The Ultimate Guide to Men's Hair Products (Every Type Explained)
The right hair products can be an absolute game-changer.
The problem is, finding the best product or combination of products for your hair can be a search that lasts a lifetime—or at least until your hair falls out. This becomes even more true when you consider the sheer volume and variety of hair styling products available today.
With so many options, it’s understandable why you might just latch on to one type of haircut and one type of product and call it a day.
But with so many advances in men’s grooming, there’s never been a better time to step out of your comfort zone and expand your hairstyling arsenal. It is the roaring 20s, after all—have a little fun; get a little adventurous.
That said, not every product is going to work for every hair type or every style. Some are better suited for thin straight hair, while others work best on thick hair.
With this guide, we aim to make it a little more manageable to figure out what type of products might be good for you. We’ll break down every kind of hair product, what each does, and who each one is best for.
TYPES OF HAIR STYLING PRODUCTS
From pomade to wax to hair spray, these are the products that will add varying degrees of hold, texture, volume, and shine to your hair.
Hold: medium to high hold
Shine: high shine
Pomade is the classic men’s hairstyling product—so much so that the word pomade has become a de facto umbrella term for many men’s styling products. But when we talk about pomade, we’re talking pure unadulterated pomade, which comes in two forms—oil-based and water-based.
Oil-based pomades are old-school and have been around since the 18th century. They’re made from grease or petroleum products and give you that high-shine, slick look that can be combed back into place throughout the day—think George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou or Jon Hamm in MadMen.
If your hair tends to be overly dry, an oil-based pomade might be the right move for your quaff since it adds oil into the mix. Oil-based pomades also don’t dry as hard or crunchy as many of their contemporary water-based peers.
The downside is that oil-based pomades can be incredibly difficult to wash out of your hair. Oil and water don’t mix, and therefore, you’re going to be using a lot more shampoo to get it out.
It might not be a product you’ll want to use every day. But if you’re going for a retro-inspired combover or pompadour, oil-based pomade will give you an authentic look and feel.
Most pomades today are water-based, making them easier to rinse out than oil-based pomades. Today’s water-based pomades offer a variety of hold strengths and can be matte or high shine. No matter what style your after, there’s likely a pomade for you.
Water-based pomades tend to leave your hair feeling stiff and crunchy as they dry, especially if you use them on damp hair. Many pomades will soften up once you run your fingers through your hair a few times.
WHO SHOULD USE POMADE?
Pomade is a great option for all hair types and can be used by men with thin and thick hair. We’d recommend using pomade on short to medium classic styles such as side parts, combovers, pompadours, and quiffs. Regardless if you opt for oil-based or water-based, pomade will give you a highly manicured look.
Hold: Low to medium hold
Shine: Medium to high shine
Hair wax is made from ingredients such as beeswax, carnauba wax, and lanolin.
Wax is designed to give you medium to high shine and a lighter hold than pomade. Technically you can use wax on any hairstyle, but it’s an ideal product for creating the messy, textured, bed-head looks that became popular around 2010.
Ruffians Creative Director Denis Robinson recommends applying wax to dry hair, focusing on the areas that need the most shaping and control. Wax does give you the flexibility to re-shape your hair throughout the day. Still, again, it typically won’t give you as much hold and control as other products.
WHO SHOULD USE WAX?
Hair wax is a great option for men with thicker hair that has a natural lift and hold on its own. Use wax on dry hair to add more texture and create a more careless look. If you need more hold or are going for a style that requires your hair to have a little more structural integrity, another product will likely be a better fit.
Hold: medium to high hold
Shine: Low to medium shine
Hair clay and hair wax have many similarities, and many hair clays are made with beeswax.
Is your head spinning yet?
Let’s keep it simple. Wax has more shine and less hold. Hair clay is the exact opposite—matte finish and higher hold.
Like wax, hair clay is ideal for creating textured bed-head styles. However, it’s a better option for men with thinner, straight hair that tends to fall flat when left to its own devices because it has more hold than wax. To get more lift, focus on just the roots when applying the clay. Applying clay to the entire hair shaft would weigh your hair down.
