No matter what kind of hairstyle you want to rock, without the proper hairstyling product, all your efforts go wasted.

But before using a hairstyling product, it’s essential to understand what’s more suitable to your hairstyle and type.

This is what this post is all about. We’ll dive into the differences among the most popular hair styling products for men -pomade, wax, clay and gel.

You probably don’t remember/know that there was a time when men’s haircuts were pretty standard without many variations.

Take for example the 1920s’ when most men had the same haircut with -guess what, the exact same styling technique, using the same product.

The only product that they were using back then was brylcreem or maybe a hair tonic. And the hairstyle? Slick-back.

This is why you didn’t have to tell the difference among hair pomade, wax and clay or gel. Back then, there wasn’t such thing as options!

Hair pomade vs clay vs wax for men. Brylcreem was the first commercial hairstlying product

photo credit: Brylcreem via (license)

 

A brief history lesson

Even though 1920s’ is almost 100 years ago, this wasn’t the first time that men starting using hair styling products.

There is actually proof that even from ancient egypt men styled their hair using a fat-based gel.

Let’s come back to the present.

It’s a great trend when everyone wants to look their best, regardless of their gender, and the most important aspect of looking well kempt is -guess again, hair.

Even though there’s a great history of men styling their hair, somewhere along the way, men’s grooming products started becoming less of priority to personal care brands. This is why you could actually see way more hair styling products dedicated to a female audience.

There’s still a lot more grooming products for women than men. But that’s not necessarily the case for hair styling anymore.

Men have just as many options as women in this regard, maybe even more. There’s hair pomade, wax, gel, clay, mousse, and all sorts of other solutions for those unmanageable locks.

Choosing any of these could be a daunting task for any man and understanding their differences may seem overwhelming.

Why would you want to know the differences of hairstyling products

I know I stuck to a single product for years, unwilling to experiment.

Starting from my teenage years until my mid twenties, I used nothing but a good old gel. And I’m sure I’ve used all kinds of brands, types and different holds. During those years I’ve had more than 20 different hairstyles from almost shaved head to long hair (good old times at the uni).

During that time it was when I started experiencing different products and I came to understand that there are a lot more hair styling products out there that could give me a way better look. More slick, more professional and more manly.

It opened my eyes to a new world. I looked back and saw that I was using the wrong product all along and it was messing up my look (a bit exaggerating but you get the point).

I know from experience that having a bad hair day can ruin your plans, one day. But if you don’t take the time to find the right product, you’ll be pushing yourself into a bad hair day FOR LIFE.

Another strong statement here…

You do understand that you can’t afford using the wrong hair styling product.

So, here’s an attempt to simplify and explain all the products we men have at our disposal. We take a look at the most popular men’s hair styling products and see where they shine and where they lack.

Pomade

What is it

Let’s start with probably the most common and well known product in the modern man’s grooming arsenal – pomade.

There’s a lot to be said about that word. It’s been misused off late, but the word is derived from the ancient Egyptian mummies (pommade).

That should tell you pomade is traditionally greasy, oily and used for heavy hair styling.

Looking back, you see that pomade gained momentum as a styling product in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was made out of bear fat or lard at the time.

One of the earliest pomades was introduced in 1928. We talked about it earlier in the introduction of this article. It’s a name that is still around today – Brylcreem.

Others included Royal Crown Hair Dressing and Murray’s Superior Pomade, which originated in 1936 and 1920 respectively.

Pomade gained popularity with the teenage boys who served in the United States military during the Second World War. After the war pomade gained mainstream attention, but lost popularity subsequently. It has made a comeback in recent years.

There are basically two types of pomade available today: Oil-based and water-based.

Oil-based pomades are a lot more traditional and rare to find in modern grooming stores. The water-based ones are a lot more widespread and a little more expensive.

Oil-based pomades are made of oil, petroleum or animal fat.

The product tends to give a greasy, shiny, pulled back look to the hair that helped make the term ‘greaser’ popular in the 1950’s.

Grease is water insoluble, which means traditional pomades were nearly impossible to wash off. The greasy pomade stayed on the scalp, clogged the follicles and resulted in itchy acne.

As you can imagine, this is probably the reason why most men would never let traditional pomade anywhere near their head now.

A better solution is water-based pomade.

This type of hair pomade works pretty much like regular pomade, but are a lot easier to clean out. They lack the firm hold of the oil-based stuff, but that just means added flexibility and a more casual look.

For what type of hair and what style should you use it

This may be the perfect product for you if you have naturally dry hair.

The pomade tends to hold the hair up well and keep it looking slick throughout the day.

Hair pomade is also a great option for wavy hair. You can also use it if you want your hair to look neat and pulled back.

