Deep Conditioner and Hair Mask: 5 Ways to Tell Them Apart

If you are like me in the hair aisle, staring at all those hair products, clueless and thinking what the difference is and what best to use- a deep conditioner or a hair mask? – Then read on.

When trying to choose what to use, I miraculously forget all information I googled about each product I have saved up in my brain.

Somehow I find myself trying to read the benefits and uses of the products, or worse, pay close attention to a store clerk that knows nothing more than pamphlet knowledge about the products. No offense to you store clerks!

At the end of the day, I am even more indecisive than I started out at the beginning. And in frustration, pick one not knowing exactly what I just picked or why.

This is why to cure my frustration and your frustration of not knowing what a deep conditioner and hair mask should be used for and the differences between both products, I have made a condensed list of five differences that would better understand the purpose of both products to our hair growth.

Differences Between a Deep Conditioner and a Hair Mask

conditioner and hair mask

Now that I have highlighted what each product is, it is time to know the difference before you purchase the wrong thing as I did before. Note that these products are good for the hair, it is just that one suits a type of hair condition than the other.

SEE: Benefits of Argan Oil for Hair: Here’s What No One Told You About

1. Softening or strengthening?

Deep conditioners in general are made to soften the hair, while most hair masks are made to strengthen weak hair.

These two though also vary when it comes to what brands are offering. For instance, a deep conditioner might be rebranded as a hair mask for one brand, and for another, it might be specific to a hair type or condition.

The key is to know the condition of your hair is. If it’s dry but not breaking or itching, a deep conditioner is good enough to restore your hair. But if your hair is dry, breaking, uneven, and nutrient deficient, a hair mask is the best way to go. For faster results, you can combine both treatments on your hair.

2. How often should you use the products?

This is very delicate because washing our hair is a routine that mustn’t be too frequent, and unfortunately, these two products have to be washed out.

I usually shampoo my hair once a week and use a deep conditioner, but with the hair mask now being added to my routine, it gets complicated. But that can be sorted out.

To prevent your hair from over-hydrating and drying out, the best way to decide what to use after the shampoo is based on your hair.

I would say you should use a hair mask if you notice your hair is really damaged. And then maybe once or twice a week you can co-wash your hair with a conditioner.

If you notice your hair is just dry, a deep conditioner is good to use weekly. Ultimately, you can use a deep conditioner more frequently than a hair mask. But too much of something is also dangerous, so be moderate.

SEE: These 12 Best Shampoo and Conditioner Sets for Better Hair Care

3. How long should products be left in your hair?

This is a tricky part because the time you leave the products in your hair varies according to the brand. Some deep conditioners are advised to be washed right off after massaging. Others advise some needs time and other treatment like heat application or steaming to better work.

A mask is no more different than a deep conditioner in this. For you to get the best out of your hair mask, 20 -30 minutes is good enough. Also, cover your head with a warm towel after application will help you greatly.

When using the products, it’s best to follow the instructions of the brand you picked than getting yourself in another sticky hair mess.  

4. Difference in ingredients

There is much difference in the ingredients of a hair mask and that of a deep conditioner. Hair masks are made from natural ingredients than deep conditioner. Conditioners are composed of chemicals like sulfate and other types of chemicals.

Hair masks on the other hand are made from natural oil and are good for our hair. Ingredients like coconut oil, argan oil, honey, and others are mixed in with chemicals to help strengthen our hair.

5. Slip effect

This is the silky and shining sheen effect on the hair. Deep conditioners are great at that. They add a slippery and smooth effect that would make your hair nice to touch. If you want a quick fix like this, the deep conditioner will provide that for you.

Hair masks provide long-term effects and are added to moisturize the hair, they don’t add the slippery and slip effect if you are looking for one. The goal of the hair mask is to get your hair smooth and nice.

SEE: Simple Tips to Make Your Hair Less Greasy

deep conditioner and hair mask

What are Deep Conditioners?

First thing first, I will explain what a deep conditioner is since it is the one most of us women are familiar with. A deep conditioner is a product treatment used on hair that has lost moisture due to styling, weather, and poor maintenance.

The deep conditioner replenishes moisture in the hair, helping it grow nice and healthy.  

A deep conditioner is usually in a thicker cream form and helps the hair provide more slip. The deep conditioner is added to improve the hair texture and help retain moisture on our dry hair.

Advantages of Deep Conditioners

Deep conditioners add the following advantages to our dry hair:

  • Deep conditioners help nourish and moisturize our hair.
  • They keep the hair hydrated.
  • They save dry hair from breaking by fortifying the cuticle with a protective nutrient coating.
  • Deep conditioners smoothen our hair texture.
  • They make the hair slip easily and also strengthens it.

SEE: Get Your Hair Nourished With the Best Conditioner

What are Hair Masks?

A hair mask I realized is a whole different thing entirely but it still fits in the family of a deep conditioner. When you are wondering why you need a hair mask, you have to know what condition your hair is in.

You see, a hair mask is a specified hair product designed to treat or cater to the deepest layers of each strand of the hair.

They are much heavier in concentration and are used for really parched or dry hair. They have fortifying ingredients that would stay much longer than any other product, working in the hair follicles and the scalp.

The hair mask is specialized to treat a particular type of hair and to help revive the nutrients in the hair.

Advantages of Hair Masks

  • Hair masks shape the imbalances in our hair.
  • They strengthen the hair with protein-based ingredients.
  • They also restructure damaged hair, giving it the shine it needs.
  • Hair masks regenerate damaged hair and stay longer in the hair to work on follicles and damaged scalp.

SEE: How to Use the Best Hair Mask

Frequently Asked Questions

wet hair

Can you use deep conditioners and hair mask together?

No, you can’t. You can use deep conditioners and hair mask interchangeably but not at the same time.

For instance, if you have dry hair, a deep conditioner is your best choice at moisturizing and hydrating your hair. However, hair masks are great for treating specific hair issues like lack of protein or damaged hair.

Which comes first between hair mask and deep conditioner?

You can use a deep conditioner or hair mask based on your needs. One does not have to come before the other.

Furthermore, you can take turns using the hair treatments. Use deep conditioners one week and a hair mask every other week.

Can you make my own deep conditioner and hair mask?

Yes, you can. You can make your DIY deep conditioner treatments and hair mask. Most natural ingredients in these hydrating treatments includes eggs, oils and avocado.

If you decide to use a natural moisturizer, a homemade hair mask is easy to whip up to condition your hair.


Now that I have laid out the differences between the deep conditioner and hair conditioner, you will notice that there is a big difference between the two. You could see a hair mask as the big brother of a deep conditioner in the family.

All you have to remember when picking out your products are: masks are for hair strengthening and softening while deep conditioners are for softening. They vary in

ingredients and only your hair will help you determine which you need the most.

Now I won’t be confused when I see the aisle filled with hair products again. I hope you find this article useful to you too.

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