If your hair is already naturally oily and shiny, clay is an excellent option to help tone down some of that sheen you’ve got going on.
Like pomade, clay works well on damp and dry hair.
WHO SHOULD USE CLAY?
Anyone with short to medium length hair who needs a lot of hold but doesn't want any shine. It’s great for creating messy looks that will stay in place throughout the day.
Hold: low to medium hold
Shine: Low shine to medium shine
Styling balms are relatively new and cover a lot of ground regarding what they offer for hair.
Some balms are more creamy and conditioning with low hold, while other balms tone down the conditioning power and focus more on hold.
Beardbrand Styling Balm is made with lanolin, beeswax, and PVP to provide a medium-strength hold and satin-like finish. It’s a lightweight product with a marshmallow-like consistency that works well for all hair types. It can boost volume when applied solely to hair roots but can also be used to create more classic combed-through styles.
Balms will generally give you a very flexible finish that doesn’t try too hard or too crunchy. Beardbrand Styling Balm is no exception.
WHO SHOULD USE STYLING BALM?
Men with short to medium length hair and of all hair types can use Styling Balm.
Hold: medium to high hold
Shine: no to low shine
Hair putty and mud are one and the same—it just depends on what each brand calls it. It’s often confused with hair paste because it has a similar consistency and hold.
Putty is ideal for men going for a casual, easy-going style. And unlike pomade, it adds texture and some movement. The more putty you add, the more of a messy, disheveled look you can create.
You can also use putty as a finishing product to lock in slicked-back styles.
WHO SHOULD USE PUTTY?
Putty is good for various hair lengths and types of hair, but it performs best on shorter hairstyles to add texture without as much shine as wax.
Hold: high hold
Shine: no to low shine
Fiber is strong and pliable. It’s thick and kind of resembles a dried-out wax and has a tackiness that adds volume to your hair.
Fiber generally provides no shine whatsoever, so it’s a fantastic product for a natural, messy look.
The best time to apply fiber is when your hair is dry. It’s excellent for use on thick hair, but if you’re looking for a product that’s more combable, you may want to try styling clay instead.
Know this about fiber—it’s a no-nonsense styling product for men who don’t want their hair to budge even slightly during the day. With fiber, your hold remains locked in until you wash the fiber out.
Pure fiber can be hard to work with, so it often comes in other forms such as fiber foam, fiber wax, and fiber cream.
WHO SHOULD USE FIBER?
Men with short to medium length hairstyles who want to add natural-looking texture with no shine. Fiber works great on thick hair since less product is needed to shape and hold the style.
Hold: medium to high hold
Shine: low to medium shine
Paste is a great tool to have in your grooming kit. It’s a versatile, all-around styling product that can be used on its own or combined with other products.
Paste is good for almost every hairstyle, and you only need a small amount of paste to get the style and hold you desire. It gives your hair separation and flexibility, but it also adds volume and texture—especially if you apply it before blowdrying.
Most pastes are water-based, which makes washing them easy to rinse out, and they won't clump (which makes it easier to restyle your hair during the day). Add a splash of water, and you’re ready to restyle your flow. If you choose a paste that’s thicker than others, rubbing it between your palms will soften it and make it easier to distribute it evenly through your hair.
WHO SHOULD USE PASTE?
Anyone can use paste, but men with thinner hair that doesn’t hold styles well will benefit from the high hold and flexibility that paste provides. It can be used on its own or with other texturizing products like Sea Salt Spray to add even more volume.
Hold: low hold
Shine: low to medium shine
Hair creams come with a variety of benefits. They give your hair flexibility and strength while providing a low hold that doesn’t have the stiffness or greasiness of wax and pomade.
Creams generally consist of oils and amino acids that provide a strong but flexible, natural appearance. Some also act as a conditioner by helping add moisture to the hair.
Texture-wise, creams range between lightweight lotions and those that have wax-like consistency. And some have a stronger hold as compared to others, so it’s essential to define what you want to accomplish by using creams, as well as your preferred hairstyle.
WHO SHOULD USE CREAM?
