You wash, exfoliate, and mask your face, but do you do the same for your scalp? Probably not. “Just like the face, the scalp requires gentle exfoliation to remove dead skin cells and unblock hair follicles,” says Kim Davies, head of product education at Hungarian brand Omorovicza.
Utilizing hair masks can have dramatic benefits and results—especially in winter. “Just like the skin on your body and face, your scalp will also suffer during the winter months—the combination of harsh weather conditions, central heating, using warmer water when washing your hair, and even heat styling can all lead to dryness, itchiness, and flakiness of the scalp,” says Davies. You’re also more likely to use extra styling products and dry shampoo during the winter months, and those tend to sit on the scalp, meaning you get more product buildup than usual.
That’s where a hair mask steps in. The right type of mask can “prevent breakage, repair strands, replenish hydration, and add shine back into the hair,” says Becca Means, a pro educator at Amika. We say “the right type of mask” because we’re talking about scalp masks specifically. These are specially developed and designed to be massaged into the scalp to target a number of scalp-related issues. “A scalp mask has been thought to treat scalp issues like dandruff, sebum, itchiness, tightness, psoriasis, hair loss—things that a traditional mask does not target,” says Mathilde Sitter, R&D project leader at custom hair brand Prose (we’re a big fan).
In addition to that, masks can moisturize your scalp with the right amount of hydration, using beneficial and targeted ingredients. “Some people can be afraid to apply a mask to their scalp because of build-up or greasiness, but a scalp mask won’t do that, even if you’re using it to add moisture to scalp skin,” says Sitter. “They’re made to hydrate without creating oiliness or greasy roots.” Prose even makes a custom-built, gel-like, pre-shampoo mask that is created based upon your moisture levels and scalp issues, targeting the right level of hydration for your needs specifically.
Are masks the same as using a conditioner? Well, no. “Masks and conditioners are not created equal,” says Amanda Elaine Killen, a pro educator at Amika. “While conditioners are a great option to rinse through hair and replenish moisture during your everyday hair care routine, the thick and luxurious formulation of [masks] will stay in place without slippage and allow for deeper penetration of nutrients that deeply treat the hair and scalp you apply it to.”
Best practice is to target your scalp. “Focus your application on massaging the scalp in a circular motion with your fingertips,” says Killen. Got a few extra minutes and want to really make it count? Massage the mask on damp hair, focusing on your scalp, put your hair in a shower cap, and cover with a towel to hold in heat from your head. Let it sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse out.
How often you mask is a personal suggestion. “You do it on an as-you-need-to basis,” says celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess. “We all know when our scalp feels tight, dry, or itchy, and visually you can see when the flakes start to make an appearance.” For some, that’s a weekly occurrence, for other’s it’s more seasonal. “Start paying more attention to your scalp and do a mask before it becomes a problem,” says Ess.
Interested in trying one out? Here are the masks we’ve tried and loved this winter thus far.
This brand-new launch is formulated with kaolin clay, which cleanses and moisturizes, while a whole lot of calming ingredients soothe, like chamomile, sweet almond, avocado, and castor oil. “It’s very soothing for dry and irritated scalps,” says Ess.
This is part of her entire new Scalp Collection, dedicated solely to scalp care, all of which soothe and hydrate dried-out, winterized hair.
We’ve already mused on about Amika’s cult-fave Soulfood Nourishing Mask. This intense mask can not only soften and moisturize dull, over-processed hair, but it can also actually condition your scalp to be healthier too. Thanks to shea butter and nutrient-rich sea buckthorn berry (rich in Vitamins A, C, E, and omegas), the mask improves “scalp flexibility”—aka rebalances the pH—and restores healthy moisturize levels to the scalp barrier.
This recently launched pre-shampoo treatment contains the Hungarian brand’s special Hungarian Moor Mud, which detoxifies and revitalizes the scalp, all in the name of promoting healthier hair. It’s perfect come wintertime because it offers immediate relief for itchy, irritated scalps with cooling menthol and camphor, along with exfoliation from salicylic acid to unblock hair follicles. The brand says 87 percent of first-time users reported that their scalp felt rejuvenated and invigorated after a single use.
Massage on dry hair, leave for 10 to 20 minutes and rinse out. Afterward, you’ll practically be a walking hair commercial with bouncy, shiny, and silky hair.