hair gel

What’s the difference between hair gel, hair clay, hair wax and hair putty? Leave a comment

Due to the decades of men using what they know as hair gel, hair gel is still commonly used to generally describe a men’s hair product.

Over the last few years, trends and product technology has adapted and yet still men will ask me “which hair gel is best for me?” and I must be honest, for many reasons I refuse to discuss or recommend hair gel, full stop. But the thing is, I know most of the time they don’t actually mean hair gel!

 Everybody knows those big jars of slimy hair gel, with like 90% alcohol content, normally comes in a very bright color like blue or purple, that you can buy for less than 60p in a supermarket. This is hair gel. But some men still refer to clays, cements, shapers, pomades and puttys as hair gel!

So, when these men are talking about hair gel, we can assume they actually just mean a “hair product” in general.

If you are now thinking that you would be one of those guys that is saying hair gel, when it is actually a hair clay, pomade or hair wax you mean, do not be worried at all. A lot of companies, manufacturers and even brand names themselves are using all kind of product names interchangeably.

Like when these men are using the term hair gel to describe a hair product, around the globe, others are known to refer to hair products as “pomade” instead.  And when even the ‘professionals’ no longer seem to know the difference, then who does.

That is why in this blog I wanted to clarify and talk about the different categories of hair styling products for men.

Let’s get rid of any confusion!

Hair wax

Hair wax is one of the most versatile hair styling products for men. Like the terms, hair gel and pomade, hair wax is also a commonly used term by men for a hair styling product.

But hair wax usually provides a stronger hold than other products and that is why it is a popular choice.. The finishes can, depending on which brand you use be different. Some waxes leave you with a matte look, others with a high shine.

In more cases than not, a hair wax is usually a relatively dry product that you use for texture, definition and hold. In comparison, a hair clay is a bit dryer and a paste would be slightly wetter than a hair wax.

Basically there are two types of hair wax, water based ones and oil based (petroleum) ones, but you have of course hybrid products that have a bit of both.

An oil based hair wax generally offers a higher hold, but it would be more difficult to wash it out compared to a water based product. Because of all those properties mentioned above, a hair wax is considered a very versatile hair styling product that can be used in short to medium long hair. It is also great to use for a large variety of hair styles. Hair waxes are best not to use in very long hair and are also not a really the best choice for slick (back) looks.

Most popular hair wax for men

Hairbond Shaper Toffee
Hairbond Shaper Professional Hair Toffee

Hair clay

Hair clay is also a very popular hair styling product suited to many hair types and hairstyles. The properties of hair clays are great for men that are looking for hairstyles with a matte finish.

Hair clay is usually dryer and a bit more stiff compared to a regular hair wax and that is what gives the product its hold and matte finish. For men with thinner hair a hair clay can be an option for some more volume when you apply it in damp hair before blow-drying.

That way your hair will look fuller and thicker. But when your hair is thin you also need to be careful that you do not get too much tug and pull, because it can be too dry and strong enough to pull hairs from your head.

If this is the case, opt for a medium hold clay, which is still creamy in texture. I recommend the Hairbond Distorter, one of the highest performing products I’ve ever used.

Men with thick hair can also benefit with hair clays because it can control thick hair. You should not use too much because otherwise you can experience problems with the application because it can by dry to distribute it evenly in thick hair.

 It is defintely one of the best hairstyling products to have in your bathroom, because the textured and matte finish hairstyles are more popular than ever and are here to last.

Hair pomade

We’ve discussed pomades many times before, we now know a pomade is a specific product with particular properties that are good for only certain hairstyles. You have the water based pomades and oil based pomades and each group has their own properties. Water based pomades are easy to apply, easy to wash out and they dry a bit in the hair. Oil based pomades do not dry in the hair, so they stay more flexible and they provide a heavier hold, but washing them out it harder.

Hair pomades are usually products that are a bit “wetter” in texture compared to clays, waxes and pastes. Only creams are significantly wetter.

Pomades are especially great for classic looks from the 1950’s and 1960’s and polished looks. Think of red carpet hairstyles. The hold can be from light to heavy, but usually pomades offer some shine.

