Tools of Men is reader supported. We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Pomades Vs Wax Vs Gel Vs Clay | Comparing Mens Hair Products

Having good-looking hair is a cheap and easy way to show you have class and a sense of fashion. Ever heard the saying, you gotta look great to play great.

As an added factor having a nice, manicured mane, you can expect an added boost of confidence.

So with that being said, ever find your self browsing the hair product section and find it a bit overwhelming?

I sure have…

There are just so many different types of products, just to style your hair!

So you want the answers without spending the money on the experimentation.

No need to sweat, and you can save the humility and cut your wallet a break. We at Tools of Men went ahead and broke down all of the popular hair styling products – from how they are classified to exactly what look they will make you achieve.

Men’s Go to Hair Product Over the Years Has Been Pomade

pomade for as a mens hair product

If your after a look that will stand out among the rest, well then this just may be your stop.

Pomade dates back to the early 1800s. It used to be made of bear fat, and thankfully with modern-day science, it is made with lanolin, petroleum jelly, or beeswax. Pomades help you achieve the classic Pompadour, Quiff, and Duck-tail hairstyles. When we talk about “greasers,” this was their go-to product.

So enough with the history lesson!

“Original” or “true” pomades are mostly oil based, these pomades are nice if you go to the gym often or live active life style.

See, with this product, your not going to sweat it out like most other products, and you don’t have to worry about partial blindness when your hair gel infused sweat drips into your eye.

On the other hand, you will find that with an oil-based pomade, it’s not going to be the easiest to wash out. Most pomades take a couple of showers to be fully removed from the hair.

Pomades contrary to other products smell quite pleasant and its not as overwhelming as a hairspray.

Most have a mint or clean manly smell.

As a word of warning, pomades may not be the best option for those with skin that is prone to acne. If you think about it, a true pomade like Uppercut Deluxe Pomade is an oil based product and your applying oil directly to your skin which can clog your pores.

If you do have sensitive skin Tools of Men recommend Imperial Barber Products Classic Pomade – you shouldn’t have any problem with this product.

A lot of modern day pomades are now water based products which are more or less resembling a wax with a high shine and a weaker hold.

Pomades are often used with medium to thick hair.

Additionally, a pomade can be used in any length of hair, the recommended length is a medium (1-2″) to medium long hair (2-4″).

If volume is what you are after pomade does provide some but may not be your best choice, for volume you should instead check out a wax or clay.

Overall Application of Pomade

You might find that this will not be the best if you are always in a rush as the product will normally leave your hands oily, which will take a little longer to clean. As for the application process, it’s a little longer since your most likely going for a more crisp, clean-cut look which requires patience and combing.

As with any hair product it is fairly easy to use.

Simply dab about a nickle size amount into your palm.

Then you want to rub through your hands and try to warm up the product.

After that, spread through your hair till you get the look your going for. With the pomade, most people are going for a clean-cut look, so an added step of running a comb through to tidy it up will be necessary.

For more shine apply when your hair is wet and visa versa for less shine apply when your hair is dry.

Notable Characteristics of Pomades

With a Pomade you will find it has a high to medium shine.

Its workable throughout the day, it wont dry out and flake out like some other products.

Has a medium hold, it wont turn rock hard on you.

Most pomades wont break the bank, they are a relatively affordable option for styling your hair.

By and Far the Hottest Hair Product For Men Today is Wax

hair wax vs other mens hair care products

Waxes believe or not are the most popular styling product today!

Its safe to say 75% or more of the hair styling products on the shelf are a wax.

If you ever find your self looking through a magazine and see a male model they are most likely sporting a wax product in their hair.

Waxes according to wikipedia first surfaced with the Guals during the time of Julius Cesar. By far one of the oldest hair products known to man.

As the name indicates, waxes are typically made of wax from bees and are often diluted with an oil or fat to make them more pliable. You will find it may carry some natural oils like coconut oil, olive oil, etc. The purpose of this is to add shine and moisture. Waxes on their own would leave a relatively matte or dull finish.

Modern day water based pomades are better classified as a wax, based on the ingredients.

But for marketing purposes they are labeled as a pomade.

Waxes are going to be the best smelling. The ingredients list in this product is really short and usually all-natural. So, therefore, more attention can be placed on getting a good scent in the manufacturing process.

Waxes have a very wide range in smells. From bubble gum to a woody earthly smell they have it all.

Waxes are most similar to there pomade cousins in the way they don’t flake and provide work-ability.

A lot of people will like to argue and say waxes dry out and flake. I’d agree in saying that the cheaper, lower quality waxes do have those traits.

