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If you’ve ever searched online for information about dealing with female hair loss, there’s a good chance you’ve come across recommendations for hair masks.
Hair masks are topical treatments that are formulated to moisturize your scalp and supply useful nutrients to your hair follicles. They can be great for your skin and make your hair smell and feel fantastic. However, there’s very little evidence that they offer any benefits for treating hair loss.
Below, we’ve covered what hair masks are, as well as some of the benefits hair masks can offer for your scalp and hair.
We’ve also explained why hair loss happens in women, as well as why hair masks aren’t a very effective option for treating it.
Finally, we’ve shared several evidence-based options for treating hair loss that you may want to consider if you have thinning, shedding or other common hair issues.
The term “hair mask” refers to a diverse range of store-bought products and homemade masks that you can apply to your hair. Most masks are designed to treat dry hair, frizzy hair or hair that has chemical damage.
Hair masks work similarly to deep conditioners, but they have a few differences. The biggest is that while many conditions are usually applied to your hair for just a few minutes, it’s normal for hair masks to sit on your scalp for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or longer.
Most store-bought hair masks contain nourishing ingredients, such as honey, coconut oil, argan oil and biotin. Others can be made at home with everyday ingredients you might already have in your pantry, such as apple cider vinegar, olive oil, ripe banana and other common foods.
Just like a soothing face mask or lotion can help to moisturize and protect your skin, a hair mask can offer real benefits for your scalp and hair.
Like with other hair care products, the specific benefits of a hair mask depend significantly on its ingredients, as well as factors such as your hair type.
Many common ingredients in store-bought hair masks have been linked to improvements in hair texture and, in some cases, the repair of damaged hair.
For example, argan oil helps to protect hair against oxidative damage — a factor that may make it a good option for treating hair affected by protein loss and promoting smooth, strong and silky hair growth.
Coconut oil is also linked to improvements in hair with a lack of protein, an effect that may occur due to its large variety of fatty acids.
Hair masks that contain conditioning ingredients may also help to improve the look of damaged, weathered or color-treated hair. Some hair masks may improve your skin by treating problems such as dryness or an irritated, itchy scalp.
Since hair masks can vary in type and formula, it’s important to check the ingredients list of any hair mask before you make a purchase.
Make sure that you choose a mask that’s formulated to match your hair type, whether you have naturally oily hair, dry hair, bleached hair or hair that’s prone to breakage. It’s also best to check for ingredients that can damage your hair and skin, such as sulfates and artificial fragrances.
Do hair masks treat hair loss? Although many hair masks may help you to grow healthier hair, there isn’t any scientific evidence that the ingredients in over-the-counter or homemade hair masks treat hair loss.
Hair loss occurs for a variety of reasons. The most common form of hair loss in women, female pattern hair loss, is caused by the long-term effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
DHT, which your body produces as a byproduct of the hormone testosterone, can attach to your hair follicles and cause them to slowly shrink in size — a process called miniaturization.
This can affect your hair growth cycle and result in hairs that are physically thinner, smaller and less able to penetrate through your scalp. Over the long term, these follicles can stop producing new hairs, resulting in visible thinning at your part line and other areas of your scalp.
Other forms of hair loss can occur as a result of health issues. For example, telogen effluvium — a form of hair loss sometimes referred to as stress hair loss — can happen due to chronic stress, illnesses that cause fever, hormonal changes and nutritional deficiencies.
While hair masks do offer benefits for your hair shaft — the part of each hair that’s visible above your scalp — they don’t have any significant effects on your levels of dihydrotestosterone, stress or overall wellbeing.
There’s also no evidence that hair masks have any significant impact on blood flow to your scalp or the supply of nutrient-rich ingredients to your hair follicles.
Put simply, although hair masks can reduce the severity of hair damage and make your hair look and feel better, they aren’t yet linked to improvements in healthy hair growth or the prevention of hair loss.
As such, it’s best to view hair masks as part of your hair care routine, not as proven products for treating shedding or permanent hair loss.
You can find hair masks online, as well as in most drug stores, beauty stores and supermarkets that sell hair care and styling products.
Most hair masks are designed for wet hair. If you’re using a store-bought mask, try to follow the instructions that are provided with the hair mask and apply it to freshly cleaned, damp hair that’s been rinsed with warm water and lightly dried with a towel.
Although the precise process can vary from product to product, most hair masks can be applied to your hair from root to tip. If you have thick or long hair, dividing it into small sections can make the process of applying the hair mask easier.
Make sure to check the mask’s label for the recommended application time, then leave the hair mask on to soak into your hair and scalp. After you’ve finished, carefully rinse your hair out with cold water and either let it air dry or dry it carefully using a towel.
Although hair masks don’t appear to treat hair loss, there are proven treatment options available that you may want to consider if you’re starting to lose hair.
Currently, the most effective treatments for women’s hair loss are medications such as minoxidil, spironolactone and topical finasteride.
Minoxidil is a topical medication that works by accelerating your hair’s growth cycle. It also helps to dilate the blood vessels that supply your scalp, which may increase blood circulation and give your hair follicles more nutrients.
We offer minoxidil for women as a liquid solution that you can apply directly to the areas of your scalp with noticeable hair loss. It’s available over the counter, making it a great first option if you want to directly stimulate growth and keep your hair healthy.
Spironolactone is a prescription medication. It works by slowing the production of hormones that can contribute to hair loss, such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Research has found that spironolactone is often effective at treating pattern hair loss in women, particularly when it’s used with minoxidil. Thanks to its effect on hormone levels, it’s also highly effective at treating hormonal acne breakouts.
Finally, finasteride is a prescription medication that’s usually prescribed in oral form to treat hair loss in men. However, it’s now also available as a topical hair loss medication that’s suitable for improving hair health and treating pattern baldness in women (but is not FDA-approved for this purpose yet).
Finasteride works by stopping your body from converting testosterone into DHT. It’s available in our Hair Growth Spray for Women, which uses a combination of finasteride and minoxidil to target hair loss from multiple angles.
Hair masks can offer real benefits for your hair and skin, from giving your hair strands a smooth, soft texture to managing dryness, reducing irritation and promoting a healthy scalp.
However, there’s currently no scientific evidence to suggest that using a hair mask helps to promote growth. As such, it’s best to think of hair masks as one part of your overall hair care routine, not as options for protecting your follicles or dealing with excessive hair shedding.
If you’re prone to hair loss, hair breakage or thinning, you can stop your hair loss from becoming worse and stimulate regrowth using our range of women’s hair loss treatments, including topical minoxidil and oral spironolactone.
You can also learn more about your options for successfully dealing with hair thinning in our full guide to the best hair loss treatments for women.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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