Pomade vs Wax vs Gel | What to Use to Style Hair
Let’s be honest: Men’s hair products don’t receive the same attention as their feminine counterparts.
This lack of education can lead to confusion on how to properly do your ‘do and keep yourself looking sleek and well-groomed. Hairstyles come in and out of fashion faster than you can dry your hair, so knowing which hair styling products work best with your mane is a wise move.
The simple answer in the “pomade vs wax vs gel” debate is that each product holds your hair differently. Lloyd Ellman, wax pomade developer at Public Goods, noted that the best hair styling product for you will ultimately come down to your hair type and the style you want to sport.
“I prefer wax, as my hair tends to be naturally oily,” he explained. “I prefer a more organic look.”
Put simply, pomade adds a high shine but usually offers the least hold. Wax contributes less shine but provides a strong hold that keeps your hair in place throughout the day. Finally, hair gel can turn your hair into an impressive sculpture, but you can forget about switching up your style mid-afternoon.
So what’s that mean for you? Let’s brush up on the details so you can get the right hair product for your hair type and style.
Pomade: It Isn’t Just for Greasers
If you’re a dapper man, you already know the sleek shine a good pomade can create. Pomade has persevered through the years because it can be combed and restyled throughout the day. It adds a shine like no other hair product, making your hair appear healthy and hydrated. Pomade is also pliable and flexible.
You can use hair pomade to add high shine and control fly-aways. If you want to take your look to the next level, use pomade for one of these hairstyles:
- Slicked-back hair
- Sharp side part
- Cool comb-overs
Hair pomade comes in three major forms: petroleum, water and wax-based.
Petroleum or petrolatum-based pomade was once the most common form. This version of pomade provides that slick look to medium-length hair that is beloved by greasers and professionals alike. It often provides high hold and makes your hair look shiny and silky smooth.
However, there are several issues with this oil-based pomade. First, petroleum isn’t water-soluble, making it tough to wash out. Secondly, while petroleum is reportedly non-comedogenic (meaning it doesn’t clog pores), it does have a tendency to trap oil and dirt in your hair follicles. Over time, this side effect can lead to dry scalp and dandruff.
Generally speaking, many environmentally-conscious consumers avoid petroleum products because the production of crude oil increases greenhouse emissions and contributes to climate change. The toxicity of petroleum also leads to air pollution, acid rain and various illnesses.
Water-based pomade, on the other hand, is easy to wash out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the same sparkling glow oil-based pomade does. On top of that shortcoming, you may have to worry about losing your hold on a rainy day. If you want slicked-back hair without a shiny or wet look, go for one of these water-based hair pomades.
According to Ellman, wax-based pomade offers the best of both worlds. It ditches the petroleum in favor of nourishing, natural oils to complete your radiant, healthy look. Just a small amount adds texture without getting your hair gummy.
“A wax pomade is suitable for light, tousled looks but can also be applied more heavily to achieve a slick style similar to a pomade,” Ellman said.
Public Goods’ wax pomade, for example, is a lightweight and pliable styling product that offers a flexible high hold. It contains coconut oil and almond oil to help condition your hair. It can even be used to control and shape your mustache and whiskers.
How to Apply Pomade
To avoid locking in dirt and oil, apply pomade after you’ve washed your hair. Give it a rough dry with a towel.
Next, apply a dime-sized portion of pomade to your fingertips. Rub it between your hands and comb your fingers through your hair, starting as close to your scalp as possible.
Gently work the product to the ends of your hair. You may want to do this in sections, starting with the sides of your head and then the back and top. This routine will help you apply the pomade evenly.
Because pomade can be restyled all day long, make sure your hair is sufficiently coated in the hair product before styling.
Finally, style your hair to your liking.
Wax: It Isn’t Waning
The biggest difference between pomade and wax is its longevity. Usually formulated from beeswax or grease from sheep’s wool (also known as lanolin), hair wax provides a strong hold compared to the gelatinous quality of pomade.
If you have oily hair, hair wax may be your new best friend. Not only does it offer a strong hold to your hair, but it also lacks petroleum, preventing your hair from looking greasy. Instead, hair wax products tend to give your hair a matte finish, appearing more natural compared to the heavy shine other hair styling products offer.
Use wax to add texture to your look. Hair wax is best used for the following hairstyles:
- Controlling curly hair
- Adding structure
- Supporting short spikes
- Styling taper fades and undercuts
How to Apply Hair Wax
You can apply wax to wet or dry hair, depending on the look you want. If you apply it to your hair when it’s wet, you’ll get more of a smooth medium shine. On dry hair, it can be used to perfect a messy bedhead look with a semi-matte finish.
As with pomade, start with a small, dime-sized amount of wax. Wax can be more difficult to manipulate when it’s cold, so be sure to rub it between your hands to warm and loosen it.
With your fingers coated in warm wax, work the product from your hair’s roots to its tips.
Style it how you like, but remember that after a few hours, it will stiffen and be difficult to restyle.
Hair Gel: Provides Maximum Hold and Support
Hair gel is probably the most common kind of styling product, but it’s best used for hairstyles that need a lot of support. It’s the least flexible of the three options.
Gel dries within minutes of application. When it does, it tends to become rock solid. You can’t restyle your hair throughout the day like you can with pomade. Fortunately, most products are water-soluble, making it easy to wash out.
A word of caution to hair gel users: because of its super solid nature, the gel can crack throughout the day, creating visible white flakes. This side effect typically happens when too much gel is used and can look like dandruff.
Gel is a powerful tool to keep in your hair care cabinet, especially if you’ll be sporting the following hairstyles:
- A mohawk
- A front flip
- A high crew cut
How to Apply Hair Gel
Hair gel is best applied to clean, mostly dry hair. Because it’s water-soluble, applying hair gel to wet hair can negatively affect your styling process.
When it comes to hair gel, less is more. To avoid undesirable white flakes, start with a pea-sized amount. You can always add more if necessary.
Rub the drop of hair gel on your fingertips. Comb them through your hair. Style your hair within minutes of application. Once it’s dry, it will be difficult to restyle.
Other Products: Hair Clay, Hair Paste, Creams, Hair Spray and Texture Powder
We’ve covered the three most popular hair styling products, but there are also other options out there. Here’s a quick overview of other products you can choose from:
- Hair Clay: Similar to hair wax, hair clay softens and disentangles hair, offering little to no shine and a natural look. It provides a high hold and matte finish.
- Hair Paste: Perfect for a messy or bedhead look, hair paste adds texture and is malleable, so you can restyle it throughout the day.
- Hair Cream: Also known as styling cream, hair cream gives a natural shine to hair. With a low-to-medium hold, this product controls hair without making it greasy.
- Hair Spray: A commonly used hairstyling product that prevents hair from becoming unkempt from humidity and wind.
- Texture Powder: A fine and lightweight powder that gives hair a dry, matte finish. It doesn’t have a scent or gummy feel to it, leaving the hair with an airy texture.
Pomade vs Wax vs Hair Gel: Which Should You Use?
Again, deciding which product is best suited for you will depend on your hair type and desired style. To summarize: pomade is sleek and shiny, wax provides an excellent firm hold, and gel is the hair product that is essentially equivalent to glue.
If you’re still unsure about whether to use pomade or wax, why not choose both? Wax pomade is an excellent middle ground. You can achieve any style (short of six-inch spikes) with wax pomade. Your hair (and mirror) will thank you.
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