 The pomade market is huge, some products labelled as pomade and infact aren’t anything similar when you get inside.

Most regular pomades are also not too dry, so you can use them in wavy or curly hair. Other products can sometimes be a bit more difficult to apply in wavy or curly hair, but pomades are usually pretty easy to distribute through your hair.

Hair gel

Hair gel texture

I said I wouldn’t discuss hair gel but I must share my concerns. Hair gel is somewhat similar to water based gel-type pomades in the way that both are relatively wet products, but hair gel is slightly wetter and slimier. The hold of a gel is usually not that high either, because the product is wet and it breaks down easily. Think of a thick hand sanitiser gel, hair gel is not so dissimilar in texture when in the hands.

Whilst I think all hair gels are nasty,  it is not versatile either and usually also not that natural of a product. Cheap hair gels are chemical and they can leave white flakes in your hair. If you foget to wash it out after every application, you might wake up like a snowy Christmas tree. However if you are thinking of going back in time, and using a hair gel again, hair gels are very easy to wash out with some warm water as they are water based.

Hair paste

Hair paste is a hard to define category of hair products because it has quite a lot of similarities to hair wax. You could say that hair paste offers usually just a little less hold and it slightly wetter than most hair waxes. A hair paste is one of the better products if you like to restyle your hair a lot during the day. It stays more flexible compared to a hair wax or clay and it will also not dry into your hair like a hair gel or water based pomade. The variety between hair pastes is, like hair waxes, pretty big. Some offer a high hold and matte finish, while others will provide just definition and accentuation with shine. It is a very all-round kind of styling product that can help with a great variety of hairstyles.

Hair cream

Hair cream is a pretty wide category. It is basically the wettest product category there is, but that is to be expected of a hair cream. Creams tend to have a bit of a lower hold up till a medium hold. They are primarily meant to add some texture or control to your hair. You do not use them for hold or very tight looks, but they are great for messier and longer hairstyles. When it comes to shine you will usually get a medium to high shine when you apply a hair cream. Most of the creams will not provide you with a matte finish because they are too wet for that.

Creams are great for those out-of-bed looks and messy hairstyles. It will seem you have hardly anything in your hair but that is of course not true. Creams are also great for wavy or curly hair if you like a bit more control or if you would like to make your hair more straight. When clays and waxes are to dry and stiff for you, you could have a look at a hair cream and maybe even mix a high hold product with a hair cream to achieve a nice mix of hold and applicability.

Styling powder

Styling powders are a relatively new kid on the block as a category of hair products for men. The first time I used one, it was the Moulder Powder made by Hairbond United Kingdom. Styling powder is a product you apply directly at your roots and then you mold and piece it into your hair.

This kind of product is great when you like to get some more volume in your hair and make it appear thicker. You hair will get more body, especially when you add it to your roots.

Styling powders are also great pre-styling products, but the difference is that you apply it in dry hair. Other pre-stylers you apply in damp hair and then you use a blow-dryer in most cases, but for obvious reasons you should not do that when you applied a powder.

So, always apply the styling powder in dry hair and never blow-dry it afterwards. You can apply your favorite post-styler afterwards if you like to style your hair a bit more, but in many cases it is not really necessary.

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As you just read, there are a lot of different hair products for men. And to be honest, I even deliberately left out some categories for convenience.

Maybe you have seen other products called putty, fiber or mud for example. In my opinion the first two are basically a waxy type of product and a mud is basically a hair clay.

One brand will call their product a putty and another one will call their product a fiber wax, when they are really quite similar. A putty would maybe be slightly less dry and stiff compared to most waxes, so you could position it between a wax and a paste, but for some we are just “splitting hairs”.

Of course there will be other people with other opinions, but if you just take away from this article that there are many different products and that you have to look careful to what product is best for you, then I am already a happy man.

So always read the descriptions of products carefully and do not buy blindly the same product as your best friend did, but check if that particular product is good for your hair type and if it can achieve your desired hairstyle!

If in doubt always ask your barber for their expertise.

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