One thing to note is that this stuff was designed for hairstyles that require a comb.

You can get pomades that are either shiny or not and the water-soluble ones can let you restyle throughout the day. The good thing about hair pomades is that your hair won’t be dried out and left feeling crunchy like other hair styling products.

Pomade is great for almost any style. Due to its composition and properties, it might work best with Pompadours, Quiffs & Slick Back Styles.

How to use it

Put a little on your palm, warm it up nicely by rubbing your hands with each other and spread through slightly damp hair for best results.

As a quick reminder, you are better off with the water-based solutions, as we’ve discussed, but if you do go for the traditional oil-based pomades, use olive oil and shampoo when you want wash it all out. It might give you some trouble but who said that good hair looks comes without any sacrifices.

Clay

What is it

It’s okay if you haven’t thought of using clay on your hair before, most men haven’t.

Hair clay is relatively new to the game and only the most dedicated hairstylists would know about it, but it’s a great option that you should probably consider.

There’s a lot of variety in the sort of clay you are likely to find if you go out looking for them now.

They  range from the smooth and cream to the thick and heavy. The one thing they all have in common is the clay ingredient -Captain Obvious at your service!

The most common clay used in these formulations is bentonite, which is clay, believe it or not, made from volcanic ash that is naturally weathered. The stuff is like a fine, velvety powder that expands multiple fold when exposed to water.

Wondering why is it popular now?

The clay tends to increase volume in your hair without adding weight.

The hold is between medium and high and the stuff feels lightweight on your head. Plus, naturally occurring clay has a lot of minerals that are good for your hair and skin.

The right clay can draw out dirt, nourish your scalp and promote better hair growth without taking away all the natural oils already on your head.

So, you get a healthy solution for hair styling. Can it get any better?

For what type of hair and what style should you use it

Clay is great for thin hair that needs to add volume.

Hair clay is easy to use before or after using a blow dryer and the look is somewhere between matte and semi-matte. This means the product is fantastic for men with thin, frizzy hair, who don’t want an overly glossy look.

How to use it

As we’ve seen, you can wash your hair and use a thick, creamy clay to your hair before you blow dry or after. For a dry more professional look, it’s better to apply clay on freshly washed hair that has been blown dried.

You can leave the clay in as a moisturizer and styling cream for as long as you need and it is fairly easy to wash out when you are done.

Wax

 

 

What is it

As the name suggests, hair wax is a styling product with wax in it.

The fact that it has no alcohol in it means there is little chance it will dry the hair out. Some manufacturers label their wax as pomade, putty, glue, whip, molding gum or styling paste. All of which offer different levels of control and texture, but as long the major ingredient is wax, you can be sure the results will be similar.

Historically, the Gauls (present-day France) were the first to use it for hair styling, but they eventually discovered it was great for cleaning as well.

Here’s a list of ingredients hair wax is usually made of:

There’s tough competition in the market for hair wax and a lot of manufacturers are trying to set their products apart by combining different types of (natural) waxes to get better results.

Some manufacturers have secret ingredients added for texture and hold as well. In most cases these ingredients tend to be artificial rather than natural.

There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly a hair wax is because of this flux in ingredients.

But there are two defining characteristics of hair wax that sets them apart – it doesn’t harden and it has a shiny finish. If it makes it any easier, you can think of waxes as pomades with lighter hold.

For what type of hair and what style should you use it

Hair wax is suitable any length of hair and almost all hair types. Maybe curly hair is not the most suitable but you can use it for straight and wavy.

It can be used for most styles but works best if you try to achieve a pompadour, classic side part, or ducktails.

Use wax if you have oily hair or hair that tends to get easily messy and needs to be tamed. Hair wax is perfect when you want a strong hold but don’t want to get your hair too greasy.

How to use it

The best way to use wax is exactly the same way you would use pomade.

Little bit in your palms and you heat it up by rubbing it vigorously.

Make sure you only apply it to dried hair and never on even mildly wet hair. Spread it out all over your follicles to cover every section.

I personally use wax more often than other products -maybe as much as pomade, since it gives you a strong, natural hold that doesn’t make your hair appear greasy while keeping it soft.

Using wax is easier than a lot of other products, which is why it’s often called a “beginners” styling product.

Using more or less will allow you to get the sort of texture you need. With hair wax, you can go for a ultra-strong hold spikes look or a calm, relaxed casual hold.

Gel

What is it

Hair gel is often considered to have the strongest hold of all. That’s not all, hair gel is also among the oldest known hair products used by man.

Researchers at the University of Manchester, UK found traces of fat-based gels used to style the hairs of ancient Egyptian mummies.

Remember what we said in the beginning about ancient Egyptians and hair gel?

