The product shelf can be an intimidating place as a man. There are a seemingly endless amount of products available, and trying to determine the difference between every product and what it is they do can be perplexing. A lot of men’s hair products use a confusing range of jargon, so much so that it’s like reading a different language. Between all the flowery marketing speak, and terms like ‘strong hold’ or ‘matte finish’, it can be difficult to cut through all the unnecessary information to figure out exactly what it is that these hair products do. There’s nothing worse than taking a product home and realizing it does the complete opposite of what you had hoped, or that it is completely wrong for your hair. Luckily we are here to help and with the useful guide we can help you work out the difference between a pomade and a gel and clear up any confusion around men’s hair products. Read on below if you want to find the perfect hair product for your hair.

Finding the right product for your hair

When looking for a product to suit your hair and styling needs, the key is to consider the features and characteristics of different products such as the hold or finish, instead of choosing based on how the product is classified. For example it matters less if your product is a pomade or gel, and more if it has the right hold and finish for the look you’re trying to achieve.

Different hair styles, lengths and hair textures will call for different hair products, so you should determine what look you are trying to achieve before selecting a product.

If you’re just looking for a bit of extra texture or hold, then spray products like sea salt sprays or texturising sprays might be more appropriate, or low hold products. Formal slick-backs or highly styled looks might require stronger products.

To find the perfect product you should begin by determining your needs for your hair. Some questions you should ask yourself.

What kind of finish do I need?

There are hair products designed to do everything from creating extremely matte looks to high shine looks, and a lot of options in between. If you’re after a natural shine, a lacquered look, a wet look or even a beachy head of hair, there’s a product out there to achieve just about every finish.

Hair products like matte finish pomade’s make great everyday hair looks because they give a dry look. Matte is great for most men as it gives off a natural finish. It’s perfect for professional settings or easy, casual day looks. Shiny finish pomades will make your hair look wet, which is a great effect for important occasions and formal events. It looks good on grey or dark hair as well, as these shades tend to look very matte and can look a bit limp and lifeless. Pomade can add a bit of life back into lackluster hair.

How much hold do I need?

Different looks will require different levels of hold. Most hair products will specify if their products are light, medium or strong hold. Whilst every product operates slightly differently and has a different formula they will generally achieve similar results according to their level of hold.

Light hold products are designed to keep hair feeling quite soft and malleable. They are not supposed to ‘set’ hair, and give only a slight bit of styling hold and extra texture, whilst still allowing hair to be re-styled throughout the day. These products are great for getting a bit of extra definition in waves or curls, or perhaps a bit of extra lift and volume in the hair.

Medium hold products are the ‘happy medium’ of styling holds. Medium hold products are strong enough to allow hair styling, but will not set hard, allowing you to run your fingers or a comb through your hair to restyle it over the course of a day.

Strong hold products will lock in your hairstyle until you wash the product out of your hair. They’re perfect for thick, coarse or unruly hair, complicated style, formal events or rainy days.

Do I need oil, water or wax based products?

Water soluble hair products can be rinsed from the hair using only water. They’re very easy to remove, although that doesn’t mean you sacrifice anything in terms of hold, as water based products can still be strong hold. A lot of people prefer water based products because of how easy they are to work with. They can be easily washed out, and they’re easy to apply and work through the hair.

Oil and wax based products are not water soluble. They can be a bit more difficult to work with and to remove from the hair, usually take a few deep clarifying shampoos to remove. Oil and wax based products can cause product build-up and cause hair to feel heavy or greasy if they aren’t removed properly. The increased difficulty of working with these products make them slightly less popular than water based products, although some people love the look and texture of these products, or the ability to roll out of bed with hair that is ready to style with some pre-existing hold and texture.

A breakdown of different products

There are a few different men’s products on the market that achieve different things, read on for a breakdown of their benefits and disadvantages to help you determine which products are the best for your look.

Gel – Great for strong hold and shine

Gel is one of the most popular and commonly used hair styling products for men. You’ve probably used it at some point in your life; maybe you remember it from your teenage years. Gel comes in a variety of holds and strengths and gives your hair a sculpted look that will stay put all day long.