One of the main benefits of styling cream is to give medium to long hair a healthier look and natural-looking shine. It can be especially beneficial for frizzy hair that’s hard to manage. You can use it to guide your hair in a specific style/direction while taming stubborn stray hairs.
Hair cream is an excellent option for men with thinning or fine hair who don’t like to use pomade or wax. The cream is lightweight enough to make you feel as if you aren’t wearing any product at all and is easily among the best men’s products for thin hair.
Hold: low hold
Shine: low shine
Styling powders are still relatively new but have gained popularity due to their ease of use and ability to use on dry hair.
Texture powders contain a silicone-like material called silica silylate that sticks to hair fibers. In turn, it creates volume by causing friction between the fibers. Texture powders also absorb excess oil from hair, which also helps boost volume.
Some powders may leave your hair feeling a little crunchy and stiff, and if you have coarse hair that tends to be on the drier side, a styling powder may not be the best product for you.
WHO SHOULD USE POWDER?
Men with fine, straight hair that want to add texture and volume. Powder works best on short to medium hairstyles, but we’ve seen men with thin long hair have some success with it as well.
SEA SALT SPRAY
Hold: very low hold
Shine: low shine
Few hairstyling products have garnered as much attention over the past year as sea salt spray—and for good reason.
The biggest style trend to emerge in 2020 is that everything is loose and flowing, and this has continued into 2021. Shirts have gotten bigger and boxier, denim has gone back to more relaxed cuts, and pleated trousers are no longer reserved for film noir and your Grandpa Joe.
The same applies to your hair—long, flowing, and natural looks are where it’s at.
Sea salt spray gives your hair just a touch of hold. It’s enough to set your style, but unlike pomades or clays, sea salt spray leaves your hair soft and free to move.
Beardbrand Sea Salt Spray does three things exceptionally well—it adds texture and volume, enhances natural curl patterns, and helps remove oil and toxins from the hair.
As oil and product accumulate on the hair and scalp, hair shafts become heavy and weighed down. Additionally, the oilier hair gets, the more the hair shafts clump together and become matted and lifeless. Sea Salt Spray helps to remove that excess oil buildup, allowing the hair strands to be lighter and more independent of each other. Naturally, this allows for greater volume because the hair shafts aren’t weighed down by the oil.
The salt, which naturally has a slight amount of grit, helps texturize the hair.
Each of the key ingredients in Beardbrand Sea Salt Spray—magnesium sulfate, magnesium chloride, aloe, and kaolinite—help to remove toxins, dirt, and debris from the scalp and hair. This can allow you to go longer between washing with shampoo, which can actually help your hair retain more natural moisture.
Aloe, in particular, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and many Beardbrand Sea Salt Spray users report that it has helped them prevent and control dandruff.
Like all hair styling products, Sea Salt Spray isn’t going to be right for everyone. Salt does have a drying effect on hair, and it is possible to use too much of it.
If your hair tends to be extraordinarily dry, Sea Salt Spray isn’t going to be the product for you.
On the other hand, if you have an overly oily scalp, Sea Salt Spray will be perfect for you because it will help remove some of that excess oil.
Not sure if Sea Salt Spray is right for you? We put together a deep dive in our article Sea Salt Spray: The Pros and Cons.
WHO SHOULD USE SEA SALT SPRAY?
Men with short, medium, and long hairstyles can use Sea Salt Spray. For short hairstyles, it’s best used in combination with another product, like Styling Balm. For longer hairstyles, it really helps add a little control and natural flow while helping to enhance your hair’s waves.
Hold: very low hold
Shine: low shine
Take a salt spray and swap the salt for sugar cane extract, and you’ve got what is known as sugar spray or sugar mist.
Sugar spray works similar to salt spray but without as much of a drying effect on the hair. It won’t give you quite as much texture as a salt spray, but sugar spray is a great option for anyone whose hair is too dry and brittle for salt.
WHO SHOULD USE SUGAR SPRAY?
Anyone who wants similar benefits to a salt spray but whose hair is naturally dry and coarse.
Hold: medium to super high hold
Shine: medium to super high shine
You've likely used gel at some point in your life—especially if you grew up in the 80s and 90s when hard, spiky hair was king and hoards of frosted-tip adolescent boys roamed your local shopping mall on Friday nights.
