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Which hair masks for dandruff are best?

Nothing gets in the way of great style more than the telltale signs of dandruff. Small flakes of dry skin scattered across your shoulders are not just unsightly, they’re a signal your scalp is out of sorts. Genetics, sensitivities, stress, harsh weather or overusing hair products can all cause scalps to become irritated and inflamed. 

Using a dandruff-specific hair mask can reduce itchiness in minutes and eliminate embarrassing flakes. If the plethora of options has you scratching your head, look no further than SheaMoisture African Black Soap Purification Mask to soothe your dandruff symptoms.

What to know before you buy a hair mask for dandruff

Causes of dandruff

Sensitivity to the oleic acid produced by Malassezia, a yeast that lives on our scalp, is the primary cause of dandruff, and some people are more genetically prone to it than others. Add to that several seemingly innocent aggravators and you have a sweater covered in skin flakes, or worse, scales. 

  • Hormonal changes: Stress, puberty, menopause and pregnancy all send hormones haywire, increasing sebum production on the scalp, heightening sensitivity and causing a dandruff flare-up.
  • Excessive hair products: A buildup of conditioning treatments, dry shampoo, wax, mousse, gels and spray can aggravate the scalp and cause dry flakes.
  • Extreme cold, heat, humidity and pollution: Scalps can become drier or oilier when temperatures change, attracting dirt and kickstarting sensitivity. Beware of hats — they provide the perfect conditions for dandruff-causing microbes. 

How do hair masks work?

A hair mask for dandruff — which can take the form of a thick, custardy cream, a light lotion or a spray — targets the scalp with anti-inflammatory, moisturizing ingredients to soothe the itchiness and irritation that causes flaking and exfoliators to remove excess sebum and product buildup. A welcome bonus is that it benefits your tresses as well by improving the health of follicles and conditions for hair growth.

How to use a hair mask

Some masks require you to shampoo and condition your hair and scalp before applying the mask. Others can be applied pre-shampoo, so refer to instructions on the packaging. 

Use a comb to gently part the hair into sections so you can be sure you’re treating the entire scalp. Lighter, liquid treatments can be applied directly from the tube through a pointed applicator, while thicker, creamy masks can be scooped from the jar and applied with fingers. 

Lightly massage the mask directly into your scalp, ensuring areas around the ears and neck are also covered. 

Most masks should be left on for several minutes (some advise 20-30 minutes), but avoid overnight, as exfoliating ingredients can cause further sensitivity and flaking.

What to look for in a quality hair mask for dandruff

Dandruff-clearing ingredients

  • Oils such as jojoba, argan, aloe vera, coconut or Moroccan are moisturizing and soothing.
  • Exfoliating salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids lift and remove dead skin cells and promote healthy cell turnover.
  • Impurity-removing charcoal and clays absorb away excess oils and product overload.
  • Antiseptic and healing tea tree, peppermint or eucalyptus oils reduce irritation and alleviate itching.
  • Antifungal, antibacterial and antimicrobial selenium sulfide or pyrithione zinc blast Malassezia, the main cause of dandruff.

Luxury touches

  • Herbal additions such as basil, olive and rosemary feed into the gourmand beauty trend and create a delicious and nourishing experience while the mask gets to work. 
  • Sweet-smelling botanicals such as lavender, rose, tangerine and fig can be found in many hair masks with medicinal properties while mimicking the luxurious aroma of a high-end spa treatment.
  • Vanity-worthy bottles and tubs conspire to transform drugstore basics into pretty additions to any bathroom or shower. 

Application options

Rich, creamy, custard-thick masks come in jars or tubs that allow you to scoop out as much product as you need and apply to your scalp with your fingers. Lighter liquid formulations are available in soft, squeezy bottles with a pointed applicator for easy, mess-free and precise application. For even greater convenience, masks in spray cans are a bonus.

How much you can expect to spend on a hair mask for dandruff

The cost of a drugstore brand hair mask for dandruff typically ranges from $10-$40. High-end salon or boutique brands can cost up to $80 or more.  However, price is no indication of efficacy. The more expensive brands often cost more to cover the investment in prettier packaging or luxury ingredients, such as essential oils.

Hair mask for dandruff FAQ

How often should I use a hair mask for dandruff?

A. Frequency depends on the product, so refer to the instructions on the package. Generally, a mask is most effective if used regularly and between one and three times a week.

Can I use a hair mask for dandruff on color-treated hair?

A. Many hair masks contain sulfates which can cause color to fade, so check the list of ingredients on the packaging. Although thick, creamy masks may seem nourishing, they can penetrate hair so deeply, they may drag color pigments out with them, so lighter lotion formulations applied directly to the scalp are a safer bet.

What are the best hair masks for dandruff to buy?

Top hair mask for dandruff 

SheaMoisture African Black Soap Purification Mask

SheaMoisture African Black Soap Purification Mask

What you need to know: This mask provides a powerful surge of moisture and natural antiseptic tea tree oil in a product designed for dandruff-prone black hair, but it quickly relieves itching, irritation and flaking for all scalps in need of relief.

What you’ll love: Natural, organic and sustainably sourced ingredients treat even severe scalp irritation and leave hair feeling soft and silky. Moisturizing shea delivers a subtle scent, and because it’s sulfate- and paraben-free, it’s risk-free for color-treated hair. As a bonus, it’s never tested on animals.

What you should consider: Due to its rich formulation, wash and rinse thoroughly to avoid product drag.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top hair mask for dandruff for the money

Kristin Ess Weightless Hydration Daily Scalp + Hair Mask

Kristin Ess Weightless Hydration Daily Scalp + Hair Mask

What you need to know: Whatever your hair type — from thick and wiry to limp and super-fine — this mask is gentle enough to use daily to boost hair hydration and soothe the scalp. 

What you’ll love: If you swim, work out or lead the kind of busy life that requires daily hair washing, the natural minerals and botanical oils will calm and rebalance the scalp and smooth the damaged cuticles that can result in dry, dull hair. This mask’s light, multitasking properties make it a good value for money.

What you should consider: Though most users love the light coconut scent, some consider it slightly synthetic.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Jupiter Purifying Scalp Mask

Jupiter Purifying Scalp Mask

What you need to know: This foaming scalp mask was named one of Allure Editors’ “Favorite New Beauty Products” thanks to its gently clarifying but mineral-rich formulation, which, if used just once a week, removes impurities, nourishes the scalp and calms irritation.

What you’ll love: The sulfate-free formulation makes it safe for all hair types, even color-treated. Volcanic ash naturally detoxifies and exfoliates while cooling and calming the scalp. The gentle aroma of mint, vanilla, tangerine, sage and rosemary create a spa-like quality to the treatment. To add further to the feel-good factor, 5% of Jupiter’s profits are donated to mental health initiatives.

What you should consider: The volcanic ash gives the foam an unusual gray tinge, though it’s harmless.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Daisy Kelly writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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