If you don’t know your gels from your pomades, you’re not alone.
The world of men’s hair product is daunting, but don’t be afraid. We’ve distilled it down to three basic categories that should suit any kind of hair.
No matter what kind of hair you have, at least one of these products is bound to tame your mane and make it look great.
1. Hair wax (a.k.a. putty, clay, glue, molding creme, or styling paste)
For guys with straight or wavy hair, wax is the perfect product to use on a daily basis. It makes hair look effortlessly styled with a medium hold and the lowest shine of all hair products.
Another benefit comes from the heaps of texture it adds to all types of hair. It’s good for a “messy look” that actually doesn’t look messy at all.
Though it comes in many variations, most are made with different waxes like beeswax. They’re also water soluble and will easily wash out of your hair.
American Crew Fiber is the tried-and-true hair wax favorite, but other good choices include proprietary brands made by popular barber shop chains like Blind Barber and Fellow Barber.
Pomades are hair wax’s classic cousin. They combine a lot of hold with a lot of shine and are the best product to use for a slicked-back pompadour look or “Mad Men”-style side part. Again, pomades work best for men with straight or wavy hair, especially if it’s on the long side.
The shiny finish and superior hold of pomades are what really separates them from hair waxes. Pomades are ideal for hair styles that don’t need a lot of movement since they can sometimes feel waxy or greasy to the touch.
All of our favorite hair wax brands also make very suitable pomades, including American Crew. Uppercut also makes an extra-strength pomade called Monster Hold.
3. Styling cream
While hair wax and pomades can be similar, styling cream is a different beast altogether. Instead of a waxy solid like our first two products, styling cream is more of a thick liquid and is suitable for curly-haired men. It offers a light shine with no hold at all, and it takes care of the frizz and unruliness in your hair.
In short, styling cream will leave your hair manageable without drying it out.
For styling cream brands, you really can’t go wrong. Moroccanoil has gained a lot of popularity recently for taking good care of both men’s and woman’s hair, but men’s-focused creams like the Fellow Barber’s Styling Cream and Malin + Goetz’s sage styling cream are also excellent choices. Finally, Bumble and Bumble makes another good unisex alternative.
4. Styling sprays
Something newish for guys called style sprays are another good option. They offer virtually no hold, but they texturize your hair.
In plain terms, it gives your limp hair life and body by making it tossable and able to stand up on its own. You’re still able to run your hands through it without residue, which is great if you’re looking to create a style that is less defined. It’s perfect for that not-quite-neat style.
It’s also super easy to use. Application requires nothing more than a few spritz in some nearly-dry hair, and a run-through with your hands. Using a hair dryer can speed up the process and cause your style to solidify a little more, but it’s not a necessity.
The spray works great for medium to long hair, and won’t do much if your hair is less than an inch in length. The salt has a tendency to dry out hair, so make sure you take that into account.
Which one should you use?
For most hair types, hair wax is your best bet to get your ‘do to do what you want it to. The matte finish provides the perfect texture and weight without making your hair greasy or unpleasant to the touch.
It’s also easy to maintain throughout the day, with just a quick brush or swoop to fix it up, and washes out easily and cleanly. It’s our pick for daily hair product.
If you’re looking for shine, however, the traditional pomade is your best bet. And if you just want to get your hair’s frizz under control and make your hair more manageable (without any hold), styling cream or spray is your stuff.
As for hair products that were previously in vogue — like gel and mousse — don’t bother. These products are best left remembered as fads in their respective heydays.
A final word of warning: Watch out for the labels on hair products. Heavier pomades are starting to contain waxes such as beeswax when they traditionally didn’t, and sometimes hair waxes are being labeled incorrectly as “pomades,” a term that has become a synonym for “men’s hair product.”
When in doubt, read the description.