Hair masks are not like the conditioners of old, which merely covered the surface. They are loaded with fix-it formulas: strengthening mineral complexes coated with polymers that cling to the hair shaft; silicone-and-protein combos that wrap around the cuticle; ceramides and fatty acids that rebuild resilience; and antioxidants that fight free radicals and increase shine. Drugstore brand or luxury label, hair-repair masks are aimed right at the needs of midlife women.
One big reason is that we’re growing our hair out at an age when women used to think they had to cut it off. But over-40 hair needs help to look good. "Coloring removes the fatty lipid layer, making hair soak up water and swell to the breaking point; that’s made worse by heat-styling," says Teca Gillespie, a scientist for Pantene.
"After 40, the diameter of the hair shaft shrinks. Treatments can help: Although hair is dead, it still has a keratin structure that benefits from reinforcement," says David Orentreich, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
"Hair is further weakened by decreased estrogen levels during menopause, or in some cases by increased testosterone," says Debra Luftman, MD, a Beverly Hills dermatologist. "Check out a typical 45-year-old’s hair follicle under a microscope and you’ll see what looks like peeling house paint. Hair-repair treatments now incorporate technologies similar to those we use for dehydrated, photoaged skin."
Look for two key ingredients in a rehab cream, Gillespie advises: "Fatty alcohols (stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol), which are crucial for the hair’s texture, and silicones (dimethicone, cyclomethicone) for frizz control and to increase shine."
David Evangelista, celebrity stylist and creative director of Cornelia Day Resort, in New York City, suggests using a mask "biweekly and always the night before coloring. Apply the mask generously, use a wide-tooth comb to distribute, then do a gentle scalp massage for 60 seconds, moving the pads of your fingers in small circles so nutrients can reach the roots."
Originally published in MORE magazine, September 2008.