I Tried 5 DIY Masks For Natural Hair (And Conquered My Fear Of Milk In the Process)

by Lauren Turner

If you keep tabs on the beauty world, even casually, you know that masks are totally in right now. From sheet masks to peel-offs, giving our faces some time to refresh — not to mention giving ourselves a reason to actually sit still for 20 minutes — is a big part of treating our skin.

There are masks for reducing redness, exfoliating for even tone, moisturizing dryness, and pulling out all of that gross stuff that we see on Dr. Pimple Popper’s YouTube channel. And since masking is a gender-neutral activity, it’s always fun to get our boyfriends/girlfriends in on the action, because let’s face it: We all want better skin.

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I got so involved with this masking trend that I, in true form, took it to the absolute next level. When Instagrammers starting “multi-masking,” I was all in.

The concept behind this internet-bred beauty hack is that instead of slathering one mask all over our face, we should target the different portions of our face with different masks — a little redness reducer on a new breakout, a little brightener under our eyes, an overall exfoliating mask in the T-zone, etc. The idea is that this method tackles our skin’s many problems — while giving us time to catch up on the latest episode of Westworld

This obsession with masking got me thinking: Is there such a thing as a “hair masks?” And, if so, are there hair masks specifically for natural hair like mine? I know that deep conditioners exist, but what about something that I can make myself, for a fraction of the cost (and maybe without all of those strange ingredients tend t0 be toxic to my curl pattern)? 

A little internet search for “DIY natural hair masks” brought me to a long list of semi-relevant recipes, and, because I know that not everyone has the time to try them out (nor would everyone want to because, well, a garlic hair mask just sounds smelly), I’m doing it for you. You can thank me later.

But honestly, I really did it for purely selfish reasons, because going back and forth between straight, curly, and whatever you call the style that comes with the constant lack of moisture that surrounds me in this dry-ass climate has just about given me whiplash. 

Below, I detail the hairy situation I got myself into, when I experimented with 5 DIY hair masks, with varying degrees of success.

The Supplies

The Supplies
Justin Timberlake / VEVO

After weeding through all manner of strange recipes involving ingredients like boiled okra, crushed up aspirin, and animal placenta (this is real), I compiled a list of five hair mask recipes that I was actually willing to put on my hair. They all boasted alleged benefits like shine, growth, moisture, renewal, and unbe-weavable overnight transformations, so I was entering on a skeptical foot.

Were items I could find in the back of my refrigerator really going to provide me with noticeably shinier/fuller/replenished curls? Or was I actually doing exactly what my boyfriend said I was doing: “Wasting perfectly good food”? I was a girl with many questions and one annoying man in my way.

But I (obviously) wasn’t going to let his cynicism stop me from getting answers. So I set out on a hair journey that would forever alter my relationship — with certain foods.

When I started the journey, my hair was straight. It isn’t my usual style, but, trust me, blow drying my hair to appease my mom is better than the alternative. I was looking forward to going back to my natural fro (still a work in progress).

I allotted myself about a week and a half to try all five masks. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using five different hair masks over the span of one week, but hey, my hair problems are your hair solutions. In other words, I did what I had to do, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Everything that I read regarding the potential benefits of hair masks on natural hair left me with the impression that depending on the mask, you should apply these between once a week and monthly (if at all, in my opinion).

Let’s get started, shall we?

Mask One: Root To Tip Growth

Mask One: Root To Tip Growth
Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

The time has come…for me to put mayonnaise…in…my…hair. Everything about it seems unnatural, but because I found more than one recipe that called for mayo, I know it’s a must-try.

The creamy condiment will apparently restore moisture to my damaged strands. Even if it does, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to look at aioli the same way ever again. The recipes also cals for avocados (which are packed with vitamin A and protein), bananas (a natural source of biotin), and olive oil for shine and moisture.

Even before mixing it all together, I can tell that this was going to be traumatic. I’ve been a bit of an avocado junkie since I experienced Chipotle for the first time in high school. That love has grown to a level of wanting a ‘cado pin for my jacket, so you can only imagine how disturbed I am looking at this precious treat sitting in a vat of organic mayo, next to half of a banana, smothered in olive oil—none of it destined for my belly.

