The ultimate men’s hair products guide for dapper gentlemen
If there’s something that, as a barber and hair salon owner, I feel that has plenty of misconceptions, then that would be the topic of hair products for men. Back in the days when slicking your hair back or sweeping it to the side were the most common hairstyles (i.e. 1920s to 1960s), men had it very easy when it came to choosing hair products: it was either an oil-based pomade, a hairdressing cream or a hair tonic. That was all that there was with regards to men’s hair products, and each of these 3 aforementioned hair products had very pronounced results:
- Oil-based pomades gave a very strong hold to style the hair and plenty of extra shine. Oil-based pomades were most-commonly used to slick back the hair or to sweep the hair flat to the side.
- Hairdressing creams had a medium hold while leaving the hair less oily than the oil-based pomades did. Hairdressing creams were used primarily to comb the hair flat and to the side in a side swept hairstyle. Hairdressing creams were also used by curly haired men as the best hair products (out of the main 3 available) to side sweep their curls for the classic 1930s gentleman’s look. However, in the case of very curly hair or in order to achieve a dapper S-wave curl style, oil-based pomades were the most-preferred product over hairdressing creams for men.
- Hair tonics provided a wet hair effect without the oiliness of the oil-based pomades and of the hairdressing creams. Hair tonics didn’t provide any shine either, so the main use of hair tonics in the decades between the 1920s and 1960s was to side part the hair with some volume while maintaining a formal and elegant gentleman’s look. Hair tonics were eventually replaced by men’s hair wax products and men’s hair gel products in the later decades of the 20th century.
Nowadays in the 21st century and in the 2010s, men have a wider range of hair products to style their hair with. The present-day range of men’s hair products is so wide that many men walk around without having a clue about what actual products to use for the equally-wide range of men’s hairstyles that constitute the repertoire of looks that the modern gentleman can presently choose from on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong here, though: as a barber I can safely state that all classic hairstyles and modern hairstyles have great hair products for men which are tailored for the modern gentleman’s need to keep his hair, style and dapper image in check no matter what the chosen hairstyle may be. And, while there are some excellent websites and resources out there that provide professional advice on men’s hair products, many men continue to remain confused about these products, which ruins the excellent product availability that men can enjoy nowadays.
I’d like to thus publish this men’s hair products guide to detail all the hair products available to you as well as to point you in the right direction when the time comes for you to choose the right hair product for your desired hairstyle. While, as a barber, I do prefer the classic hairstyles and hence the classic men’s hair products (i.e. pomades and hairdressing creams), I do absolutely honor the fact that there are other great types of hair products out there that are designed to perfectly suit the needs of the modern dapper male.
These are the 7 types of men’s hair products that can be used to style your hair and which will be covered in this hair products guide:
- Hair wax
- Hair gel
- Hairstyling cream
- Hair mousse
- Hair spray
- Leave-in conditioner
I will now proceed with this guide to detail below all about each of these 7 hair products for men that you have at your disposal for your hairstyling needs. You will also find, at the end of this guide, a “Frequently Asked Questions” (i.e. a FAQ) section with answers to some extra hair-product questions that you may have and which are based on the questions that I get asked the most at our hair salon by our male clientele.
If you’re into the classic men’s hairstyles, then pomade is the absolute king of all hair products. Pomades have been in use for over a century and their ingredients have changed over time. Originally, pomades were made of mashed apples blended with boar fat (or sometimes with pig fat), which produced quite a greasy ointment. By the 1920s, however, mineral oil was introduced as a base oil to use in pomades and so were other wax-based compounds.
By the early 2000s and after many decades of product innovation in the hair products industry, pomades were made up of a wide range of ingredients, and nowadays we have two main types of pomades: the classic oil-based pomades and the newer water-based pomades (the latter as a type of pomade would have been unthinkable back in the 1920s!).
Oil-based pomades are the type of pomades that rockabilly guys used in the 1960s to slick back their hair into pompadours. Likewise, businessmen and the average American gentleman would also use oil-based pomades to slick their hair back (without a quiff) for a formal look. These pomades were also used to sweep the hair to the side, although hairdressing creams were sometimes preferred over oil-based pomades for the side swept hairstyle.
Oil-based pomades provide a strong hold and you should use them if you intend to style your hair flat and with a high shine. Your hair will remain in place throughout the day, so oil-based pomades are great for hairstyles that you want to keep flattened and shiny all day long.