Tools of Men recommends the following waxes as they are going to be less likely to flake: TIGI Bed Head For Men, or Krew Comb

What really sets waxes apart is the hold and the finish.

A wax will leave a more medium to medium hard hold. For the finish it doesn’t have the high shine like the pomade. It will have a more natural and medium shine.

Of all the men’s hair products covered, wax will be the most versatile product out there. Its good for any hair thick to thin and can also be used in any length of hair.

Here’s the deal:

Waxes are also good for people with more sensitive skin.

If you have thin hair or are in search of volume, well look no further because waxes and clays are going to be your products. With wax, it won’t give you a slick back look like the pomade. But instead, you can go for the messy hair look or spikes that aren’t rock hard. Waxes can also give you the “fluff” look you’re after.

In general this a great product if you are always in a rush in the morning. Styling your hair is usually followed by a really quick clean up process.

With a wax its really easy to wash out of your hands unlike a pomade.

As an added bonus since you will find a wax is similar to chap stick it will leave your hands feeling nice and moisturized.

How To Use a Hair Wax

Simply dab about a dime size amount into your palm.

Then you want to rub through your hands and warm up the product.

Then you will want to spread through your hair till you get the look you’re going for (make sure you start at the root of your hair follicle first and work your way to the ends).

For more hold apply when your hair is wet and visa versa for less hold apply when your hair is dry.

Notable Characteristics of Wax

With wax you will find it has a low to medium shine.

It is workable and last throughout the day, doesn’t dry out and flake.

Has a medium to medium hard hold, it wont turn rock hard on you.

Waxes smell really good and are mostly natural. They don’t contain as many harsh chemicals and some other products do.

Waxes can range from being dirt cheap and being outrageously priced. For the good to great hair wax you could expect to pay around 20 dollars.

Don’t Forget About the Good Ole Hair Gel

hair gel vs other mens hair care products

It is often confusing to people that hair gel is very different than wax, clay, or pomade. It seems today that the words “Hair Gel” have become the “Kleenex” of Hair Products. In other words, people often refer to any hair styling product like a hair gel.

Whether its for styling the hair of a mummy, or if your Guy Fieri getting ready for a TV Shoot hair gels do have a place in our life.

Oh yes, we meant that mummy thing.

Hair gels date back to the time of the ancient Egyptians. Back then, they use to style the hair on the mummies with a fat-based gel. This was done because the Egyptians wanted the deceased to enter the afterlife with some style.

The formula for hair gel has changed a bit over the years. Today we find that modern day hair gels are mostly composed of, ready for this…

Dimethylaminoethylmethacrylate Copolymer, and Aminomethyl Propanol

Or for shorter PVP K-90, this is a copolymer; it is the ingredient that gives the hair gel its ability to hold one’s hair in place. As for Aminomethyl Propanol, it is an alcohol that will help balance the PH level of the PVP K-90; it also extends the product’s shelf life.

Hair gels as a finished product is a water based product.

Some types of hair gel offer a temporary dye or an extreme hold, now these are more popular with the punk rock crowd.

The biggest thing about hair gel that makes it different than all of the other is the hold.

Fortunately most brands today have a numbering system that from least to greatest establish how much hold their product will offer.

This product is usually in the arsenal of people who like to have a more complex hairstyle. People will often use a weaker gel to style their hair how they want and blow dry it to set. From there, they will use a spray or wax to lock that look in place for the day, and they get the very workable gel look.

But most hair gel will leave you with a rock hard hold like Moco de Gorilla Gorilla Snot Gel, there are some however that will give you a lighter hold like American Crew Classic Light Hold. Gels do smell and are for the most part stronger than the others.

Hair gels often have a clean or fresh smell. Some gels that are unscented may smell a lot like glue.

Hair gel, for the most part, is great if you are looking for something that is going to hold all day and if you don’t have a habit of touching your hair. However, if you run your hand through your hair, you can often expect your hairstyle to be different unless you get more gel. Hair gel is not very workable.

Some of the cheaper, lower quality hair gels are notorious for flaking.

We at Tools of Men are proud to let you know we saved you the headache and have done our research. We were able to find that Tea Tree Styling Gel Unisex Gel by Paul Mitchell and American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel are going to be among the best hair gel money can buy.

Hair gel is good for people with medium to thick hair and can be worked into any length of hair.

Since it is a water based product and easy to wash out, this is perfect for someone who has very sensitive skin and is prone to acne.

This product is going to be your best friend your if not a morning person and always in a rush.

