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Pomades, Gels, Waxes: What's the Difference?

There are so many types and categories of hair styling products, choosing one can be frustrating. Let us help you narrow down your choices by describing each category of men's styling products and their differences.


There are two major types of pomade; petroleum based and water based. Petroleum based pomades are the original kind. They are made with real grease and fatty ingredients to produce the shine and hold. Water based pomades are water soluble making them easier to wash out of the hair than actual grease. These are typically also better for the health of the scalp but some plain just prefer to stick with old school, the classics. Pomades are meant for those that want to achieve slick, neat and shiny dos and especially for styles like the pomp, quiff or ducktail. Unlike gels, this product does not dry out and will not harden on the hair. Holds tight but remains pliable.


These typically are somewhat translucent in color and generally thinner in consistency than pomades or waxes but can be considered "lightweight" or "heavyweight" depending on hold. Unlike waxes and pomades, gels actually harden on the hair leaving a stiff feeling and a shiny, wet look. It is beneficial to use a gel that is alcohol free to avoid flaking. These are also easier to wash out. For those with thin or thinning hair it is recommended to use a lightweight gel and opposite for those with thick or curly/wavy hair.


Waxes, pastes, and clays are one in the same. These are significantly of a thicker consistency than other styling products but again unlike, gel will not stiffen in the hair although will feel "tackier" than most products. Some waxes add a little shine but most are matte finish which is great for the messy, dry look with a strong hold.


Creams and Serums are basically for finishing touches or hair protection. Contain little to no hold but make the hair more manageable. Used to add brilliant shine, smooth and lock down frizz. Some can be applied to the hair while it's wet to help protect against heat tools, such as the blow dryer or a flat iron. You then apply it once your style is complete for the finishing touch. Creams and serums can also be added to wax or pomade for a customized product which adds more shine and control.


Hairsprays can be used on their own to add volume or boost the roots and also can be added after your favorite product for additional shine and an extra kick of hold. These do tend to stiffen slightly and leave your hair with that "crisp" feeling. There are two general types of sprays; a pump which will add a bit more shine than the second, being aerosol which will vary from brand to brand regarding shine.

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