Unfortunately, hair gel is still trying to recover from its crunchy, cringy past when most hair gels were made with alcohol. Those hair gels strip needed moisture from the hair and scalp and leave hair dry, brittle, and harder than a football helmet.
But then again, as GQ points out, everything else about turn-of-the-century style is back in, so why shouldn’t hair gel get a little love again?
Fortunately, it’s easy to find alcohol-free hair gel in various hold strengths and formulated for a variety of all types.
Today’s gels perform more like a gooey cousin of pomade, giving you a slick, wet look that can be as greasy as you want it to be. Don’t want the wet look? Well, there’s plenty of matte finish gels available as well. The point is—gels have evolved, so don’t discount them.
If you’re one of those 90s kids we mentioned above and are feeling a little unsure about getting back into the gel game, we recommend trying a flexible hold gel that will keep your hair in check but also allow you to rework it throughout the day.
WHO SHOULD USE GEL?
Men with short to medium hair lengths who want some extra oomph and shine. Even men with longer hair can find a gel that suits them in today’s market. Men with really thick and dense hair will get the most out of gel, whereas men with thinner hair will likely want to leave it on the shelf.
Hold: medium to high hold
Shine: medium to high shine
Mousse doesn’t have the street cred or popularity it once had in the 1980s when you’d find it on a wide variety of crunchy, “big hair” styles. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have merits for today’s style-conscious man. In fact, like gel, mousses have continued to evolve, and they are a bit of a “secret ingredient” among celebrity stylists.
One thing to keep in mind about mousse—a little of it goes a long way. All you need is a golf ball-sized amount to spread evenly over your hair. You can always adjust the amount from there.
Chemical compounds called polymers contained in mousse surround the hair strands to provide an overall fuller appearance. You’ll also find some mousses with ingredients such as rosemary to help treat hair loss. Indeed, giving hair more body is a requisite for men dealing with hair loss.
One of hair mousse’s positives is that it provides both volume and control. It definitely helps to hold your style in place without an oily and stringy look. It also allows you to maintain most hairstyles daily without a lot of buildup, and you can do mid-day styling touches that aren’t difficult.
To maximize the volume you get from your mousse, add it primarily to the roots of your hair. Spread the product upward as you tilt your head over.
To apply mousse, start with clean, damp hair. Rub the foam between your palms, and then run your hands and fingers over your hair until you distribute all of it. Concentrating on the roots while you spread your mousse helps ensure that you won’t have any greasiness.
After evenly distributing the mousse, you can blowdry your hair for a polished look with more volume, or you can let it air dry for more of a wet look.
Note: of all the styling products discussed in this article, mousse is probably the most difficult to use correctly. If your hair becomes stiff and crunchy with mousse, you’re likely using way too much of it.
WHO SHOULD USE MOUSSE?
Men with medium and long hair can benefit from the right mousse—keyword, right. Like gels, finding the right mousse for your hair type is half the battle. The other half of the battle is figuring out how to use it correctly.
Hold: low to high hold
Shine: low to high shine
At one time, hair spray was perhaps the most popular hair styling product in existence.
Hair spray gets a bad rap, but it’s a versatile product that works on various hairstyles. It’s not a bad idea to keep some around.
Among hair spray's many attributes is that you can use it alone or in conjunction with other hair styling products, such as paste or pomade. But where hair spray really shines is as a finishing product to look your style in place.
Hair spray provides volume to your hair and helps sustain volume if you have thinning hair. You can apply hair spray on the outer layer of your hair to lock your style in place or spray it deep into your hair’s roots to help lift them up.
Hair spray is a lifesaver in times of high humidity, which can turn your hairstyle limp in a hurry.
Another thing to know about hair spray is that it comes in three types of hold:
Flexible hold sprays provide the least amount of staying power and hold. They’re excellent for longer hairstyles in which you want to retain your hair’s natural bounce while still preventing frizziness.
This type of hair spray is suitable for hairstyles that need volume but not too much stiffness.
If you want to keep your hair in place throughout the day, give it a few shots of maximum-hold spray. You’ll maintain your style’s definition and texture while keeping it locked in place.
