Before last summer, I had never even heard of a hair mask. But I also hadn't figured out my curly hair routine! During my apprenticeship at an herb school, my instructor kept talking about hair masks you could make with Devil's club berries or swordfern root and I was intrigued. She talked about scalp health, vinegar rinses, and hair growth and I started playing with making my own. By far my favorite was an oil hair mask I made from jojoba oil, infused with horsetail, nettle root and swordfern root. I loved it so much that I gave some to all my friends to try. Looking back, I would have used argan oil for its rich benefits, but I was making a whole crockpot full and jojoba oil is definitely cheaper. It does the trick too - I use that mask whenever my hair is dry or frizzy and it always gives my hair a deep condition and soothes my scalp.
Later in my curly hair journey, I found out about protein masks! It didn't sound like something I needed (how do you know if your hair protein is out of whack?!), but when I did a little reading, I started to understand. A protein mask is what you do when your curls (or waves) start to feel flat and lifeless. It will add shape and shine, and help to define your curls. If you have straight hair, a protein mask can help heal breakage and frizz from hair damage caused by not having enough proteins, giving your locks movement and volume again.
Now I do a hair mask once every two weeks, alternating between an oil mask and a protein mask to keep my hair healthy and balanced. The regular masking plus the orange marmalade curl styler I've been using has made my curls more defined than ever before. Just in time for my tiny wedding this summer 😉 I actually did a protein mask a few days before we got married, but I also styled my hair by swimming in the ocean the morning of my wedding. It's all about balance y'know?
So how do you know what type of mask your hair needs? If you hair feels dry and course instead of soft and supple, you need an oil mask. If your hair feels soft and well conditioned but doesn't have the volume and movement you want, even after your normal styling routine, do a protein mask. Also, if you notice a lot of breakage or shedding, a protein mask can help with that. Frizzy or dry hair = oil mask, flat or dull hair = protein mask. Once you get in a rhythm, you'll know how often you need to mask. For curly hair, you might alternate an oil and protein mask, one or the other every two weeks. For straight hair, you'll probably only want to mask once a month. A coconut oil mask will deep condition straight hair while building back proteins at the same time. For curls, I prefer to alternate between a homemade argan oil mask and our protein mask which has aloe, meadowfoam seed oil and wheat protein.
Here's my breakdown of how and when to do an oil or protein hair mask.
Oil mask for dry hair:
You can definitely make this one at home. All you really need is a good hair oil rich in vitamins and good for deep conditioning. Jojoba oil is lightweight, which is good for straight or wavy hair and it's generally cheaper. Argan oil is a deep condition and it's like liquid gold for curls. That's why you see it in so many drug store products, but it's pretty magical all by itself. And lastly, coconut oil which you can use as an oil mask that works to restore proteins at the same time. I suggest coconut oil for straight hair, because curls tend to need a rotation between deep conditioning and a protein treatment, not both at once. You can also use olive oil or sweet almond oil (which has a nice scent and encourages hair growth).
You can do an oil mask on wet or dry hair. It always seems like my hair absorbs conditioner better when it's wet, but technically water repels oil so some people say to do it when your hair is dry. Pour a quarter size amount of oil into your hand and massage it into your scalp. Then, take enough to work into each section of your hair, paying special attention to your ends. If you have medium length hair, you'll end up using about 1/3 C.
Leave the oil in for 1-2 hours. You can leave it in for longer, and you can even leave it in overnight for a deeper condition, but you'll want to avoid applying any oil to your roots if you leave it in overnight. The longer you leave it in, the more washes it will take to rinse it out. If you're like me and you no longer use shampoo, you will want to wash it out after just a couple hours. I like to keep my hair in a big messy bun while the oil does its magic, because your hair will appear wet the whole time the mask is in. After about two hours, I rinse it out with warm water and maybe a touch of a gentle oil based soap, pat dry and style, and sleep on it.
By the next morning, my hair will have soaked up most of the oil and be very soft. It's not usually as bouncy the first day, but it looks good enough that I can wear it down for the day. Sometimes when I wake up after an oil hair mask, my roots will still be a little oily or just heavy, so I'll add some dry shampoo to create volume and soak up any residual oil. Then the next day you'll really see the results as your hair comes back into balance. The dryness and frizzy pieces will have disappeared and your hair should be soft, hydrated and healthy.
If you're into herbs and foraging, you can add some swordfern root, nettle root and horsetail like I did, but I won't necessarily give you a recipe because you should get exposure to the basics of herbalism before attempting this yourself. Remember to only ever harvest what you need and start small. I will say if you infuse your oil in a crockpot, you want to let it cook on low for at least 24 hours with the lid off and then filter out the plant material with some cheesecloth. That's all I'll say. Go find Suzanne at Cedar Mountain Herb School if you want to experience herbalism and learn how to forage your own food and medicine. She's a goddess.
Protein mask to define curls or repair straight hair:
A protein mask is good for any hair type, to add volume and shine. It will repair your hair, stop breakage and add bounce back into your curls or waves. You want to do a protein mask when your hair just feels a little flat and lifeless or dull.
To do a protein hair mask, you'll want to get your hair wet first. You can shower and do your whole hair routine (shampoo if you use it, and conditioner), or you can just soak your hair. Then pat dry with a cotton t-shirt or a turkish towel (a bath towel can make your hair frizzy and destroy your curls).
Get a dollop of the protein mask and work it into your hair from your roots to the tips, scrunching it in and massaging it into your scalp so it all gets worked in nicely. I usually use about one half ounce (about a quarter of the jar if you order the smallest size). Leave the mask in for 3-5 minutes and rinse it out. Dry and style your hair as normal and voila! You should have lots more bounce and shine. If you have curly hair, your curls will be defined, shaped and conditioned. If you have straight or wavy hair, you'll have added volume and a healthy shine.
Our hair mask is packed with really good ingredients for hair health like aloe and meadofowam seed oil. Since I started doing the protein masks, my curls have never been happier. This one may seem easier to do since it's premade, but it's truly the secret to more defined curls. I swear by it. You can also make your own protein mask from egg whites and yogurt.
Bonus: Vinegar rinse for scalp health
I love a good vinegar rinse! I don't use this every shower because your hair soaks up a lot of scent (by the way if you want your natural perfume or essential oil scent to last all day, put it on your hair, not your skin), but I use a vinegar rinse when my scalp needs to come back to balance. Usually I'll notice my scalp getting itchy or flakey and I'll know I need to brush it out and do a vinegar rinse. The brushing naturally exfoliates your scalp and brings the oils from the roots to the tips. The vinegar rinse naturally balances the pH levels of your scalp, bringing them back down to normal and keeps dandruff at bay. I like to use apple cider vinegar, but any vinegar will do. You can also infuse your hair vinegar with herbs for extra benefits if you wish. For example, rosemary is really good for hair health, so you could leave a couple rosemary sprigs in your bottle for a few weeks if you wanted.
Since I don't shampoo my hair, I'll do a vinegar rinse right after I've wet my hair in the shower but before I condition. I basically just pour about 1/4C vinegar on my scalp and let it sit for about a minute before rinsing it out. Sometimes I'll put my conditioner right over it and let that sit for like few minutes while I shave or soap up. The vinegar really soothes my scalp and it helps me go longer between brushing it out and wash days. Vinegar adds volume and shine too, and it's good for all hair types.