Water-based pomades are the newer types of pomades that were manufactured as a result of many men needing to slick their hair back (or to the side) without the oily texture that the oil-based pomades yielded.
In a nutshell, water-based pomades offer the same benefits of oil-based pomades, yet water-based pomades lack the main disadvantages of oil-based pomades such as the tendency to yield oily hair, extremely-shiny hair and hardened hair due to an excess of pomade application.
Water-based pomades are great hair products to style your hair with volume while still maintaining a high shine and a strong hold. Use water-based pomades to give your modern slicked back undercut hairstyle some volume, to style your hair in a cool pompadour or in a quiff, or to side part your hair with some volume too while still keeping it looking formal.
Hair waxes were created as alternative hair styling products to pomades. Hair waxes provide different degrees of holding strength and of shine levels while, at the same time, leaving the hair relatively soft and smooth, which automatically makes hair waxes a superior type of product when compared against pomades. The one thing that hair waxes do not provide is the high sheen (i.e. slicked texture) of pomades, although there are several new “pomade waxes” in the market that have all the properties of a conventional hair wax and also provide a decent sheen.
Since hair waxes provide different degrees of textures with equally-different degrees of shine and holding strength, manufacturers have come up with product names to group hair waxes into four main categories or types: pomade wax, hair fiber, hair putty and hair clay.
The problem with these categories is that not all manufacturers abide by the same hair-wax names and sometimes mislabel their hair waxes for marketing purposes. However, I’ll post below a reliable consumer reference explaining the main purposes for each type of hair wax.
Pomade waxes provide a strong hold with a high shine to a very-high shine. The great thing about pomade waxes is that you can use them for the hairstyles suitable for both the oil-based pomades and the water-based pomades. So you can slick your hair flat or you can shape your hair up into a pompadour or brush up hairstyle with a pomade wax.
Hair fiber wax
Hair fiber is made to provide a very-strong hold while providing a medium to high shine. If you want to shape your hair o style it vertically (i.e. style it “up”) with a good amount of shine, then go with a hair fiber wax. The holding strength of hair fiber waxes is stronger than that of pomade waxes, but the shine (from hair fiber waxes) is not as high as that of pomade waxes.
Hair putty wax
Hair putty provides a medium hold and a low to medium shine. Hair putty is the kind of hair wax that suits just about all modern hairstyles for men. So long as you’re not shaping your hair into complex hairstyles, you will do very well with any men’s hairstyle by using a hair putty wax.
Hair clay wax
Hair clay provides a matte finish (i.e. no shine whatsoever) while providing a low to medium holding strength. Hair clay waxes are best suited for casual hairstyles and messy hairstyles for which you want your hair to just look informal and to be free-flowing.
Hair clay waxes are used for the “out of bed” hairstyle effect in which your hair looks messy (as if you just got up from bed and didn’t bother to style your hair) albeit in a nice and clean way. Hair clay is also the best men’s hair product to style your hair so that it looks like you didn’t use a product to actually style your tresses (i.e. your hair will look naturally styled).
Hair gel is possibly the most-known type of men’s hair product to date. Just like with hair wax, hair gel provides a wide range of holding strengths and shine levels. Unlike hair wax, however, hair gel leaves the hair with different degrees of hardness, which is not something that everyone likes.
You will find that hair gels are mainly categorized by their holding strength, with these holding strengths being:
- Low hold
- Medium or firm hold
- Strong hold
- Extra-strong hold
You will also have most hair gels that you buy stating (in the product’s label) their degree of shine level, but it’s the holding strength of the hair gel that matters the most when choosing a styling gel for guys.
Hair gels, independent of holding strength, go very well with most hairstyles for men; in fact, you can use hair gel on the same hairstyles for men that are suited for hair wax. However, the main thing to consider is that hair gel will leave your hair hard to the touch and it will look plastic-like, unlike the naturally-smooth texture that most hair waxes provide.
One trick that I’d like to give you in this guide is to use a low-hold hair gel with hair spray to achieve a “wet hair” effect. Style your hair with the low-hold hair gel while all of your hair is quite damp (almost dripping water) and, once you’re happy with the style and shape of your hair achieved with the low-hold gel, you use hair spray to lock in the hairstyle as well as the moisture of the damp hair, which then retains the dampness of the hair all day long.