Simply put – it’s quick and effortless.

Oh and clean up is super easy.

Tips On Using Hair Gel

It honestly doesn’t get any easier than this:

Simply squirt a small amount into your hand.

Each gel is different some you need a lot and some you need very little. To be safe we’d recommend staring with a dime size amount and moving up from there.

Then you want to rub your hands together spreading it to all of your fingers.

After that spread through your hair till you get the look your going for.

For more hold apply when your hair is wet and visa versa for less hold apply when your hair is dry.

Since its typically a water based solution – clean up will only take a quick wash of the hands.

Quick Look of the Characteristics of Hair Gel

Hair gel has a medium to dull shine.

For the most part it’s not very workable but it will last throughout the day.

Cheaper gels due tend to dry out and flake.

Has a medium hard to hard hold.

As far as the price tag for a good gel, you can expect to pay far less than any other good hair product that is not a gel. However, gel-like wax does have its extremes, really overpriced, and it’s likely to be a waste of money.

The Emerging Hair Product For Men is Hair Clay

hair clay vs other mens hair care products

Finally we have the clays. Hair clay is probably the most unique one on this list and probably the least used.

Hair clay, molding clay, or just clay for short is the relative new kid on the block.

Every true hair clay on the market does actually have clay in it!

The clay will often be close to solid or a very thick paste. All of the molding clays usually contain main ingredient called bentonite which is a clay.

So whats so great about clay…

Well it’s most similar to wax, it has all the great characteristics of wax plus more!

See the bentonite in the product has the ability of making a hair follicle look/feel thicker and adds volume to all types of hair. If you opt in to use a blow dryer you can even add in more volume to your hair.

Hair clays are great for all skin types; in fact, hair clay often has healing properties that help repair damaged hair and alleviate dryness to the scalp. This, in return, helps promote hair growth!

A great hair clay that’s recommended by Tools of men is: Uppercut Matt Clay

So this product similar to the wax and pomade has medium to medium loose hold.

A big difference from all of the other products is the final result; your hair will not look as if you have any product in at all. It leaves a very matte and natural finish.

Clays have a very subtle but great scent often a clean or earthy smell.

The application process is straightforward and clean up is a breeze. It washes out of your hair effortlessly and doesn’t leave your hands covered in an really sticky residue.

Tips on Using Hair Clay

So a clay is just as easy to use as any other hair product.

All you have to do is scoop out about finger tip worth of product.

Put the product in your palm and the rub your hands together making sure to generate some heat.

After that go ahead and spread through your hair till you get the look your going for – start from your roots and work your way to the tip.

If you want or more firm hold apply when your hair is damp or if you want a ton of volume add when hair is damp and blow dry.

General Characteristics When It Comes To Hair Clay

The clay has a very matte natural finish.

Clays are very workable and allow you to style it all throughout the day.

Has a medium hard to medium less hold.

Clays unfortunately do not have the cheapest price tag. You can expect to pay a little more for a clay.

Understanding the Right Product For You

So, whats the verdict…

Here at Tools of Men we have narrowed down the best products for the best people.

If your hair is medium – thick and and you want a slick back or clean cut look,

Well then pomade is going to be the answer.

More specifically Uppercut Deluxe Pomade which is preferred “True” pomade choice here at tools of men.

With this you get the traditional pomade look and feel. Also its easier to wash out unlike most true pomades.

If you want the pomade look but have sensitive skin then Imperial Barber Products Classic Pomade will be the best bet.

So what If your a total beginner to styling your hair.

… and you also don’t want to spend an arm and a leg.

Hair gel like Tea Tree Styling Gel Unisex Gel by Paul Mitchell or wax such as Krew Comb is going to be your choice.

With the wax, you will find it’s the easiest and the most versatile to use and clean up. Now For the gel, you will find it’s cheap and effortless to use, and it holds the same look all day.

If you find your super health conscious and want great looking hair with out the shiny product look.

Clay like Uppercut Clay is the perfect option.

Sean Miller

As co-founder of Tools of Men, Sean Miller has nearly a decade of experience in male beard and grooming care. He started the site in 2014 after discovering the lack of quality men’s grooming information online. He is a nationally recognized expert in hair, beard and skin care for men, and has been featured in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Vice, and more. He is also a frequent contributor to various online and print publications.

Sean Miller has dedicated his career to helping men understand the basics and fine details of proper grooming. He's traveled the world, testing products and learning from industry insiders to gain the knowledge he shares on Tools of Men. With a special focus on the trends, technology and products specifically designed for men he provides an educated, honest and informed perspective.