What is Pomade? The Ultimate Hair Styling Guide - Public Goods

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What is Pomade? The Ultimate Hair Styling Guide

Has there ever been a word that conjures up such a wealth of history and style as “pomade”?

open jar of wax pomade, public goods

Probably, but we’re not here to discuss those. Instead, we’re going to help you get the most out of what some see as the best men’s hairstyling product in existence.

When you hear “pomade,” you might think it’s an old-timey hair product for the Fonzies, Elvises and other engine-revving greasers of bygone days.

Yet you’ve outgrown the look of gelled spikes and mohawks, and you’re searching for a styling product that will give you a more professional look.

We could write volumes on the pros and cons of mousse and hair spray, but why bother? When you have a high-quality pomade literally at your fingertips, your time is better spent working with this versatile and timeless product.

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What is Pomade?

Pomade is a hairstyling product that offers users a lasting hold and a healthy shine. Typically made with lanolin, beeswax and/or petroleum, pomade cleans up your luscious locks and holds them in place all day long. There’s a variety of pomades out there formulated for different hair types and hairstyles.

A Brief History of Hair Pomade

Hair pomade may seem like a new fad, but this styling product has been around for centuries. The term “pomade” is derived from French word for ointment, which this product was originally used for before it became a hair product. In the 19th century, the primary ingredient in pomade was bear fat (that’s right, bear fat), but this was replaced in the following century by petroleum, lard and beeswax.

It wasn’t until the 1930s, when still popular brands like Murray’s Superior Pomade and Royal Crown Hair Dressing hit the market, that hair pomade entered the mainstream spotlight. Movie stars like Cary Grant and Rudolph Valentino sported the combed over look that many normal men decided to mimic using this product. A few decades later, starting during the World War II era, teenagers started to take a liking to hair pomade, which continued to grow in popularity once Elivs and the rock-and-roll era took America by storm.

Types of Pomade

Over the past few centuries, barbers and hairstylists alike have crafted various forms of pomades to meet their clients’ needs. You’ll want to choose a pomade that aligns with the hairstyle you want and the hair type you have.

Oil-Based Pomade

You don’t have to be in the Jets or the Sharks to rock an oil-based (or petroleum-based) pomade. The beauty of oil-based pomade is that its “oiliness” depends on how much you dare to use.

Despite its name, oil-based hair pomade is made of petroleum jelly. This is the ingredient that lends its high shine to your hair.

While petroleum jelly does not moisturize your hair, it does create a protective coating. This coating locks in existing moisture and reduces the appearance of split ends. This type of hair pomade can also be used to straighten out curly hair.

Not only does it add a healthy radiance to your mane, it’s also the best option for men who want to restyle their hair throughout the day. Because petroleum doesn’t dry, you can slip a comb through your hair for a fresh look whenever you get the urge.

The downside to oil-based pomade is it can require multiple washes to get out — and shampoo typically doesn’t do the trick. We’ll offer some tips on washing it out later.

Oil-based pomade is an excellent option for slick-back hairstyles, like the duck-tail or pompadour.

Water-Based Pomade

Water-based pomade is an excellent solution to the stickiness of oil-based pomade. This water-soluble formula washes out in just one shower.

However, water dries quickly. And when it does, you’re left with a style you’d better love, because you’ll have to wash and style it again if you’re unsatisfied.

While water-based pomade provides a strong hold, it can’t be easily combed throughout the day. This inflexibility could cause problems on windy days. And if it rains, you can forget styling at all.

Water-based pomade is best applied on quiffs and comb-overs, as the hold is strong enough to support taller hairstyles.

Wax-Based Pomade

For a medium hold and a matte finish, our wax-based pomade is your best bet.

A high shine hairstyle isn’t for everyone. The addition of wax gives your hair a more natural matte look and adds texture. Matte pomade provides a stronger hold than oil-based pomade, but not so much that your hair feels crunchy (yes, we’re picking on gel again).

If you are seeking a higher shine, Lloyd Ellman, Director of Operations at Public Goods, told us all you have to do is add a little more product to your hair.

Wax-based pomade doesn’t dry out as quickly as water-based pomade, but it does dry after a few hours. This limit makes it difficult to restyle later.

Love the casual look of messy hair? Wax-based pomade cleans up bedhead without making it look like you tried too hard.

Clay Pomade

Also called putty, paste or hair clay, clay-based pomade acts as a hybrid between pomade and gel. Clay pomade offers a strong hold, but may feel tacky. Great for adding texture and structure to unruly hair, it gives a matte finish similar to that of wax.

Clay pomade can feel a bit clumpy, not unlike gel. It is more difficult to wash out than water-based pomade or wax, but easier than oil-based pomade.

