Hair masks: Worth it for hydration, repair? Experts share advice. – USA TODAY

The hair care aisle is popping up with new takes on a familiar product: hair masks.
But are they hair care gold, or just a gimmick? 
Experts say hair masks can be a useful tool for a range of textures, but it’s important to know what kind you need and best practices before adding them to your routine.
While different types of hair masks exist in the market today, they’re typically applied in the shower after shampooing and left on for a number of minutes to soak in before rinsing out.
Dr. Michelle Henry, dermatologist and founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery Of Manhattan, says hair masks can be a good option depending on your hair type and how it’s processed.
“I wouldn’t say they’re absolutely necessary to have healthy hair, but if you are struggling with a particular hair concern, they can be useful,” she says.
While masks may give your hair a boost of needed hydration, if you’re using them too frequently or leaving them in longer than recommended, it can make matters worse, explains Shab Reslan, HairClub hair health expert and a trichologist, someone who specializes in treating hair and scalp issues.
“With hair masks, it really comes down to how they’re being used,” she says. “It’s a product that is not supposed to be used daily for good reason. They are made with a lot heavier ingredients like protein, to (help) repair the hair – if you were using that on a daily basis, you’re going to have protein overload and your hair will start acting weird.”
People with different types of hair, from stick straight to tightly coiled curls, may turn to hair masks for a number of concerns, typically dryness and damage.
Henry explains hair masks are usually a temporary fix, but when used consistently, they can be good for maintenance. 
“It’s not going to change the hair structure in any long term or meaningful way, but it can be a part of your maintenance,” she says.
If you have dry hair, the added moisture from a hydrating hair mask can be useful, she explains. And for chemically treated hair that feels weak or easily breaks, protein-containing masks can help.
“These protein containing masks don’t permanently integrate and replace the bonds in your hair that have been damaged by different chemical processes, however, they can temporarily fortify the strands, making them less likely to breakage,” Henry says. 
Reslan’s general rule is to base frequency on how often you wash your hair. If it’s once a day, use a mask once a week. If you wash every other day, use a mask every other week. And for less frequent washers, use a mask even less.
During mask days, skip conditioner, Reslan advises. Use a clarifying shampoo (which is a bit stronger than your daily-use shampoo) to get rid of any buildup and condition with the mask instead.
After shampoo, squeeze out any excess water so your hair can better soak up the mask ingredients. To make sure it stays in place during the allotted time, Reslan suggests putting it in a clip while you wash your body. Then, rinse well.
“Something that consumers love to do is leave a little bit of that slippery feeling in there, (thinking) their hair will just be softer later – that is a problem, because those ingredients will dry and build up on your hair and then you’re going to again have scalp issues, which can lead to hair loss, dull hair – all sorts of problems can happen,” Reslan says.
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When choosing a mask, it’s important to know what your hair needs, experts say.
“Curly, kinky hair, which is going to be naturally a little bit drier, can really benefit from a lot of these treatments,” Henry explains. “Thinner hair types are probably less likely to need heavier moisturizers or leaving conditioners and may want to avoid them because they don’t want to weigh down and thin strands.”
Lightweight oils such as jojoba and argon oil are good ingredients to look for as they “more closely replicate our natural oils and waxes,” Henry explains, adding keratins are useful for those trying to build up strength in the hair.
Things to avoid? Henry suggests staying away from silicone-heavy products.
“Silicone sits on top of the hair and doesn’t let other hydrating ingredients penetrate,” she explains. “Not every silicone product is awful, but if you are using silicone products, make sure you’re washing the hair effectively (and) getting rid of any residual debris so that your additional products can work.”
If you want to skip the hair mask, that’s OK, too. Henry says you can get similar results from a good deep conditioner.
“A deep conditioner with a shower cap can function as a mask,” she says.
Avoiding hair-concern culprits, such as heat, can also prevent damage before a mask is even needed.
“Thermal tools are the number one damaging thing for everyone’s hair,” Reslan says.
Related: 6 hair masks reviewers swear by for healthy hair
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