aesop one or the Rahua one!

  • gaowmichelle

    Leonor Greyl makes the best hair masks and oils! gott give those a go. everything from france is probably a good choice.

  • Natalie

    Alessandra your legs are OUT OF CONTROL! lucky girl :)

  • War Paint and Roses

    What was the result of the Aesop one? Sounds lovely but did you think it worked? x

    • ITGAlessandra

      I do! I think Aesop makes a pointed effort to treat the scalp, more so than the other brands, and I think that in itself makes a real difference (the scalp being, as I said in the post, the "root" [ha, ha] of all of this). It definitely gets the job done.

  • Lola

    I freaking LOVE hair masks. I am honestly the laziest person in terms of my grooming (I brush my hair maybe once a fortnight. Maybe) and if I can't fit a scrub and moisturise into a 5 minute shower then it's not happening but I will always make time for a hair mask. Even when my hair was bleached to high hell it didn't snap and 6 months from my last cut I have no split ends (on my shoulderblade length, ombreed hair) so I can safely say they are totally necessary. I use a variety of different ones and think of them as a styling product.
    One thing that infuriates me though - why do so many brands suggest applying them to wet hair in between shampooing and conditioning? when the hair is wet, the cuticles are smoothed down and the hair is far less absorbent. plus you have an awkward 30 minute interval in your shower routine. The best way to apply a hair mask is to slap it on dry hair, clip your hair up and ignore for 30+ minutes then hop in the shower and rinse *before* you shampoo and condition. This is such a basic and obvious thing that I am really suspicious of any bran that recommends using them otherwise - if they don't know trichology 101 then how can I trust them with my hair?

    • Andrea

      I would have thought the same thing, but my hairstylist definitely told me hair masks are more effective when your hair is wet/after shampooing. I haven't tried it yet, because I'm lazy, and I don't understand one hundred percent yet, but she did say that.

  • Vivien Page

    I like brand hair masks too, mostly because I'm too lazy to make my own. I recently bought a Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan oil hair mask from and it made my hair look GORGEOUS, really soft and shiny. I think it's also a repairing mask so it's good for dry and damaged hair.

  • Renaphuah

    i have thick Asian hair, and the only ones that have worked for me are Moroccan Oil mask, and also a Fekkai mask when my hair was coloured.

  • Caitlin Robertson Willard

    i adore hair masks! they have become a staple in my sunday beauty routine. my personal favorites are the morrocanoil restorative mask and kerastase's masque force architecte. i must say these are both super thick and could weigh down fine hair with less damage. i had hair that had to be chopped because it literally snapped off(about 4 inches!) and using masks once a week has brought it back to life. i'm a believer!

  • Woody

    Can't ITG get an ingredient geek on board? Because really, does anyone understand what's going into these formulas? Sometimes that might result in praise for unknown/smaller brands, the cheaper option over the glamorous pseudo-scientific one, but.... you will have our undying loyalty.

    ITG can be a force for good.

  • Katie

    I second that. I feel like this blog used to have a few AMAZING and well-written blog posts a week. Now there are upwards of 10+ postings a day, most of them lacking in substance. It's nice to get more posts, but not if it also takes away from the quality of each post.

  • Joanna Hetzel

    I think hair masks are a great idea although I hardly ever get around to actually using one, my hair could really do with a thorough conditioning! I agree with buying pre-made masks rather than making your own.

  • Marleen Lawson

    I love Pro Naturals

  • Hapinesswherever

    Sitting here with a home made honey hair mask in my blog as I read this- giving the home made version a test run before featuring it on my blog :) (Last week I did a DIY for orange peel body scrub! :) )


Fekkai PrX Reparatives Intensive Fortifying Mask
Aesop Rose Hair & Scalp Moisturising Masque Tube