Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/30/2022
For the people who love face masks, let us introduce you to the concept of a mask for your hair — conveniently referred to as a hair mask.
The hair mask isn’t a wholly new concept, but it has gained a lot of attention over the last few years, as more and more brands push natural, chemical and combination masks designed to put pep back into your hair, as well as help sort out issues like dry scalp and itchy scalp.
From olive oil to coconut cream, it’s even been claimed that a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or a tablespoon of honey might be part of a treatment to fix or prevent hair damage for any and all hair types.
Yes, you heard right. An apple cider vinegar mask.
Are these trendy approaches to hair health worth exploring, or are they better left online?
Well, it’s complicated. Hair masks clearly offer benefits, but quantifying those benefits is a difficult process — especially when the very definition of a hair mask isn’t so clear.
On wet hair, damp hair or dry hair, hair masks are basically conditioners on steroids.
They’re designed as a kind of submersion treatment for your hair to expose it to a variety of necessary nutrients and compounds that, on spec, can boost your hair’s health and relieve dryness.
Depending on who you ask, hair masks are a way to marinade your hair in a mixture of beneficial compounds.
The internet has little limit to the number of mask blend ingredients that may be beneficial to your hair as part of a mask — from coffee grounds to mashed bananas, as well as natural hair growth oils, eggs, vitamin-rich compounds and honey.
As to the important questions — how to make a hair mask, how to apply a hair mask, how long to leave a hair mask on or in, how frequently to do hair mask treatments — there’s no standardized approach.
It’s safe to say that a hair mask is whatever you want it to be — anything you have in your kitchen or medicine cabinet that isn’t known to be toxic.
But it’s obviously not as simple as putting just anything in your hair.
While there are plenty of people out there espousing the benefits of hair masks, the truth is that we found almost no independent studies or research showing the benefits of a hair mask for your hair’s growth.
There are no studies showing peer-reviewed results of a mask permeating hair roots, as well as no number of ounces of coconut cream that seem to scientifically increase the health condition or growth of your hair.
In fact, we only found one significant mention of hair masks as a product in scholarly research.
That mention came in a 2015 article from the International Journal of Trichology, which mentioned that hair could benefit after certain hair straightening treatments from a hair mask containing vegetable oils, hydrolyzed amino acids and silicones or mineral oil.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement. But things get a little more complicated when we explore home remedies.
While none of these things mentioned a mask in name, there were plenty of natural compounds that did have some scientific weight attached to their names.
Treatments containing oil from horsetail plants, olives, thyme, tea tree, garlic, peppermint, pumpkin seeds, coconuts, lavender, black castor oil and many others were mentioned by name.
However, the same review noted that researchers found limited evidence suggesting that any of these natural ingredients could promote hair growth or reverse hair loss.
The best “mask,” then, may not exist. Which is not to say that natural or industrial hair masks might not offer health benefits for your hair.
All we can confidently say is that there’s no convincing science to show that your hair is going to grow more if it’s pasted with eggs, or banana peels or whatever else the armchair dermatologists are suggesting.
Interestingly enough, we did find mention of a mayonnaise hair mask from the CDC, which note that a mayonnaise mask can help in the treatment or containment of head lice.
But even in this, the CDC concluded that there was insufficient information and research to determine if mayonnaise and other home oil-based products were capable of suffocating lice.
Regrowing hair is no easy task, but it is possible to regrow damaged hair with scientifically proven treatments and techniques.
Some of these healthy hair growth treatments are serious but straightforward, like transplants and grafts.
But before you take these surgical, last-chance approaches, talk to a healthcare professional about some of your other options.
They will likely suggest one of a number of agreed-upon remedies and treatments for thinning hair.
Some of these will include over-the-counter remedies like vitamins A and D.
Our Biotin Gummy Multivitamins are a great option if you want to go this route.
Finasteride is one of the most recognized medications in the hair growth space — it’s a safe and effective medication for hair loss that targets the hormone DHT and prevents it from sabotaging your follicles.
Likewise, minoxidil is a topical medication that has been shown to boost growth and thickness by 18.6 percent in some studies. It's believed to work by stimulating blood flow to the scalp, allowing important nutrients to make their way into the affected follicles. Blood circulation is key.
There are additional diet, lifestyle and other changes that a healthcare professional may suggest making in the interest of getting better results in the hair growth journey.
And, depending on your own lifestyle and habits, these may be effective in helping you combat hair issues — a healthcare professional can tell you more.
To put it bluntly, we don’t have a lot of faith in hair masks to fix broken, weak or dry dull hair.
There’s not enough research (yet, anyway) to suggest that a single natural or other ingredient that can be turned into a mask-type treatment at home does anything beneficial to your hair’s growth.
That’s not to say that any of these things aren’t capable of making your hair feel more silky, smooth or healthy. But there’s a difference between texture and health, health and growth and feelings and science.
So, before you go cracking out the condiments in your refrigerator, do something research has always supported and contact a healthcare professional.
Hair loss is a serious problem, and it may be a sign of more serious health conditions. Even if it’s not, it’s a problem that gets worse as you ignore it.
Talking to a healthcare professional gives you options.
Those hair treatment options may include medications or dietary changes that could help you preserve or regain your hair, or even simply boost the already-there hair you have.
A healthcare professional is your direct line to protection against hair thinning, but also against the diseases that thinning hair may be caused by.