The Best Drugstore Hair Masks


I did it again—I pitched a hair story that requires me to have hair, which I do not, and to use hair products, which I do not use. My buzzcut hair routine involves waking up in the morning and that is the extent of it. Why doesn't everybody just shave their heads? Not only is it an edgy look perfect for the warmer months, but you could save thousands of dollars and countless minutes of styling time, thereby improving your quality of life. Let that hot tip sizzle into the surface of your scalp for a minute.

That said, there are millions of people on this planet with hair, and a few of them happen to work in the same office as I do. They are my hairy co-workers. Each were assigned a drugstore hair mask for a week, tailored to their specific needs, with the small stipulation they give me their unfiltered feedback. Everybody, regardless of hair type, needs a good hair mask for regular deep conditioning to prevent breakage and restore shine. If you have hair, this is essential. If you don't, it's still useful for bribing coworkers to test and review products so you don't have to. It's win-win, and both wins are for me.

Blond Hair

Senior gTEAM member Lizzie Hanes has the exhilarating and chaotic pleasure of sitting directly next to me at work, as well as the exhilarating and chaotic experience of having blond hair. Lizzie's a natural blond who gets regular highlights every four months or so to correct the tone, and in the meantime, she relies on Clairol Shimmer Lights to keep her hair from getting brassy. Already, she is an expert in the field of drugstore haircare.

Now enter Hask's Blue Chamomile Conditioner with Argan Oil. While not technically a mask, the instructions ask politely that you leave it in for a few minutes, and I thought, why not extend it? I asked Lizzie to switch out her purple Shimmer Lights for the blue Hask, grasping for a low-cost alternative to Christophe Robin's cobalt Baby Blond Nutritive Mask. Fast forward to the six dollar question on all of our minds: Did it work?

Lizzie: "Yes! My hair smelled fab this morning. I think this does a good job of keeping my roots fresh, and it'd help make sure my roots don't grow out streaky." She remarked on smoother, more voluminous hair afterwards. No word on if a longer leave-in period makes for richer color à la Christophe Robin's version, so I will continue to harrass Lizzie daily.

Curly Hair

Glossier's new Executive Assistant is so knowledgeable about haircare that she has an Instagram solely devoted to it. (Follow @curlcilla now, by the way, if you haven't already.) She was intrigued by OGX's Coconut Curling Butter, but confused by the rest of the product name: "Leave In or Rinse Out." Why?

Turns out it doesn't matter, because it doesn't really work all that well. "I used this as a curl enhancer after deep conditioning—layering it on top of a lift leave-in and a light oil, like I usually do—but it did not enhance my curls the way I'm used to." Ever the optimist, she points out that if used differently it might work—perhaps as a hydrating rinse-out treatment—but it fails to define curly hair.

The most disappointing part (in my opinion) is that Priscilla liked the texture and "had high hopes, all of which were [crushed by Brennan's inability to pick out a decent mask for curly hair]." Yes, reader, I'm the worst. In lieu of one mask that works, ITG has a curly hair styling guide that'll set you straight.

Color-Treated Hair

Ah, Kelly. Remember when Kelly dyed her hair, did a hair mask at SoulCycle, and then wore a smoky eye? Such fond memories of Kelly we all share. She was an obvious target for Pantene's 3 Minute Miracle Hair Mask, a quick hydrating treatment in a sleek gold tube. Efficient and elegant, just like Kelly Mittendorf.

Kelly's hair didn't get brittle immediately after bleaching—it's been a slow burn and has only recently been bothering her. She typically uses Kiehl's Olive Oil Hair Pack but kindly agreed to try out the Pantene for the greater purposes of beauty journalism. While it left her hair feeling squeaky clean post-rinse, after towel-drying, she noticed her hair was "shinier, softer, etc." It's good on broken ends and makes her "healthy hair" feel extra special. Kelly-approved!

A small alert: Kelly wouldn't recommend this mask for somebody currently experiencing the agony of color damage—rather, she classes it as a truly excellent deep conditioner. "I think it's a solid option for those who want some oomph, without buying Oribe." There you go—a budget Oribe, also wrapped in gold packaging.

Coarse Hair

I gave my editor Emily Ferber a Carol's Daughter Black Vanilla Hair Smoothie to try. She is a professional writer, so I made her write her own (unpaid) review:

"No hair mask is going to change your life drastically. It's important to know that going into this, lest you be swindled in thinking that a higher price is going to afford you more life-change. As far as I can tell, a hair mask's most vital task in life is to remind you to treat your hair kindly—to give it some intense hydration in addition to the heat, the salt sprays, the chlorine, the sun. As expected, the Carol's Daughter didn't magically transform my hair—coarse, curly, dry, damaged—into something it's not—fine, silky, nourished, healthy. But it did encourage me to take the first half of Saturday morning for myself and my hair. I spritzed down my hair with rosewater, then applied a generous scoop of the 'Smoothie' to my lengths and ends. The texture of the product is surprising—like Cinnabon icing, both smooth and sticky. It clung to hair without dripping and didn't absorb right away like some higher-end masks I'm used to. I rinsed it out after an hour without shampooing, let airdry, then straightened and curled my hair without adding extra product. The residue left me enough grit to forgo a heat styler. That was definitely the highlight."

Fine Hair

This one doesn't even need a quote, because I saw it with my own two eyes when the fine-haired Amulya Uppala (Brand and Product Marketing Coordinator, Glossier) came to my desk to return the L'Oreal Total Repair Damange-Erasing Balm (with sweet almond oil and ceramides): She looked like a dream. Bodied and beachy. "I used it this morning!" she gushed. She also reported "big, touseled, unfrizzy curls" throughout both the workday and a windy happy hour. A review of few words, and yet one that speaks volumes. (!)

The texture of the product is aptly balm-like—more like a hair soufflé than a deep conditioner. I'd describe the smell as standard fake-smelling perfume, like the dimly lit bathroom of a mid-level Italian restaurant, or a fresh urinal cake. Not awful! It's my favorite of the lot—an endorsement based only on rubbing a dollop on my hand, repeatedly smelling it, and glancing over at Amulya's hair. I have not tried it and do not plan to. What am I, a beauty editor?

—Brennan Kilbane

Photo via ITG.