I am nervous, but excited, because other than store-purchased hair masks, I’ve never experimented with food in my hair.

Once it’s all mixed together, it looks a bit like the aftermath of the projectile vomit scene in the The Exorcist. I haven’t even take the lid off my little Ninja Bullet cup before I decide that this is a hell of a way to kick off the experiment.

And I just keep thinking: I love all of these ingredients on their own, but together, and IN MY HAIR?!?!? What if I can’t eat avocados anymore? I’ll die.

As I start to dig into the scary homemade hair mask, I realize how much I low-key actually adore this particular shade of puke green. I can’t say the same for the weird, pungent smell that now emanating from my hair.

The combo of banana and olive oil is not a good one, but it isn’t bad enough to stop me from slathering the hair smoothing mask all over my head. It feels good between my fingers, drips incessantly, and overall makes it look like I got into a food fight at a Mexican restaurant. 

My sink is filled with globs of oily avocado and I can feel little reservoirs of olive oil pooling in hollows of my neck, and slowly rolling down my shoulders. I can’y handle it, so I move as quickly as possible, neglecting to take photos of the finished product, and toss a plastic bag and a towel atop my goopy head.

I try to sit calmly and enjoy the next two hours, during which I could be doing something productive, but I can feel the oil making itself a greasy home on my scalp. It’s itchy, and pretty annoying. The second the timer is up, I get into the shower to rinse it all out, not thinking about the damage this avocado-banana-oil combo might do to my pipes. Whoops.

Hair Masks: 1 Lauren: 0

Since this mask was intended to strengthen the tips, as well as give them life, I didn’t have to wait until my hair was air-dried to notice a difference. As I’m applying my regular leave-in conditioner and sectioning my hair into large sections with two-strand twists, I can definitely feel the difference.

Sometimes when I’m doing my hair, as I’m twisting closer to the ends, my detangled hair loses its grip and needs more conditioner to help my fingers slide around them. This time, that happens far less frequently and I use less leave in conditioner overall.

So, even though I didn’t get to take action shots because I was flustered as all hell, at least my ends are glossy and strong. I think I at least deserve ½ a point for this effort.

Mask Two: Relieves Dryness & Flakes

Mask Two: Relieves Dryness & Flakes
Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

Countless beauty blogs pointed me in the direction of a combination of Greek yogurt, bananas, and honey in a must-make mask. Some sites added an oil of their choice, others an egg. I chose to stick with the simplest form of the recipe because I’m saving the eggs for later — that and due to my previous experience with the oil in the last recipe, I’m on a break from oil. But even without the extras, this hair mask recipe should make my mane shiny, full of moisture, and flake-free. The yogurt’s natural enzymes will supposedly help rid your scalp of any flakes or itching it may have. The banana not only has naturally-occurring biotin, but it’s also jam-packed with antioxidants and potassium. And the honey just adds shine (plus a irresistibly sweet aroma).

I don’t like yogurt (and, as you’ll soon find out, milk). I’m not really a fan of lactose in general. (Although, once upon a time, Phish Food was a main dietary staple of mine.) But because I don’t even eat yogurt, the thought of putting it onto my head is literally cringe-worthy.

However, I’m trying to be game for anything, so I feel like I should try it, even though I could easily swap it out for something a little less daunting—like, animal placenta, for example.  

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

Let’s do this. I pop the honey into the microwave, as instructed by the internet. DO THIS if you’re working with honey, because it really helps. I immediately slosh scalding hot honey onto my hand, because I forget it would be so runny pre-nuke, so, uh, safety first, guys.

I use my Ninja Bullet, and like the first recipe, it turns out like a smoothie — another gross, banana-filled smoothie.

I am gagging once again. This really might make me hate bananas, guys. I chase my boyfriend, who is desperately trying to escape the house, around with the concoction, trying to get him to taste it. He refuses, and leaves me to my dipping. His loss.

