There are so many kinds of hair masks out there (hydrators, color-enhancers, frizz-fighters, to name a few), but there is one mask to rule them all: the protein hair mask. The best protein hair masks, like the ones listed ahead, are spiked with powerful proteins like collagen, keratin, biotin, and plant-derived amino acids, which work to rebuild damaged hair at a cellular level. These targeted treatments also contain the nourishing, moisturizing, and protective ingredients that you’d find in those less hardcore masks, as well, so they’re truly multifunctional.
Pretty much anyone with hair can benefit from the occasional at-home protein mask, but these heavy-duty treatments are practically a requirement if your hair is categorically damaged. If you have split ends, chemically process your hair, bleach it, dye it, use lots of hot styling tools, wear tight buns or ponytails every day, or often expose it to chlorine, the sun, or hard water, then your hair probably falls into the “damaged” camp. Stick to a once-a-week regimen with your fortifying mask of choice, since overusing proteins can actually weaken your hair over time.
Restore your hair to its strongest, smoothest self with the seven best hair masks listed ahead.
1. The Overall Best Mask
You’ll see this Briogeo conditioning mask on lots of best-of lists like these, and after trying it for myself, I can confirm that the hype is well-deserved. The relatively lightweight consistency belies the formula’s super-charged strength: Algae extract, biotin, wheat, soy, and corn proteins all make appearances here for their strengthening benefits, while rosehip, sweet almond, and avocado oils work to soften and rehydrate dry, brittle hair. After leaving it on for about seven minutes in the shower (too impatient to make it to a full 10), my hair immediately felt smoother, stronger, and looked post-blowout-level shiny when it dried.
2. Best Drugstore Mask
If you’re after a more affordable protein mask, consider this one from L’Oreal — it’s one of the best masks out there for very damaged hair, regardless of price point. This dense mask contains a blend of almond, ceramides, and proteins to seal split ends, enhance shine, and soften, strengthen, and rehydrate hair that’s been compromised by heat styling, chemical processing, or bleach/dye. Even though it's so rich, a couple of Amazon reviewers reported that it doesn’t weigh down fine hair.
3. The Cult Favorite
Elizavecca is beloved for making some of the most intriguing but fiercely effective products in the K-beauty world, e.g. a carbonated clay mask and a serum inspired by demonic witchcraft. The brand’s hair mask is equally beloved. This contains collagen (one of Elizavecca’s signature ingredients; hence the pig logo) to help rebuild damaged hair, improve its elasticity, and provide some thickening effects. At the same time, ceramides coat the hair shaft in a protective layer, which helps seal in moisture and promotes sleeker, shinier hair. Note that the collagen in here is animal-derived, so it’s not vegan.
4. Best Long-Lasting Mask
If you’re a “one and done” kind of person, this Redken Extreme Mega Mask is for you. The strengthening benefits reaped from just one session with this mask (which stays on for a very doable three to five minutes) promise to last for up to three washes. And those effects are, in fact, extreme: Amazon reviewers claim it makes “a huge difference” at repairing and softening bleached hair, while it also smooths unwanted frizz, defines and volumizes curls, and heals split ends. Try the brand's leave-in protein treatment for even more long-lasting nourishment.
5. Best Keratin Mask
Hair is made of keratin, so it makes sense to infuse your hair with the same stuff when it needs to be rebuilt. The keratin protein blend in this Virtue hair mask is nearly identical to the kind that naturally exists in your hair, which means your hair has an easier time incorporating these recognizable proteins back into its cellular structure. Bottom line? This works well, and fast — you only need to leave this mask on for three minutes to see results.
6. The Pro Favorite
I will never not talk about how good Olaplex is, and judging from the 15,500 Amazon reviews on their Hair Perfector mask, I’m not alone in my enthusiasm. All Olaplex products are infused with a patented blend of proteins that rebuild broken bonds and keep hair protected from future damage, so you can’t go wrong with any of their six products. But this Hair Perfector is clearly the bestseller. The concentration of proteins in this mask is a similar level to what you'd find in a salon treatment, but it’s not so wildly intense that you can’t use it weekly. This stuff is pretty thick, so concentrate the product on your ends if your hair runs on the finer side.
7. Smartest Packaging
This Biolage mask is the latest installment in the brand’s range of treatment packs, and it’s the first that’s formulated specifically for damaged hair. In here, wheat proteins and plant-derived amino acids like arginine and serine work to repair and strengthen fragile hair, while bamboo extract, also rich in amino acids, helps restore moisture to dehydrated hair. I’m partial to the recycled, squeeze-pack packaging, which neatly doles out the perfect amount of product. It’s also easy to stash in your bag if you want to take this masking show on the road.