If you’ve ever wondered how those male models and celebrities achieve the wet-hair effect, then now you know the trick!
Hairstyling creams provide a natural shine to your hair while providing a low to medium holding strength. Hairstyling creams are also known as styling creams, hairdressing creams or hairdressing lotions, and the current hairstyling creams available are based on the older hairdressing creams that were popular in the 1960s as mentioned earlier.
Modern hairstyling creams are improved versions of these older hairdressing creams, so they (hairstyling creams) provide plenty of natural shine and sheen without giving the hair any oiliness at all. This is a trait that is also shared by water-based pomades, but the main difference between a water-based pomade and a hairstyling cream is that a hairstyling cream has less hold (i.e. holding strength) than a water-based pomade.
Since hairstyling creams do not provide a very-strong hold, they’re suitable for men with long hair who want to keep their hair looking glossy and with plenty of fullness. For men with long hair, hairstyling creams can be used with loose dangling hair and they can also be used when styling “updo” hairstyles that required the hair to be braided or tied. An example of a “tied” men’s hairstyle that benefits plentifully from a hairstyling cream is the trendy man bun hairstyle.
Hairstyling creams have an added benefit that most other types of men’s hair products do not provide: hair moisturizing. Styling creams are great at trapping and locking in the moisture of damp hair, a benefit that positions hairstyling creams as the best men’s hair products for frizzy curly hair. Even for frizz-free curly hair, a hairstyling cream will further enhance the shape and body of the curls, and I highly recommend hairstyling creams as the main hair product for men with curly hair.
The natural shine and low hold achieved with hairstyling creams also make this product a great one for casual and loose hairstyles. Think of styling creams as hair-clay waxes with some more shine. If you enjoy the range of slicked back hairstyles, you can also use a hairstyling cream to slick your hair back, but bear in mind that your hair will not be as secured tightly as you’d achieve with an oil-based pomade, a water-based pomade or a strong-hold hair gel.
Lastly, hairstyling creams are great to tame flyaway hairs in male hair, so, if you happen to have lots of annoying flyaway hairs, then a styling cream is the best hair product for you.
Hair mousse products are designed to augment the natural volume of your hair while providing a medium or firm hold. Hair mousse is dispensed as a foam, but, other than that, you use it on your hair as you’d do with any other hair product in this guide (i.e. use your fingers to coat your hair with the product and then either style your hair with your fingers, a comb or both).
Hair mousse was the most popular hair product back in the 1980s with the “big hair” movement in the rock and roll (and pop) scene. If you imagine for a second the guys from Kiss or Jon Bon Jovi, well, those guys practically lived on a diet of hair mousse and hair spray. Nowadays, hair mousse continues to be used to give hair more volume and even to recreate the big-hair styles that were popular in the 1980s, although the hair mousse products available at present are way better than those available in the ’80s.
Hair mousse does provide a mild moisturizing effect, which makes hair mousse another great product for curly hair men. However, the mosturizing properties of a hair mousse are not as strong and as marked as those of a hairstyling cream; thus, the texture achieved with a hair mousse differs from that of a hairstyling cream.
A hair mousse will provide a hardened texture similar to that of hair gels. You can, in fact, think of hair mousse products as hairstyling creams that provide a harder and drier look to your hair (the hair-hardening effect of hair mousse is what somewhat impairs its own moisturizing properties). Hair mousse will define, shape and increase the volume of your hair, so, if you want to sport a shapely mane, then hair mousse is a great product to use (especially for men with curly hair).
Because of its volume-enhancing properties, hair mousse is also an excellent hair product for balding men and for men with thin hair or thinning hair. A hair mousse will help balding men to look like they have more hair, and the same applies to those guys whose hair is very thin or fine.
Lastly, another trick to give your hair a wet effect is to style your hair with hair mousse when the hair is quite damp (as per the hair gel trick earlier) and then use hair spray to again lock in the dampness of the hair. This wet-hair trick with hair mousse and hairspray works really well for curly haired men, while the wet-hair trick with hair gel and hair mousse works best for men with straight hair and wavy hair. Furthermore, the wet hair effect of hair mousse provides more volume on the hair compared to the wet hair effect of hair gel.
Hair sprays are products designed to secure a hairstyle in place, hence hair sprays are, what I call, hairstyling “finishers”. A hair spray by itself isn’t very useful, but, when a hair spray is used in tandem with any other hair product from this guide, then that’s when the magic happens!