There are a few problems that some people will commonly experience with gel however. It is common for example for some men to experience flaking or residue from gel applications, which can be unpleasant when running fingers through the hair. Gel can also be drying and damaging on the hair because it uses alcohol in the formula. This is the ingredient that helps the gel to dry. If you have a dry scalp type than the extra moisture that gel’s strip from your hair might result in itchiness and flaking, called dandruff. Gel doesn’t make a good everyday product as it tends to cause damage and leaves hair brittle or prone to breakage over time. It can also leave your hair feeling frizzing, rough and unruly when it’s left natural. The way that gels set means that you also won’t have any flexibility to style your hair throughout the day.

Strong hold gels will make your hair stiff and will hold all day, whilst lighter gels will improve your hairs manageability or provide more definition to waves or curls. Most gels provide high shine to the hair.

Wax – Great for medium hold and shine

Wax is a great product for use in a number of styles, you can use wax styling products for everything from messy bed-head looks to structured, formal styles. You can achieve both a matte and shiny finish with wax. Perfect for getting both spikes and a pared-back professional look! Wax is better for straight or slightly way hair as it can clump in curly hair. It’s more pliable than gel and won’t flake in the same way. It’s easier to restyle it throughout the day. They bear a resemblance to pomades but generally have a lighter hold. They have a good level of shine, but not as much holding power. They’re great for classic side parts or pompadours.

Pomade – Great for medium hold and high shine

Pomades are great for sleek, neat hairstyles. Unlike gel, pomade will not dry out the hair and can be restyling over the course of the day. There are a few different types of pomades, including oil-based, wax-based and water-based pomades. They’re creamier than most waxes and come in a range of different holds and levels of shine.

hair pomade

Clay – Great for strong hold and low shine

Clay’s are a natural hair product similar to pomades, although they tend to be sticker and generally have a stronger hold. Clay can make your hair feel fuller by adding thickness and body to the hair follicle. Clay is good to the touch, because it is lightweight and will absorb in the hair without leaving residue behind. This is a benefit for those who don’t like gel because of the flakiness and residue. Clays can be nourishing to the head and scalp, and can draw impurities out of the hair without leaving it feeling dry. Clay is great for men with curly or frizzy hair, as it helps to control unruly hair. Clay gives hair a matte texture or low, natural shine.

Paste – Great for medium hold and shine

Pastes are similar to pomades but have a thicker consistency and texture. Pastes are extremely versatile and will work with most hair types, textures and lengths. They’re mostly water soluble so they will wash out easily with water. Paste is easy to work with when warmed a little in the palms of the hands, it will then reharden in the hair for all-day hold. Pastes give hair volume and hold, but can be restyled with a comb throughout the day.

Cream – Great for low hold and medium shine

Men’s hair cream is excellent for controlling thick, coarse and curly hair. Unlike most men’s hair products, creams are not drying and often contain moisturising ingredients. Creams are ideal for taming flyway’s and don’t leave the heavy, greasy feeling behind that are often experienced with wax and gels. Hair creams do not provide much hold however, and are more for men that are trying to achieve a less frizzy look. They make a great pre-styling product or styling product for men with thin and soft hair.

Mousse – Great for volume

Hair mousse isn’t a popular choice for most men. It’s usually associated with crunchy hair and 80’s style but it’s actually a great choice for light hold, extra volume and high shine – mousse is a triple threat!

Mousse is perfect for men with thin hair as it surrounds the hair follicle, filling it in and puffing it up with polymers. Mousse at the roots and a quick blow dry will give the hair impressive volume. Mousse doesn’t leave flakes or residue like hair gels. Used in conjuction with a paste, mousse is a great way to get a shaped and defined hair style.

Hair serum – low hold and high shine

Hair serums are great for an all-over gloss or adding shine to the hair. Slick and silky in consistency, hair serums are perfect for reducing frizz and adding sheen to the hair. On coarse hair, serums can soften the hair out. They’re easy to apply in damp and dry hair and great as a finishing touch when styling.

Hairspray – final step

A lot of men avoid hairspray because it reminds them of the 80’s, or women’s hair salons but a spritz of hair spray can keep hair in place all day, reduce fly-away’s and protect hair from heat and humidity. It’s perfect when used with other styling products, like pomade when you want to lock your style in for the remainder of the day. Hair spray comes in different levels of hold. They can leave a residue and sometimes require an extra strong clarifying shampoo however.