There were 18 mummies with hair gel and the oldest one was over 3,500 years old. Hair gel is tradition, it seems.

As for the modern hair gel, this was invented in the United States a few thousands years later, in the twentieth century.

It was called Dep and was manufactured by Dep Corp.

Due to the fact that the chemical solution for this new hair gel was diethyl phthalate, encouraged the inventor to name the gel itself as DEP.

Now, gels come in all sorts of varieties and offer various benefits, but most of them can be categorized between ‘lightweight’ and ‘heavyweight’ in terms of hold.

But let’s get to more details on how to use hair gel and for what type of hair is more suitable.

For what type of hair and what style should you use it

If you have messy hair that needs a lot to hold it up and don’t mind the glossy, shiny look for gel, this could be the best product for you.

Hair gel was the number one hair styling product that I was using for more than a decade. I remember always searching for the ones with the strongest hold due to my completely unruly hair.

Keep in mind that not all hair gels are suitable for all hair style and hair texture.

If your hair is too fine, use lighter gel, and vice versa if the hair is thick.

Normally, fine hair are easier to manage and there’s no need for a very strong hold. For thick hair, a stronger hair gel is more suitable since this type of hair tends to resist control more.

If you’ve got curly hair, depending on the hairstyle you want to get, you can choose the hold accordingly.

Usually with curly hair, you don’t want to change the natural shape of your hair with a hair gel that has very strong hold and a natural, shiny look tends to look more neat.

How to use it

Start by taking a small dab on your palms and rub into your hair to get it all over.

The gel should be spread evenly through damp hair and washed out at the end of the day.

Style effortlessly with gel, since this is the only product that can give you maximum hold and maximum flexibility. Well, maximum flexibility until it dries.

Additional styling products for men to keep in mind

Now that we analyzed the most popular hair styling products, it’s only fair to include few more that one way or the other, most men have used in their lives.

Some of them, may work very well with specific hair types and some men may be better off with them rather than with the ones we talked about previously.

Hair mousse

What is it

This styling product isn’t the most common one among men. But there are a few things to remember and maybe you can find some great value in it.

It’s got a foamy texture and it’s designed to add volume to the hair while giving you a light hold.

But, let’s get to the specifics.

For what type of hair and what style should you use it

Hair mousse is best suited for men that have anything but short hair and it works great for wavy and curly hair as well.

Besides that, it’s highly suited for fine and normal hair.

How to use it

The main idea with hair mousse is that you start applying it on your hair and then you use a blowdryer in order to increase the volume. This is also why it makes perfect sense to use this product if you have fine hair.

After blowdrying your hair, you should expect to have more volume with a nice strong hold.

Hair mousse is frequently used in combination with other products such as hair spray for stronger hold.

Speaking of which…

Hair spray

What is it

Normally, this is a product that is dominated by female consumers.

It’s packaged in an aerosol can and it’s main properties that it gives to the hair is volume, hold and shine. For men’s hairstyling, it’s frequently used in combination with another styling product.

You can distinguish hairsprays based on their holding power and this is really what’s more important to consider before choosing one.

For what type of hair and what style should you use it

Hairsprays are best suited for longer hair rather than short. Works great for men with fine hair that is relatively long so that it gives your hair more volume and hold.

The good thing about hairsprays is that it gives the hair a natural shine than leaving it dull.

How to use it

As indicated, it can be used as standalone or in combination with another hairstyling product.

Since hairspray is suited for longer hairstyles, the best way to apply it is on clean, dry hair. The idea behind using hairspray is to keep your hair in place while maintaining a natural hold.

Other ways to use it is in combination with hair pomade or wax so that you enhance the hold and keep the natural looks of the hair.

For wet look, you can apply hair gel and then use the hair spray.

Even though this will give you the strongest and most unnatural hold, this isn’t the best combination for the health of your hair. Because of the ultra strong hold, the hair is stiff and crunchy that makes it prone to breakage

Concluding remarks

There’s a lot to consider here since choosing the right hair styling product is quite important.

You may prefer one over the other, but it all boils down to two things – the nature of your hair and the style you like best.

You need to understand what you should expect from a hair styling product based on what you have at the given moment. What is more important? Natural look? Strong hold? Messy or tidy style? Dry or wet look?

If you’re not sure what’s the right product for you, there are a few last things that you could do.

One is to try different products for the hairstyle that you’ve got.

In addition, you can ask your barber -this is what I normally do, what kind of styling product is best suited. Normally, this is also the best way to get a better understanding about the right hair styling product for your hairstyle. You can trust these men since that know what they’re talking about.

Finally, you’ll have to make a choice among the thousands of options you’ll have in each of these hair styling products and select the one that makes you happy.