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How to Use a Hair Mask the Right Way for the Best Results

Your step-by-step guide to healthier strands.
June 30, 2023

If you’re dealing with severely damaged, dry or dehydrated hair, your regular conditioner might not be enough to give your strands the moisture and nourishment it needs. That’s when it’s time to update your hair care regimen for a more hydrating routine featuring a weekly repairing hair mask treatment.


As with any hair care product, there is a specific way to use a hair mask and we want to explore these details so your hair can enjoy the full benefits. While you may be familiar with hair masks 一 perhaps you even have one in your hair care routine 一 there’s still a chance you’re not completely versed on how to use a hair mask properly. We’re answering common hair mask questions, providing hair-loving product recommendations plus sharing a step-by-step tutorial on how to apply a hair mask — the right way.

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What Is a Hair Mask

Just as face masks work to nourish and hydrate your skin, hair masks can do the same for your strands. Hair masks (sometimes called deep conditioners) are highly moisturizing hair treatments that are traditionally used in a hair regimen after shampooing, and before conditioning. You might wonder how a hair mask is different from a conditioner, and this has everything to do with consistency and the potency of the product. 

While hair conditioners will also hydrate hair, hair masks usually contain higher concentrations of potent ingredients and are left on the hair longer for a deeper treatment. Additionally, hair masks are usually thicker in texture than conditioners which are lightweight to be easily washed out. Hair masks, like other hair care products, come in a variety of formulas for different hair needs. You can choose from deep purple-tinged formulas to address brassy hair, clay formulas to control oil or creamy masks for ultimate hydration, just to name a few.

Should You Use a Hair Mask?

Hair masks have a lot of benefits for all hair types and should absolutely be part of your hair care routine. Depending on your damage level, you may want to use a hair mask once a week or even daily. Use the right hair mask for your hair type in the same way you'd use specific skin care for your skin type. The results will be moisturized hair that feels and looks softer while the mask penetrates deep to repair hair from within. 

How to Correctly Apply a Hair Mask 

A general hair care rule is that you should always follow the specific instructions on the designated product that you’re using. However, there is a thorough application method that will give you the best results. Below, find the answers to more specific questions that you may have on applying hair masks properly.

Should You Apply A Hair Mask On Wet Or Dry Hair? 

The simple answer is that you would normally apply hair masks to damp or wet hair. Wet hair is porous, meaning that it’s in the best state to absorb the nutrients of the mask, making it the preferred base for hair mask application. Avoid having your hair soaking wet, as the excess water might rinse out the product prematurely and drip down your neck. 


However, if you’re using an oil-based mask, like a coconut oil formula, you can apply it to dry hair. Water and oil repel, so an oil-based mask likely won’t penetrate the hair shaft to its full ability if your strands are wet. Ultimately, it’s best to follow the directions on the mask you choose.

Should You Use a Hair Mask Before Or After Shampooing? 

Hair masks should be applied on freshly clean hair so the mask can penetrate the strands and scalp. Note: Always check the instructions of your individual product to confirm when it should be used and if it can be applied on the scalp or not. Most best-selling hair masks will be included in a hair treatment line with a matching shampoo and conditioner that is best to use for a complete regimen. If not, try a sulfate-free shampoo that works on all hair types like the L’Oréal Paris Sulfate Free Simply Clean Shampoo with Essential Oil, which cleanses hair thoroughly without stripping it and therefore causing more damage. 

Getting down to the technical steps of a hair mask application, we’re detailing below a step-by-step guide on how to use a hair mask to give your stands the love and attention they need.

Step 1. Assess Your Hair’s Needs First 

The whole point of using a hair mask is to address a hair concern you’re dealing with, so make sure you choose your mask based on those needs.

Hair Mask for Dry, Damaged Hair

If your strands are dry, full of split ends or hair breakage, choose a hydrating and repairing mask like the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Damage Erasing Balm Rinse-Out Mask. It’s formulated with almond oil and a repairing protein concentrate to nourish and revitalize hair that is weak, fried, brittle, tangled, or full of split ends.

Hair Mask for Color-Treated Hair

For color-treated hair that needs hydration without dulling the new color you just spent hours on, try a dedicated hair mask that nourishes while protecting your color. We love the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Signature Masque, Color Care Hair Mask that restores that lost hydration with the added vegan protein and rose extract that enhances shine and smooths hair while keeping your color revitalized. Another option is the essential oil-infused L’Oréal Paris Sulfate Free Simply Clean Elastic Fiber Masque, which envelops hair in moisture with the innovative cream-to-fiber formula. 

Hair Mask for Blonde/Silver Hair

If you’re noticing brassy tones in your blonde or silver hair, you’ll want to use a concentrated anti-brass treatment like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Anti Brass Purple Mask Treatment. This brass-fighting mask does double duty on bleached hair, neutralizing the yellow tones that hair lightening can leave behind, while also nourishing strands. 

Step 2. Give Your Hair a Deep Clean 

Before washing your hair, consult the directions on the hair mask to ensure you’re meant to shampoo prior to applying the mask. If you’re using any of the masks we mentioned above, start by thoroughly shampooing your hair with a hair wash that works best for your hair type and hair concerns. A common hair mask mistake is applying a mask on dirty or oily strands. To avoid this, make sure to wash your hair first.  

Step 3. Saturate Your Strands 

To be sure that you get the best results from your hair mask, evenly coat your hair with a generous amount of product from mid-lengths to the end, avoiding the root unless your hair mask of choice says otherwise. For those with thick hair or curly hair, consider sectioning your strands into four parts to guarantee every part of your hair is saturated. Remember, do not apply a hair mask on soaking wet hair as too much water will dilute the mask. Ring out your hair first, and then apply it.

Step 4. Let the Hair Mask Sit for the Allotted Time

Unlike conditioner, which only needs to be left in for a couple of minutes, some hair masks require that you let them sit in your hair for five to twenty minutes (perhaps even longer). As always, be sure to follow the instructions on the mask. For most of the masks that we included above, you only need to leave them on for five to eight minutes max to get all the benefits. 


Washing out a hair mask before the allotted time means your hair won’t enjoy the nourishing benefits to its full potential. You also don’t want to leave a hair mask on for too long as it can leave hair feeling greasy or limp. Some hair types, like curly and coily hair as well as chemically-treated hair that is prone to dryness, could benefit from leaving a hair mask on overnight. Check your hair mask directions and ingredients as moisturizing and hydrating treatments can work well overnight while hair masks with protein can leave hair feeling flat if left in too long.

Step 5. Rinse With Lukewarm Water

Unless your packaging states otherwise, you’ll want to rinse out the hair mask with lukewarm water after the allotted amount of time, just as you would with conditioner. Make sure the product is thoroughly rinsed to keep product buildup near the scalp at bay and to keep the lengths from looking greasy. Once out of the shower, wrap up your hair in a microfiber towel or blow-dry with a heat protectant and you’re good to go. You can use a hair mask once a week (if the product sits on the hair for 20 minutes or longer) or daily depending on the product.

Next: 11 Ways to Fix Damaged Hair

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn; Art Director: Hannah Packer; Creative Producer: Becca Solovay; Digital Tech: Erik Dalzen; Photo Assistant: Sam Kang

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