Fiber Pomade

Fiber pomade is usually water-based, but it’s very thick. It includes extra-long fibers that add a texturizing effect, along with more flexibility and less weight than traditional greases. With a matte finish and a strong hold, this is one of the preferred products for men seeking the bedhead look.

Ingredients used to create fibers may vary between brands. According to Imperial Barber Products, the fibers inside of their Fiber Pomade are made with water-based silica.

Because fiber pomade is stiff and waxy, this isn’t a product for men who like to run their fingers through their hair. Its strong hold makes hair feel rough to the touch. When using fiber pomade, less is more.

Gel Pomade

So you know all about hair gel, but what is gel pomade? Gel pomade is a hybrid of water-based pomade and hair gel. It goes into your hair lighter and smoother than hair gel, but quickly dries and stiffens.

Gel pomade is certainly a step up in precision from hair gel, but it hardens the same way. If you’re looking for carefully sculpted spikes, gel pomade is the way to go.

Light, Medium, Strong Hold: What’s the Difference?

When we talk about the strength of a hair product, we’re referring to its “holding power.” Holding power is categorized into light, medium and strong (or maximum) hold.


Light hold means your pomade will condition and position your hair, but it will still have some movement. Your hair may still flow in the breeze, but it won’t become frizzled and disheveled (unless that’s the look you’re going for).


Medium hold allows for some movement, but more or less keeps your hair in place. Medium hold pomade is great for adding texture, but not for sculpting your ‘do.


Strong hold pomade is ideal for men who want to keep their look the same all day, come rain or shine. After all, your hair wants to fall a certain way — usually in the direction of gravity’s pull. For tall combovers and high quiffs, you’ll need a strong hair pomade that can sustain your hair in an unnatural upward position.

How to Use Pomade (& Remove It From Your Hair)

Pomade usually comes in a stout tin or small, cylindrical tub, making it easy to scoop with your fingertips.

You don’t necessarily want to apply pomade directly to dry hair. Most pomade is best applied to clean, damp hair right after you get out of the shower. You can still apply pomade to dry hair, but it will be harder to evenly distribute the hair product.

Simply scoop a dime-size amount of product out of the tin and rub it between your fingertips. Starting from the root, stroke your fingers through your damp hair in the direction you want it to stay.

If you’re using oil-based pomade, finish the style off with a fine-toothed comb. If you’re using a wax or hair clay for a messy look, just ruffle your hair with your fingers.

How to Remove Pomade from Your Hair

Most men who use oil-based pomade understand that it’s difficult to remove, even with shampoo. In fact, that’s the reason many men use it. Oil-based pomade stays in your hair well through a shower, making it easy to restyle when you get out.

However, if you’ve opted for oil-based pomade and are struggling to wash it out, try this:

  1. Wet your dry hair.
  2. Massage a grease-cutting dish soap into your hair (our plant-based dish soap is excellent at breaking up grease, and it smells like citrus and basil!)
  3. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Rinse it out in the shower.
  5. Immediately wash your hair with your favorite shampoo and conditioner.

Wax and water-based pomade can be washed out using your normal shampoo and conditioner routine.

Popular Pomade Hairstyles

Pomade can be used to achieve many different popular hairstyles. Here are some of the most popular styles you can sport with this popular hair product:

  • Pompadour – Think Elvis. This hairstyle brings long hair locks above the forehead into a large curl or wave. Oil and wax-based pomades make this style look professional.
  • Quiff – A play on the pompadour, the quiff draws the hair above the forehead up and back. For a clean look, use oil-based pomade. You can add texture to a quiff with wax or water-based pomade. Best suited for those with medium-length hair, using a blow dryer after putting in the pomade can help keep your hair in place.
  • Ducktail – This style refers to the back of the head, where hair is pulled from the sides down toward the neck. Use oil-based pomade to nail this look.
  • Spiky – Even spikes for short hair require a strong hold. Using a wax or water-based pomade, grab your hair between your fingertips and pull straight up.
  • Bedhead – For a look that says, “I just rolled out of bed like this,” use a wax-based pomade. Coat your hair in pomade and tussle your locks into place.
  • Natural waves – Wax-based pomades are the best for adding texture. Apply the pomade and use a comb or round brush to style your waves.

Is Pomade Right for You?

Yes. Because pomade is such a versatile hairstyling product, there’s nothing you can’t do without one of the six types of pomade we outlined above. Compared to hair gel, pomade is a no brainer. And if you’re still in love with hair wax, a wax-based pomade could take your style to the next level.

The question is: which pomade is right for you? The answer ultimately depends on your hair type and the style you want to show off. Only you can decide.

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