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We’ve all been there.
You have an important event coming up. Maybe a date or an important work presentation. It would be best if you had every edge you could get. Above all, you need the perfect hair styling product. One will let you emerge from your ordeal with (perhaps literally) not a hair out of place.
So you hit up a local shop or visit a few online stores, only to be met with confusion. There are a plethora of men’s hair products out there, and you’re not sure what’s the best fit for you. Hair wax? Hair clay? What on earth is ‘pomade’ anyway?
The reason for this variety in men’s hair products is the variety of hair types possessed by men around the world. Some of us have straight hair, others wavy, curly, or frizzy. Furthermore, your hair might be naturally dry or greasy, thick or thin. Different hair products will better suit different types of hair.
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Among the owners of these different hair types, personal preference also has its part to play. Some of the main factors to consider when choosing the right men’s hair product for you are:
Hold: How firm do you want your style to be after application? Some products will hold your hair in place like an unassailable fortress, while others have a lighter hold for a more natural look. There can be a spectrum of how light or firm the hold will be even among different products. The product packaging will typically indicate where along the spectrum it lies in terms of hold.
Shine: Do you prefer a natural, matte look? Or do you like a shiny, wet look? Different products will help you achieve these different appearances.
Malleability: Do you enjoy touching up your hair throughout the day? Or would you prefer a one-and-done deal when it comes to your ‘do?
Complicated? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Below you will find an explanation of the most common men’s hair products to choose from.
Summary of Men’s Hair Products
|American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel
|Holds hair in place
|Firsthand Supply Texturizing Clay
|Matte to a semi-matte finish
|Blind Barber 60 Proof Wax
|Natural Sheen Finish
|THE LABEL.M MEN’S GROOMING CREAM
|Boldify Hair Thickening Fibers
|Invisible even in intense lights
|Arcadian Grooming Matte Paste
|Water Soluble, Cruelty-Free
|Reuzel’s Pink Pomade Grease
|Shear Revival Crystal Lake Styling Pomade
Suited for: Men with straight hair of medium to high thickness.
I chose to start this list with hair gel as it might just be the most common term for men’s hair products, right up there with hair wax. It’s also one of the most common products you’ll find in the stores.
So what exactly is hair gel, and what makes it different from other products? Hair gel is a water-based product, not unlike some kinds of pomades, as you’ll learn below. However, unlike most other products, the gel contains an amount of alcohol, which helps it in the drying process.
The main benefits of hair gel are that it’s common, relatively cheap, and does the job fast. If you’ve ever tried it on your hair before, you’ll know what I mean. The gel dries fast and holds your hair in place well after application. It also has a high shine to it – if any of your buddies use it, you can probably tell they’ve applied some styling product to their hair.
But wait! You might be thinking right now, ‘Okay, so gel’s good? No need to read the rest of the article, right?’
A gel is very convenient (I admit to having a tube in my closet for those days I’m running late). There are, however, good reasons you don’t want to apply it every day.
First of all, if you apply too much gel, it can turn crusty and flaky when it hardens. This can leave your hair looking dirty and untidy.
Secondly, the alcohol in hair gel can be detrimental to your skin when it dries. If you already have chronic dry scalp, you might want to be careful when using gel.
While gel works well in a pinch, I highly recommend looking at other products and seeing if you can find something more suitable. The last thing you want is to cause damage to your hair by applying too much gel.
If you’ve been using gel for a long time and are very attached to the product, you can consider looking up gels that do not contain alcohol. These would be a lot easier on your hair overall. We recommend American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel.
Suitable for: Men of all hair types and thickness (especially curly and frizzy hair).
The following product is one that I highly recommend if you’re a complete beginner in the world of hairstyling. Styling clay gives your hair a rich, dense look while still feeling clean and natural. While it is often confused with hair wax, clay has a softer consistency and is easier to apply.
Clay products are so-called because they contain actual clay as a component. Ever wonder why ladies apply clay masks to their faces? Clay is a good absorbent and excels at drawing out impurities. This applies to hair follicles just as much as it does to facial pores.
Applying clay to your hair will absorb some oil and grease from your scalp, making your hair appear healthier. These absorbent properties are due to a natural clay called bentonite found in most styling clay products.
Clay gives your hair a lighter hold compared to other men’s hair products. It will also give your hair the least amount of shine, leaving it with a matte to a semi-matte finish.
Some styling clays even boast of having nourishing properties for hair. This means that for those of us with thinning hair, some clays can simultaneously add volume to your air and help prevent further hair loss.
If you need to give your existing hairstyle a bit of a tune-up, try applying a bit of clay. It will give your hair a richer look without drawing too much attention. We recommend Firsthand Supply Texturizing Clay.
Also, check out our article on the Best Hair Clays for Men if you want to explore more options.
Suited for: Men with short, straight hair of any thickness
If you need something a little stronger than clay, wax is probably your best bet. While ‘wax’ has become something of a catch-all term for hair products (sort of like ‘gel’), genuine waxes tend to be made from natural products like (you guessed it) beeswax.
Waxes tend to be a little thick and clumpy out of the jar and thus need to be warmed up or emulsified before application. Simply rubbing the desired amount between your palms before shaping your hair with it should suffice. Also, remember to apply it starting from the back of your head for the best effect.
When the wax dries in your hair, it does an extremely good job of holding your chosen hairstyle in place. This makes it ideal for more elaborate styles, where you need your hair to stay in place for as long as possible.
Waxes generally give your hair a semi-matte to a light shine. Should you need a quick touch-up to your hairdo throughout the day, a bit of water (or a wet comb) should be enough to fix it up.
Waxes are perfect as a substitute for pomades. Especially so if you have sensitive skin or could do without the shine that pomades provide. Being mostly made of natural products, waxes will keep your painstakingly crafted hairdo in place without irritating your skin.
