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What Differentiates a Hair Mask From a Deep Conditioner? The Experts Explain

We often find ourselves riddled with questions about a number of the hair products we use, though we’re often too afraid to ask the questions out loud. For example, it’s been eating us up not knowing the difference between a hair mask and a deep conditioner. What differentiates the two? Is a hair mask or deep conditioner better for certain hair types? We need answers. So we set our pride aside and reached out to a couple of hair care experts: Molly Leahy, a hairstylist and makeup artist who works in product development, and Reagan Link, a traveling celebrity hairstylist. Below, they share what sets apart a hair mask from a deep conditioner, who should use which type of product, and even recommend some of the best hair masks and deep conditioners out there. Keep scrolling to get the 411!

Hair mask vs deep conditioner | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Getty / Iryna Veklich)

About the Experts

Molly Leahy is a hairstylist and makeup artist who works in product development.

Reagan Link is a traveling celebrity hairstylist.

What Is a Hair Mask?

Leahy describes a hair mask as a treatment, “usually used once a week, that can deliver a multitude of different benefits. She says this can include “strength, hydration, shine, and more, depending on the formula.” Leahy notes that people who tend to use hair masks not only want softer, shinier hair but are also looking to add strength and maintain the integrity of the hair.

Link echoes that point, noting that “a hair mask is a treatment that is intended to enhance and revive the hair.” However, she stresses that this is not a product you should overuse. “The overuse of hair treatments can add too much protein to the hair, which can have a reverse effect and actually cause more damage.”

What Is Deep Conditioner?

Leahy shares that a deep conditioner is just a hair mask by another name. “If you are rinsing out a deep conditioner, that is a hair mask,” she shares. “If you are leaving it in, that is a leave-in conditioner. Both should be kept on the hair for a minimum of five minutes to get maximum benefits.”

However, she does point out that “people who are looking for a deep conditioner are more focused on needing conditioning benefits (softness, hydration, shine)” as opposed to wanting to strengthen their hair. This could be because the hair is already strong or you want a quick fix.

Link takes the distinction a bit further by noting, “a deep conditioner is a product that is meant to be used in place of a conditioner when you are struggling with damaged or dry hair.” If your hair isn’t dry, she recommends sticking to a regular conditioner.

Hair Mask vs Deep Conditioner Differences

While Leahy notes that deep conditioner and hair mask can be used interchangeably, there are still some differences between the two. And, some hair types will prefer a hair mask vs a deep conditioner and vice versa. Let’s break it down a little further, shall we?

1. Deep conditioners are all about conditioning.

We alluded to this earlier, but a deep conditioner is mainly used for conditioning. This means it will add softness, hydration, or shine to the hair. A hair mask, on the other hand, tends to have the added benefit of strengthening the hair. Link also shares that a deep conditioner can replace your actual conditioner, whereas a hair mask can’t.

2. Anything that is rinsed out is a hair mask.

Again, Leahy mentioned this previously, but any mask or deep conditioner that gets rinsed out after a certain amount of time is considered to be a hair mask. Anything that is left in is more of a leave-in treatment.

3. A deep conditioner can be used more frequently.

A hair mask is a treatment you’ll want to use every so often, but a deep conditioner can be used fairly regularly. Link does point out that the more you use a deep conditioner, the oilier your hair can look, so try not to overuse it.

4. It all depends on your hair type.

Ultimately, determining which product is best for you comes down to your hair type. Leahy shares that those who “use hot tools occasionally, wear their hair up in the same style (bun, ponytail, etc.) that can cause some breakage, or experience sun exposure frequently can benefit from a mild mask.” You should look for a hair mask that’s “main focus is getting rid of dullness, offers gentle reparative benefits, and is a lightweight formula that won’t weigh the hair down.”

She notes that those “who suffer from chemical damage might need a mask that focuses on more reparative benefits that have a deeper condition because chemically-damaged hair can be more fragile and dry.”

For those with curly or coily hair types, a deep conditioner tends to be best. “People with coarse or coily hair whose hair soaks up any product they use will need a more intensive moisture mask that is mainly focused on delivering deep moisture and hydration to the hair,” Leahy says.

Best Hair Masks and Deep Conditioners for Each Hair Type

Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Weightless Mask

$38 at Sephora.com

This weightless hair mask leaves hair shiny, soft, and manageable after five minutes—yes, really. Leahy recommends this one for those who struggle with everyday hair stressors, like heat damage, sun damage, and the like.

Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Weightless Mask | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Sephora.com)

Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Moist Deep Conditioner

$16.95 at Amazon.com

This deep conditioner offers intense moisture for dry, damaged hair. All it takes is three minutes for your hair to go from thirsty to quenched thanks to the moisturizing properties of avocado and Australian jojoba oil.

Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Moist Deep Conditioner | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Amazon.com)

Living Proof Restore Repair Hair Mask

$38 at Sephora.com

Struggle with the impacts of chemical damage? Leave it to the Living Proof Restore Repair Hair Mask to reduce breakage by up to 70% after just one use. Not only that, but it will protect your hair from future damage and creates visibly healthy hair over time.

Living Proof Restore Repair Hair Mask | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Sephora.com)

Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Hair Mask

$39 at Ulta.com

Leahy is a big fan of this beloved Briogeo mask, especially for coarser, curlier hair types. The combination of nourishing rosehip oil, algae extracts, and B vitamins works hard to provide your hair with the strengthening ingredients it’s missing and give your texture an overall boost.

Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Ulta.com)

Living Proof No Frizz Intense Moisture Hair Mask

$38 at Sephora.com

One more Living Proof recommendation because we just couldn’t resist. Whether you have straight, wavy, curly, or coily hair, you know how much of a pain managing frizz is. Thankfully, this hair mask exists to keep it under control with a little help from a patented healthy hair molecule, surface active conditioning agent, and shea butter.

Living Proof No Frizz Intense Moisture Hair Mask | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Sephora.com)

Amika Soulfood Nourishing Hair Mask

$30 at Sephora.com

Link shares that this is her favorite deep conditioner out there. “I love it because it doesn’t build up on the hair,” she notes. “Sometimes too much deep conditioner can make your hair look a little dull but I have clients who use it in place of their conditioner and the hair is always left looking shiny and healthy.”

Amika Soulfood Nourishing Hair Mask | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Sephora.com)

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