Hair spray is also versatile in that it ranges from low to high shine, which allows you to choose accordingly.
WHO SHOULD USE HAIR SPRAY?
Men with thinner, medium-length hair who want to add a little more staying power to their style. If you’ve used other products to create a lifted pompadour, finishing it with hair spray will help keep it from falling flat throughout the day.
THE NOT-QUITE STYLING, STYLING PRODUCTS
Generally speaking, styling products alone won’t get you the hairstyle you’re going for. This becomes increasingly true as your hair gets longer.
Properly caring for your hair will go a long way in helping your hair look and feel its best. Remember, styling products can only do so much on dry, damaged, and brittle hair.
This section will cover a few additional products that aren’t exactly styling products but are good to have in your arsenal.
For more information on properly caring for your hair, we’ve got a few more in-depth articles linked below.
25 Expert Hair Care Tips for Men
Shamp like a Champ: How to Wash Your Hair the Right Way
How to Deal with Unruly Coarse Hair
Leave-in conditioner is just that—a conditioner that you leave in your hair until it’s time to rewash it. It is excellent for people who need a little extra kick of moisture and hydration. If you have dry hair, frizzy hair, or hard-to-managed hair, a leave-in conditioner is a must.
You will want to use a leave-in conditioner on damp hair after washing and conditioning with a regular rinse-out conditioner.
Leave in conditioner tends to be less thick than its wash out counterpart and has a multitude of benefits:
Moisturizing: Leave-in conditioner has the time to really penetrate the hair follicle and load it up with moisture. This extra moisture will also help combat dry, frizzy hair by making it smooth, shiny, and healthier.
Detangles hair: By providing extra ‘slip’ between hair strands, leave-in conditioner aids in detangling the hair post-shower.
It makes hair easier to style: When your hair is moisturized and healthy, it is more manageable during the styling process. So, whether you are doing a quick blowdry or using other products to achieve a specific look, a leave-in conditioner will help you achieve your style goals.
Protection from environmental and heat damage: Leave-in conditioner provides an extra layer of protection for the hair. This extra layer helps protect against environmental factors like UV rays that can make the hair appear dull or chlorine from swimming that will dry your hair out. It also protects against heat damage from your blow dryer and other hot styling tools, like a hair straightener.
Detanglers are sprays or creams that are made to help detangle the hair of knots. Most leave-in conditioners can work double duty as a detangler, as well. Still, there are specifically formulated detanglers out there that are made for those pesky knots.
It is essential to properly and gently detangle the hair. Knotted hair is susceptible to damage and breakage, which leads to split ends, frizzy hair, and, if severe enough, even hair loss.
You want to start detangling hair from the bottom, slowly working towards the top of your head. Trying to yank out the tangle from the top down will just make the knot tighter, more challenging to get out, and damage your hair.
Detanglers contain ingredients that help lubricate the hairs in the knot or ingredients that temporarily shrink the hair shaft. When the follicles are lubricated, they can slip past each other more easily, making it easier to slip out of the knot. If the hair shrinks down a little, a similar effect occurs, and the hairs have more room to untangle.
We now know that heat can play a significant role in hair damage. It strips the hair of moisture and can cause cracking to the outer layer of hair, making it that much more susceptible to damage. So, when using heating elements in your style routine, it is essential to use a heat protectant product to reduce the harm done to your hair.
Heat protectants often come in the form of a spray, cream, or serum that is applied to dry or damp hair before styling. They coat the hairs and provide an extra layer to help protect the hair against the heat of whatever tool you’re using. They help protect against heat damage, but only up to a point. Never blast your hair too long with the highest heat setting, and keep the blowdryer 3–6 inches away from your hair (unless you’re using a diffuser).
Dry shampoo comes in powder form or as an aerosol spray. It is a lifesaver for men with long hair that gets oily quickly.
As your hair gets longer, you typically don’t want to wash it with regular shampoo more than a couple of times per week. Some men go six or seven days between washes. Shampooing too frequently can dry the scalp and hair out, leaving hair extra frizzy and dull.