Suited for: Men with frizzy and thick hair.
Hair cream is one of the more obscure men’s hair products on this list, perhaps because it almost seems like a hair care product rather than a styling one. Nevertheless, hair creams have certain properties which make them an excellent potential tool to add to your styling arsenal.
Think of creams as an even lighter version of clay. As the name implies, they have a creamy consistency and will moisturize your hair when applied. If you have frizzy, untamable locks, a good hair cream will make laborious locks much easier to work with.
As such, creams work well as a pre-styler, clearing the way for a stronger product to do their work. Even on their own, its light shines and holds lend themselves well to natural-looking styles. A good choice for those who find even clay a little too firm to work with off the bat.
Suited for: Shorter, straight hairstyles, especially for those with thinning hair.
Hair fiber is another obscure product, but one that is worth knowing about for short-haired guys.
Fiber products have a high hold as their resinous consistency binds to hair strands quite well. This also has the benefit of giving thinning hair a thicker appearance. They are also quite malleable and easily styled with a comb. Unlike pomades, they typically have a low shine to them.
Fiber products work so well with short hair because they excel in making a ‘controlled messiness’ style look clean and natural. If you’re shooting for the bedhead look, give a hair fiber product a try.
Short spiky styles are also within the capabilities of hair fibers. So, if you’re leaning towards an edgy look or want to unleash your inner anime protagonist, give this a try. We won’t judge. Okay, maybe a little.
But if you have a longer hairstyle, be careful about using this type of product. The stiffness lends to your hair might make it look messy.
For a good hair fiber, try Boldify Hair Thickening Fibers.
Suited for: All types of hair types and thickness.
Hair paste is another obscure product, but it’s probably the most versatile one on the list. They have a very thick consistency, even more so than pomades. As such, they will require some emulsifying before application. You might even have to rub it a little longer to ensure it goes smoothly on your hair.
Pastes usually possess a medium to high hold and leave hair with a matte or an ever so slight shine for a finish. Pastes can be used to achieve a variety of styles, from more ‘unkempt’ modern styles to pompadours and partings. This makes it a good alternative to strong products that give hair more shine.
We recommend Arcadian Grooming Matte Paste.
Suited for: Curly or wavy hair of higher thickness.
Do you want a rocking retro look? The venerable pomade is for you. You may have heard of well-known pomade brands like Brylcreem, which have been around for decades.
Pomades tend to give hair wet and slick. You can expect any product labeled ‘pomade’ to provide a high amount of shine. The main use of pomades is for specific styles – the combover, for example.
To better understand pomades, it’s best to group them into two categories: oil-based and water-based. Water-based pomades can be further subdivided into orthodox and unorthodox pomades.
Oil-based pomades are the OG pomades. They usually contain oils such as petroleum jelly, which lends hair a slick appearance.
Some oil-based pomades are quite heavy, giving them a lot of holding power. It is also very malleable, meaning that you should be able to easily restyle it with a comb and mirror in the case of any hair-related mishap.
One thing to note is that oil-based pomades might be hard to wash out of your hair. This can be both a blessing and a curse. What do I mean? Well, on the one hand, you might not like the feeling of pomade residue in your hair after your evening shower, or worse, the oils in the pomade might irritate the skin.
On the other hand, if you’re going to style your hair every day, you can start the process the next day with some product in your hair already. This means that you require both less effort and less product for subsequent styling attempts.
Oil-based pomades are a lifestyle choice, is what I’m sayin’.
We recommend Reuzel’s Pink Pomade Grease.
Water-based pomades are a newer product and can be classified further into two types: orthodox and unorthodox. And no, unorthodox water-based pomades are not called so because they have been branded heretics by the style gods, as cool as that would be.
Both types of products can achieve the styles of oil-based pomades but have water as the main ingredient. There are, however, substantial differences between the two.
Orthodox pomades have very similar properties to hair gel. It dries fast but also, unfortunately, tends to dry out the scalp in the process. It also uses some strong chemicals, which some may not be a fan of.
On the flip side, it has a very good hold, at the cost of malleability – you need to run a wet comb through your hair if you want a re-style once it dries.
Lastly, it washes out much more quickly than oil-based pomades. As mentioned in the section on oil-based products, this might be a pro or a con for you.
For a water-based pomade, try Shear Revival Crystal Lake Styling Pomade.
Unorthodox pomades are where things get interesting. Application-wise, it achieves almost a hybrid effect between oil- and orthodox water-based pomades.
They’re easy to wash, but not to the extent of water-based pomades, meaning that you might need more than one wash to remove it (or leave it in for tomorrow). They’re also a lot more accessible to restyle than orthodox products, at the cost of some hold.
Finally, unorthodox products generally avoid including orthodox pomades’ chemical ingredients in favor of more natural ingredients. This makes it a healthier option for your hair in general.
If, as mentioned, you have a specific style in mind, or you have a dry scalp or untamable hair, pomades might be just the thing for you.
Men’s hair products you’ll find on the shelves or in an online catalog will most likely fall into one of these three categories.
So which one is the best for you? It depends on how your hair grows and how it reacts when a product is applied. Also, note that even in different categories, products may vary in terms of their properties. If you wish to explore further, check out our product guides on the various types of hair products.
A good styling clay is a safe starting choice, but you might want to try a few products to find a good fit.
You might even want to try using a few products together and see if you like the results. In my case, for example, the longer my hair gets, the heavier it becomes. This makes it hard to get a good enough hold with hair wax alone. If you have a similar experience, you might want to try using clay as a base to remove some hair moisture before applying your favorite wax.
If you are new to the world of men’s hair products, use this guide to kickstart a process of discovery. Find out what works best and give your hair the treatment it deserves. In any case, have fun and stay slick!
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