Hair spray amplifies the strong hold of whichever hair product you use to style your hair. Thus, hair spray is an excellent hair product to leave your hair tightly secured in any hairstyle that you shape, whether it is a Gatsby hairstyle or a Mohawk haircut, and all while having you hair locked in your chosen style all day long (and even on to the next day too if you like to party till late!).
Hairstyles that seriously benefit from the use of hair sprays are those that stand up vertically or those that are crafted into complex shapes. Overall, hair sprays are great products for all hair types, from straight hair to very curly hair, so it’s always good to have a good hair spray handy if you feel like styling your hair up or giving your hair a cool-yet-crafted shape.
As I mentioned earlier, hair sprays were all the rage back in the 1980s, but the quality of hair sprays back then wasn’t as good as the quality of modern-day hair sprays. A good hair spray for men will lock your hair into your desired hairstyle shape, but it will also leave your hair flexible and not too hard. A bad hair spray will leave your hair rock-hard and as if you had poured cement on it (this was very common with hairsprays for men in the 1980s).
To use any particular hair spray product, you’d use it after styling your hair with any of the other 6 men’s hair products from this guide. So, for example, if you style your hair as a spiky hairstyle with hair gel, you’d first style the hair with the hair gel and, once you’re happy with how the gelled spikes look, you’d then spray your hair with the hair spray so as to lock in the hair gel as well as your hair into that particular spiky hair shape. The only thing to remember is to leave a distance of about a foot (i.e. 30 centimeters) when spraying your hair with the hair spray.
Last but not least, we have leave-in conditioners as one of the 7 main types of hair products for men. Leave-in conditioners are products that are used to style the hair while giving the hair the most-moisturizing effect of all styling products for men (even more than hairstyling creams). In very basic terms, a leave-in conditioner is a watered-down version of a regular conditioner (i.e. the one that you leave on your hair for 2 minutes while showering).
The holding strength of leave-in conditioners is non existent, so leave-in conditioners are to be used for very loose and casual hairstyles and/or if you have medium-to-long hair and you just want it to hang low and down. While their holding strength is the weakest out of all hair products for men, leave-in conditioners do provide your hair with extra gloss and fullness, instantly giving your hair much-better aesthetics by simply using this type of hair product. Leave-in conditioners do not provide any significant hair shine, so you will end up with very smooth hair that feels and looks natural.
Another great thing about leave-in conditioners for men is that they can substitute the use of regular conditioners. A regular conditioner is a hair care product that, as said earlier, you leave on you hair for 2 minutes while in the shower; this may be inconvenient for some guys and thus using a regular conditioner may not sound like an attractive use of one’s own shower time. Thus, you can simply use a leave-in conditioner to style your hair when you’re out of the shower and have dried your hair.
By using a leave-in conditioner to style your hair, you will get the same moisturizing benefits and extra-gloss benefits that are achieved with a regular conditioner (without having to spend 2 minutes waiting for the regular conditioner to take effect). By far, men with curly hair benefit the most from using a leave-in conditioner, and I constantly recommend leave-in conditioners to my hair salon customers who have curly hair (whether it’s a male or a female). If you have curly hair (or wavy hair), then you should (already) have a leave-in conditioner in your bathroom. The same goes for men with long hair and regardless of the hair type. Leave-in conditioners are just too useful to not have one handy.
Lastly, leave-in conditioners can be used with any of the remaining 6 hair products for men. So you can use a leave-in conditioner with hair gel, hair wax, hairstyling creams and more. The only rule to follow is to always style your hair with the leave-in conditioner first and then follow the hair styling with your second chosen hair product.
Men’s hair products FAQ
There are some common questions that I am asked constantly at my hair salon by our male customers with regards to men’s hair products. For what is worth, the actual use of these 7 men’s hair products in this guide is very intuitive and straight forward. Still, there are some additional tidbits that you may want to know when it comes to using hair products for men correctly.
Can I use 2 hair products together to style my hair?
Yes, you can use 2 hair products together for any hairstyle of your choice. However, I only recommend that you do this with either a leave-in conditioner or a hair spray. What this means is that you can use any other hair product with a leave in conditioner or with a hair spray to style your hair. Here are some great hair product combinations to style men’s hair:
- Hair mousse with hair spray: to achieve a wet hair effect on curly hair.
