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Deep Conditioner vs. Hair Mask: What’s the Difference?

• May 19, 2015


The never-ending quest for perfectly moisturized hair begins in the hair product aisle or, if you’re a mixologist, your kitchen. I’m not much into mixing homemade conditioners (mostly out of laziness) plus I believe a sweet smelling concoction in the beauty supply store can do the trick for my tightly coiled, prone-to-dryness hair. I’m guessing most women also seek out the ready-made packaged conditioners, which is why hair companies market a gazillion variations of conditioners for a variety of hair types. One distinction that can be a bit difficult to understand is the difference between a hair “mask” and “deep conditioner”. Often, the claims of the products are quite similar; both tend to be rather thick in consistency and more expensive than the average conditioner. So, how do you determine if a deep conditioner or mask is right for you? Here are a few tips:

Slip vs. Strength

I find that some products marketed as deep conditioners are merely glorified regular conditioners…just in a smaller container. This sounds like a cynical critique but there are some benefits to such products. Take for example Loreal’s Damage Erasing Balm (“balm” has increasingly become an en vogue term to use for conditioners). I really like this product and have purchased it multiple times, even though I know that it is only slighter thicker than my regular conditioner. Why? Well, the key difference is that it provides more slip, which makes it easier to detangle my hair before washing. However, the claims about repairing damage or making hair manageable…well I’ve yet to see any noticeable changes in my hair. This isn’t to say that those claims cannot be met for women with different hair types but for me, my hair generally feels no different after using those products.

Like many things in life, all deep conditioners are not created equal. I find that conditioners with all natural products, aloe vera being high on the list, can help to noticeably soften and condition my hair IF I leave it on my hair for 5 or more hours. I typically only do this if I am planning to use heat or wear a long term protective style. That said, my hair, while feeling softer and more moisturized isn’t necessarily any stronger, which is often a promise made by deep conditioning products.

So, what’s a hair mask?

To be quite honest, a hair mask may be no different from a deep conditioner depending on the product. The way that I distinguish a hair mask from a deep conditioner is by the purpose of the product. A product that truly strengthens my hair, a protein based product for example, is often what I have in mind when I intentionally seek out products labeled as masks. For example, Motion’s Critical Protection and Repair conditioner, strengthens my hair but doesn’t necessarily make it any softer. Incidentally, this product which I used way back when I still had relaxed hair isn’t marketed as a hair mask (the term wasn’t popular then) but it can diminish breakage, (which it did for me) without some of the potential harsh effects of intense hair restructurizers (for example Aphogee’s two step protein treatment or natural products like henna). This distinction between deep conditioners and hair masks is really a matter of splitting hairs, so don’t feel that either label justifies a significantly different markup in price.

It’s important to approach hair products with a critical eye. While we may want them to work miracles, they seldom do. Your hair’s level of moisture will more than likely be more greatly impacted by your daily routine and your moisturizing products than hair masks or deep conditioners. Now, if you find a “holy grail” deep conditioner or hair mask, by all means use it and share it with your friends!

Have you found a deep conditioner or hair mask that you think surpasses all other conditioning products? If so, please share!

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8 Comments on "Deep Conditioner vs. Hair Mask: What’s the Difference?"

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Hair masques, deep conditioner, treatments- whatever they may be I live for them every week~!

Kisha Jones

Profectiv deep conditoner, Neutrogena triple moisture deep recovery hair mask, Lekair cholestoral

Darla Jones

My favorite deep conditioner is by Dr. Miracle. My Gosh it is the bomb! It leaves my hair silky as ever!

I think of any product that’s intended to be left on longer than 5 minutes to be a deep conditioning mask. I think they’re all worth trying as long as they don’t have mineral oil or alcohol. Avoiding those ingredients will keep the quality pretty high on it’s own. I’ve used everything from Silk Elements (which I still love) to Curl Junkie. My hair also loves aloe. You can buy aloe juice in the grocery store and put it directly on your hair. It’s not good for curl definition but it makes your hair insanely soft. I like it over… Read more »

I LOVE DevaCurl’s Heaven In Hair! Amazing slip, but I hate running out, so expensive!


I love Shea Moisture’s Raw Shea Butter Hair Masque. It makes my hair so soft and moisturized.


Aunt Jackie’s In Control deep conditioner is my go to


Feremisi, Deep Drench Moisturizing Mask. It’s Fabulous!

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