Once I’m root-deep in yogurt, I realize something amazing: This mask is the most similar to actual hair products. It feels natural in my hair and is super easy to comb through. I use my fingers, but am still able to detangle my hair; all while the yogurt/banana/honey combo is infiltrating my follicles. The smell reminds me of the first mask, but the yogurt really transforms the texture of the blended banana from a smoothie-like consistency to a leave-in conditioner.

Once the necessary soak time has elapsed, I rinse my locks in the kitchen sink and proceed to style them. But because my hair feels so moisturized and smooth, there isn’t really a reason to add much extra product. I don’t even touch my gel!

Instead, I just apply my traditional leave-in conditioner and smooth my edges with a soft-bristled brush. I slide a double-wrapped elastic headband on my head as far as it would go without popping off, which gives me a pulled-back-fro-effect that I love.

Mask Three: Overnight Length

Mask Three: Overnight Length
Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

This is one of those weird internet beauty hacks that I’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t had a reason. So… thank you for this opportunity, I guess? But really, thank you, because getting longer hair overnight is literally everyone’s #hairgoals.

This mask consists of two parts. For part one, I whisk together two eggs and four tablespoons of oil (user’s choice). I use avocado oil, because I’m bougie. Once each section is fully dunked, I try to finger comb through it.

BTW: This is a drippy mess. The combination of pre-scrambled-scrambled eggs and olive oil is a literal recipe for disaster. So many paper towels died in the making of this mask, that I feel the need to apologize to a tree. I’d definitely recommend doing it in the shower. 

Once all of the sections are detangled and I’ve cleaned the egg off of my face, I wrap my hair up in a plastic bag and set my timer. The problem with that? It continues to drip. And drip. And drip. I get in the shower to rinse off before attempting part two. I have to rinse it out a few times, and it feels noticeably heavier; as if my hair is retaining more water than it usually would.

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

Part two involves a lot of coconut oil. After I rinse my hair, I cover it section by section with liquid coconut oil.

From the start, I can tell that the coconut oil is going to do my hair good. Whether it will actually lengthen it is yet to be seen, but I can see the definition and lack of frizz on the side that I’ve already applied it. I’m hopeful that even if it doesn’t actually make it longer, it will make it stronger, sleeker, and curlier. Once I’ve applied it to all sections, I wrap it up in another plastic bag, put a towel on top of that (to stop it from ruining my sheets and satin pillowcases) and head off to bed.

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

When I wake up, I am not thrilled, because I could feel the plastic bag moving all night. It was weird and I did not like it. So I quickly get up and rinse my hair out multiple times.

As suspected, my hair has not grown. In fact, I feel like my curls might have actually shrunk to appear shorter than before. I will say that my hair feels amazing. It’s silky smooth and the curl pattern is hella defined.

Ed Note: I did a little more research and learned that the reason this mask supposedly makes your hair longer isn’t a mystery. Egg yolks are so rich in protein that they can help naturally straighten your hair follicles. This, combined with the oil, gives the appearance of longer hair.

The more you know!

Mask Four: Shine Bright Like A Diamond

Mask Four: Shine Bright Like A Diamond
Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

PSA: If you have any sort of sensory or tactile-related issues, do not attempt this mask. For everyone else: Get ready, because it’s a weird one.

I put one cup of whole strawberries, one egg yolk, and two spoonfuls of olive oil into my blender. I can smell both the strawberries and the olive oil, which is a little off-putting.

As it turns out, egg yolks aren’t just used for lengthening your hair. The incredible, edible egg also contains fatty acids and Vitamin A, which are said to help to make hair shiny and prevent breakage. Sign me up!

Once it’s all blended up, I realized how much it looks — and smells — like, you guessed it, a smoothie. I gag a little. It’s cold and slimy and the color alone is enough to make me spew. And then are the seeds. I can feel them, disconcertingly, as I work to detangle my hair.

That said, I can state definitively that my hair detangles noticeably easier. Whether that’s because my hair had just been straightened or due to the recipe is unclear, but I’m glad for the ease.

Overall impression: Smells good, feels gross.

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

Once I work it all into my hair, I wrap the mess up in my customary plastic bag and sit down to wait. Then comes the dripping. I’m not willing to ruin a towel, so I suck it up and repeatedly dab my face with a paper towel. Thirty minutes cannot go by fast enough. 

