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Style: These 16 hair masks will repair your post-festive season strands

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There has never been a better time to use a hair mask – and that’s not hyperbole, it’s the truth. Winter, as you know, wreaks havoc on your strands and that's before even considering the endless curling, straightening and blow-drying during party season.

A hair mask is the easiest way to give your strands some TLC. We spoke to hair experts about the benefits, plus how to find the best hair mask for you. © Tempura - Getty Images A hair mask is the easiest way to give your strands some TLC. We spoke to hair experts about the benefits, plus how to find the best hair mask for you.

As such, it's safe to assume that your hair might not be looking its best. And even if you have managed to reclaim your former crowning glory, well, it's a good idea to keep it looking as fresh and sleek as possible, right?

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This is where the very best hair masks come into their own. While they may seem superfluous after shampoo and conditioner, used correctly, these beauty buys can boost shine, help your colour to last longer and hit parched, post-party locks with a healthy dose of hydration.

Want to get right to the edit of best hair masks? Keep scrolling

To get the lowdown on what hair masks do, how to find the right hair mask for your hair type and how you can make one in your kitchen (if you’re really set on the idea of DIY hair solutions) we called on two hair experts Anabel Kingsley, Trichologist at Philip Kingsley, and renowned hairdresser, Michael Van Clarke (vanclarke.com), to reveal all.

What are the benefits of a hair mask?

'The purpose of hair masks is to strengthen, condition, hydrate and moisturise strands,' explains Kingsley. 'Usually, they will contain a mixture of oils (conditioning and shine-enhancing), water (hydrating) and perhaps proteins (strengthening and to add elasticity, depending on the one used).'

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Interestingly, hair masks are not the same as scalp masks. 'Because hair masks are not designed for your scalp they won't target scalp issues, like oiliness, itching, hair thinning or irritation,' notes Kingsley.

As an aside to hair masks and on the subject of treating your scalp, Kingsley says 'scalp masks should be much more bespoke than hair masks as they cater to the condition of your skin, which is a living tissue. They can be soothing, exfoliating, moisturising, stimulating or anti-microbial – or a combination. Don’t go for a scalp mask that seems to do everything – targeted is best as it means the active ingredients are found at a greater concentration within the formula.'

Do hair masks really work?

Not all masks are born equal. 'Provided they are well formulated, then yes hair masks do work,' says Kingsley. 'It’s best to steer clear of products that list silicones in their top three ingredients, as these are more likely to mask problems rather than to actively fix them. Similarly, hair masks should have a creamy consistency (i.e. have a higher concentration of water than oils) – or else they will not properly penetrate.'

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When it comes to silicones, Van Clarke suggests avoiding them altogether. 'Look at the ingredient list for cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, trimethicone, amodimethicone, essentially anything ending in …cone or….conol. These will make the hair look pretty today and dry it out further for next week so you’re reaching for that quick fix again.'

Essentially hair masks are designed to hydrate the strands. 'Hair masks will all cater to dry and damaged hair – as the point of a hair mask is to strengthen and hydrate,' says Kingsley. 'Many masks will be suitable for all hair textures. However, if you have very coarse, coiled hair, look for a mask with a thicker consistency and higher percentage of oils. If your hair is oily, then this is a scalp condition, so to target this you would need a scalp mask, toner or serum. Or, in many cases, you simply need to shampoo more! Similarly, ‘hair thinning’ must be addressed by targeting the scalp.'

'All hair is 97% protein and 3% water,' says van Clarke. 'Most of the ingredients, like silicones and argan oils are designed to smooth the surface of hair and make it appear better. They give zero long-term health benefits and some actually dry the hair out faster making it age quicker. That means thinner, brittle, broken and split hair,' he notes.

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He says you should look to hair-identical proteins and amino acids, 'these are absorbed deeper into the hair where they fill the cracks and voids and allow the hair to hold more moisture. In turn, this which protects the strands from ageing so quickly.' Van Clarke's Lifesaver, which is packed with these hair-identical proteins, goes onto dry hair before shampoo to strengthen the strands within.

What is the best hair mask?

Check out this edit of the 16 best hair masks, there's one for every hair type.

How long do you leave a hair mask in for?

With any beauty product, it's always best to follow the instructions. 'Leaving them on for longer doesn’t necessarily add anything,' says Van Clarke.

What is the best hair mask for dry hair?

When it comes to dry hair, you want to look to a mask packed with oils and butters to intensely nourish and hydrate the strands. 'Avoid silicones and look to ingredients that encourage the hair to hold onto moisture. Wheat protein, rice protein, glycerin for instance but you can’t beat protein for the match,' says Van Clarke.

What is the best hair mask for afro hair?

'Heavier oils can help hold the cuticle down,' says Van Clarke. This will result in a smoother, less frizzy curl and will also help to prevent unwanted tangles. 'Shea butter is good, for instance.'

What is the best hair mask for fine hair?

'Look to a mask with hair proteins, my LifeSaver is effective on fine hair,' says Van Clarke. 'Avoid silicones, full stop, these build up and deaden the fragile hair leading to more fragility and breakage.'

What is the best hair treatment for damaged hair?

When it comes to damaged hair you should look for hair masks that repair the bonds and ply the hair with much-needed strengthening ingredients like proteins, keratin and elastin. 'Our Elasticizer pre-shampoo conditioning treatment contains a mixture of water, olive and castor oil, as well as hydrolysed elastin to add bounce, shine, elasticity and strength without adding any weight. It is a multi-award winning and was originally made for Audrey Hepburn.'

Other masks we rate for severely damaged strands are Virtue's Restorative Hair Mask and Olaplex No.3.

How to pick a hair mask for colour-treated hair

'Using a shampoo, conditioner and mask with UV protectors will help protect your colour.'

It's also well worth looking at hair masks with colour-correcting pigments. Blue pigments cancel out brassiness in brunettes, purple pigments knock out the unwanted yellow tones in blondes and greys, whilst green will tackle redness in darker brunettes.

How to make your own hair mask

If you don’t have a hair mask handy at home, try Kingley's DIY mask for dry hair.

Whisk together:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 half eggshells of olive oil or other light vegetable oil
  • Half ripe avocado
  • 2oz purified water

Work the mixture into your hair with your fingertips, leave for 20minutes and then wash off.

You can experiment with different hair-boosting ingredients, "eggs, avocados, beer and coconut oil all have proteins that the hair may absorb at surface level and oils that can help hold down the rough cuticles so the hair can appear better, and you can enjoy some homemade TLC," says Van Clarke.

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