Dry shampoo becomes the go-to product for giving a light cleansing to hair without having to wet wash it.
Dry shampoo shouldn’t be used as your only washing product but to provide light cleansing and remove excess oil between regular washes.
Hair serums help provide softness and shine and can even protect your hair against sun exposure and pollutants such as dust and grime.
Many people also choose hair serum because it helps treat dry and damaged hair and helps make hair smooth and silky. For men with longer hair, a serum is excellent for controlling frizziness and stubborn stray hairs that seem to always fly out of place randomly.
You can use hair serum at any time, but especially when you notice your hair becoming overly dry, dull, or tangled. But it’s always effective as a protectant against environmental stressors such as heat, the sun’s rays, and pollutants that can damage hair.
It’s best to apply hair serum on wet hair. In most cases, you’ll only need to use a few drops. Once you’ve applied it, comb or brush your hair in a downward motion to get rid of any tangles. Finally, blowdry your hair to set it into your preferred style.
Products like argan oil and Moroccan oil have been a go-to for people with long hair for decades. But the use of hair oil dates back to ancient Egyptians. While they’re not technically a styling tool, hair oils have several benefits.
Hair oils are all about nourishing and improving the overall strength and condition of your hair. They contain tons of fatty acids, which replace lipids in your hair when it starts to become really fine and prone to breakage. Your hair splits when lipids become depleted.
THE BEST PRODUCTS FOR EACH HAIR TYPE
BEST PRODUCTS FOR STRAIGHT HAIR
One of the advantages of having straight hair is that almost any styling product will work for you. Which one you choose depends on your hairstyle. However, straight hair may look a bit thin and flat, so it doesn’t hurt to choose a product that adds some volume. Pomades and gels give you a wet-look finish, while hair putty, clay, and wax provide a natural-looking matte finish with more volume. You can also use hairspray to hold your style in place.
BEST PRODUCTS FOR WAVY HAIR
Pomade and creams work well for men with wavy hair because they’re high in moisture and provide a slightly wet finish. You can also use a high-moisture hair spray that holds your style in place. On the flip side, you’ll want to avoid products that can dry your hair out, such as gels, clays, and waxes.
BEST PRODUCTS FOR CURLY HAIR
Curly hair tends to dry out quickly, so you want to go with products that add moisture. Curls are best when left free and bouncy, so opt for products with low hold that help mitigate frizz and let your curls do their thing. Pomades, styling cream, and balms can work well.
Note: Kinky hair is like curly hair, except that the curls are smaller and tighter. It can quickly dry out, so use products that add moisture. It’s wise to use a cream for styling and oils to keep hair nourished and healthy.
BEST PRODUCTS FOR THIN HAIR
Thinning hair can cause plenty of anxiety for men because it may be a sign of balding. While it might not be time to panic—because the rate of balding varies from person to person–you should focus on volume and texture. Water-based products work best because they’re not too heavy and won’t weigh hair down. Therefore hair gels, mousse, and creams are typically a solid choice. Sea Salt Spray is another great option here, especially if your hair is oily. Wax, pomade, and clay are often too heavy for thin hair.
BEST PRODUCTS FOR THICK HAIR
In many ways, men with thick hair have won the hair lottery. But, if you’re so blessed, you’ll need a product with a stronger hold to keep those luscious locks in place. Pomades, clays, and waxes provide the kind of hold you need, while a few spritzes of salt spray provide additional hold and maintains texture.
BEST PRODUCTS FOR SHORT HAIR
Most styling products work for men with shorter haircuts, but you should focus on products that provide texture.
BEST PRODUCTS FOR LONG HAIR
As your hair gets longer, you want to gradually move away from products that offer much hold and instead focus on products that are more conditioning in nature. Lightweight, low hold products like Sea Salt Spray and sugar sprays are great. Leave-in conditioners, serums, and oils can also be beneficial in keeping your hair hydrated and looking awesome.
THE WRAP UP
Need some advice on styling your hair? Text "STYLE" to 512-879-3297 for a free personalized consultation. We’ll be happy to help you out.
Keep on Growing.
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This blog was originally published in 2018, and updated by Mike Lawson in 2021.
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