This might not be the best mask for those with kinky curls. It takes four washes — two with shampoo — to get all the strawberry seeds out. Once I’m convinced I’ve caught them all, I pop in some Bantu knots and am ready for bed. My hair (and kitchen) smell of berries and my boyfriend is impressed by my ability to “waste food on my hair.”

Mask Five: Milk & Honey (The Mask, Not The Book)

Mask Five: Milk & Honey (The Mask, Not The Book)
Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

It’s raining — not the kind of day I’d choose to do a hair mask. Especially one that involves one of my top fears: Milk. I’m not a big fan of drinking it, so the idea of putting it into my hair is not all that exciting. But, regardless of what some have called my “unconstitutional dislike of something pure,” the benefits of the stuff are supposed to do wonders for stimulating hair follicles.

If you’ve made it this far, reader, then you already know how I feel about hair masks that claim to contain the key to perfect hair. This one is no different. (This one is worse.)

From everything that I’ve read online, using vitamin D whole milk is the way to go. If your intention is to lighten your hair color a little as well, you can squeeze half a lemon into the milk and honey mixture before application.

I measure out my ingredients (one cup milk and two tablespoons of honey) and pop the honey into the microwave for 20 seconds to make it more mixable. 

Now for the application: The internet says that you can go about this one of two ways. You can using a spray bottle, or dump the whole mess on your head like a toddler trying to eat cereal. I choose the former. Luckily, I already own a mini spray bottle purchased for a trip a while back.

As soon I begin to spray the milky substance into my hair, I die. I mean it, guys. I am writing to you from the afterlife. Okay, I’m kidding, but not about how disgusted I am by milk. Once I realize that it’s going to take hours to get the stuff fully mixed into my hair, I decide to throw care out of the window and dump it all over my head. 

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

Within seconds, the milk mixture runs down my face and into my left eye and I cry out in fear that I am now blind. I’m really glad that no one is around because I imagine I appear out of my mind as I yelp and jump around my apartment in panic. I pin my up my hair, wrap yet another plastic bag around it, and affix a towel to the edges in an attempt to stem the drip. It doesn’t work, but I survive.

Thirty minutes later, I’m in the shower, rinsing out my hair, and I cannot be happier. I throw in some shampoo, because I’m paranoid about smelling like a dairy product.

I apply some detangling leave-in conditioner, use a soft brush on my edges, and wrap it up in a scarf. I want to see how easy it will lay down without the aid of mass amounts of heavy gel.

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

And I wait. After 45 minutes have passed, I remove the scarf, run the soft brush over my edges once more, and pull my hair up into a high bun. I don’t even have to use any edge control gel or bobby pins to secure loose fly-aways. My hair is smooth, clean, and shiny, so I guess I have to concede that the honey —and, yes, the milk —did their job. 

The things I do for beauty!

The Final Verdict

Now that this experiment has come to an end, I’m left with a few very specific feelings.

The first is that avocados and bananas are two things I’d totally put in my hair masks again, together or apart. I don’t know if it’s due to how rich they are, but as I was rinsing both of those ingredients out, my hair felt heavier, thicker, and fuller. I also noticed that the honey added a smooth feeling that I especially notice as I’m applying my leave-in conditioner products.

I probably won’t ever put strawberries or any seeded fruit into my hair ever again, mostly because my kinks are too tight for them and I don’t want to struggle to de-seed myself after every beauty treatment. Plus, strawberries are expensive! The results weren’t noticeable enough to throw a basket of pricey berries down the drain.

Aside from some of the wasteful aspects, using household items in a monthly hair mask regimen might be something I try to adopt. It gives my hair the chance to rest in a warm, moisturized environment, and it forces me to stay still for an hour. Plus, these DIY beauty efforts keep me at home, so I can save a little cash for things that are really important — like wine. And more wine.

Overall, I felt like my hair came out shinier and bouncier. It’s more easily manipulated, while still holding a two-strand twist, ringlette curl pattern. And on days that I wanted to slick it back without piling on a ton of heavy gel, I could.

It turns out that my hair — just like my skin, belly, and mind — craves healthy food sometimes, too.