- Hair gel with hair spray: to achieve a wet hair effect on straight hair.
- Leave-in conditioner with styling cream: to tame frizzy curly hair.
- Leave-in conditioner with hair mousse: to achieve extra hair volume for men who are balding or for men with thin hair or thinning hair.
Should I use a hair product on dry hair or wet hair?
Neither, instead, you should always use a hair product to style your hair when your hair is damp. Styling your hair when it’s dry is a waste of product and the resulting texture achieved will look uneven. Styling your hair when it’s wet will result in your hair continually dripping water and your hair changing shape as the hair dries on its own over the following hours.
For the best men’s hairstyles and aesthetics, you should always style your hair when it is damp. Damp hair is achieved by drying wet hair (e.g. after a shower) with a towel until the hair stops dripping water but the hair still remains humid. This is the perfect scenario to use a men’s hair product to get the best hairstyle possible. Not only that, but you will also maximize your product use and ultimately save money down the road.
Should I use a hair dryer to style my hair?
A hair dryer is an awesome hair styling tool for men. A hair dryer will give your hair a lot of volume (much more than that achieved with hair mousse alone) and the best hair dryers will also reduce any frizz that the hair may have. Regular hair dryers will create more frizz than what the hair already has and they will also progressively damage the hair from the heat of the blown air. A good hair dryer will minimize the damage and frizz, so I highly recommend that you get a good ionic hair dryer for the best men’s hair styling results.
You can use a hair dryer to either dry your hair faster (which makes this tool a very convenient one) or to enhance the volume and shape of your hairstyle. A good hair dryer (i.e. ionic hair dryers) will also enhance the texture and finish that your chosen hair product delivers. So you will get smoother and softer hair with hair mousse or hair wax, while you will get sharper and more defined hair with a strong-hold hair gel or with a pomade.
Can I use a flat iron with the hair products from this guide?
Yes, you can use any of these 7 hair products with a flat iron (i.e. a “hair straightener”). However, you must always use the flat iron first to straighten your hair and then you style your hair with your desired hair product. I also recommend that you get a heat-taming product to apply to your hair prior to straightening your hair, since a heat-taming product (aka “heat tamer”) protects your hair from any damage caused by the high heat of the flat iron.
Do I really have to use any hair products to style my hair?
There’s absolutely no need for you to use hair products to style your hair. Your own hair does a good job at looking aesthetic on its own provided that you have a good diet and that you spread the follicle-secreted sebum across your hair. Sebum is a natural oily substance secreted by your sebaceous glands (attached to your hair follicles) that helps to protect your hair by coating the hair strands, and sebum also makes your hair look glossier, thicker and healthier (while giving some minor hold too). As a matter of fact, you can think of your own hair sebum as a hair clay wax!
If you don’t know anything about using your own hair sebum for better aesthetics, I highly recommend that you read the works of Rogelio Samson, one of the internet’s most famous hair experts. He created a long time ago a method called the Sebum Coating method and the No Shampoo method which make use of your own sebum to kickstart the aesthetics of your own hair. Rogelio Samson has published two excellent hair books for men titled “The Men’s Hair Book” and “The Curly Hair Book” which I also recommend that you own at least one of them. You will be surprised as to how good your hair can look by only using your hair sebum instead of hair products to keep your hair in shape.
I have more questions, how can I ask them?
As with all my guides and articles on this site, you’re free to post comments, so you can ask your hair product questions in this guide by posting a comment below. I will read every comment and will try to help as time allows.
Conclusion to our men’s hair products guide
If you’re serious about being a dapper gentleman, then knowing your hair products is extremely important. With this hair products guide, you can now understand each of the hair products that you can use to style your own hair while clearing out any confusion that you may have had prior to reading this guide.
One thing that I see a lot with the new male clients arriving at our hair salon is that they never get the perfect hairstyle because they fail to use the right hair product in the right way. They will tell us how many hair products they’ve owned and how much money they have spent on products, yet they’ve never achieved a hairstyle look that they were finally happy with.
Some simple hair product advice from either myself or my team of hairdressers and barbers completely changes the situation of said prototypical customers, and, the next time that they come in to our hair salon for another haircut and after having followed our hair product advice, they all always sport a hairstyle look that they are finally satisfied with. All by merely selecting the right type of hair product!