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The Girlfriend's Guide To Hair Masks

They’re not just for dry or damaged skin.

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AARP, The Girlfriend, hair masks, beauty treatment
Kat Bourchart/The Licensing Project
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Whether your hair is sun damaged, fried by blowouts, or just feeling a little parched, a hair mask can be a soothing, smoothing balm. Doug Macintosh, senior colorist at Louise O’Connor Salon in New York City, also recommends monthly masks for his clients who have more than a few gray strands.

“Gray hair is coarser and more dry, and it can become unruly and hard to style,” he says. And if you’re covering it up with color, “even the most gentle dyes will weaken the hair, and you want to smooth that out.”

When choosing a mask, Macintosh recommends asking your stylist for suggestions — but he also offered up a few tips and recommendations. No. 1: Look for one that’s moisturizing, not waxy.

“If you see paraffin listed in the ingredients, that’s just going to leave a waxy buildup on your hair rather than penetrating it. It might feel great at first, but it’ll wash out after one shampoo.” Instead, he suggests scanning the label for natural oils, like lemon balm oil or grape-seed oil.

He also says to beware of masks that contain pure keratin protein and nothing else. “Keratin can repair the hair, but if you use it too much without any moisturizing ingredients, it will have the opposite effect, making the hair brittle,” he says. Some keratin treatments also can leave your hair flat. “Bottom line, if you want to use keratin, talk to your stylist about the best option.”

He also stresses that you should always read the directions carefully. “Not every product works the same,” he says. “I’ve had clients come in complaining about a mask that left their hair oily and limp, but they were supposed to apply it before shampooing instead of after.”

Some of Macintosh’s favorite at-home treatments:

L’Oreal Vitamino Color Masque, $9 for 5 ounces,
“This one is great for color-treated hair because it helps preserve the integrity of the dye molecule, making your color last longer.”

Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3, $28 for 3.3 ounces,
“This product contains a new technology that is supposed to strengthen the disulfide bonds that give your hair its shape. Try it to revitalize your hair after too many chemical treatments or blowouts.”

Kiehl’s Magic Elixir Hair Restructuring Concentrate, $20 for 4.2 ounces,
“This contains a combination of super-moisturizing natural oils — think of it as today’s version of an old-school hot oil treatment. Your hair will feel substantially softer afterwards.”

Want something even cheaper and more DIY? Macintosh says his secret kitchen hair treatment is … a jar of mayonnaise. “You’ve got vinegar for smoothing, egg for protein, and oil for moisture. Slather it over your hair, pop on a shower cap, and watch an episode of your favorite TV show — then shampoo,” he says. “I can remember my mom doing this in the 1960s, and it really works. Just remember, it has to be real mayo, not Miracle Whip.”