Getting a flattering haircut is just the first step to transforming your hairstyle. Now you need to experiment with the different ways you can style your new hair because ideally you need it to be adaptable to the environment you’re in.
You can’t really let loose styling your hair in a corporate position or when meeting with clients now can you? But when you’re out and about or on date night you have much more freedom. Ideally, you want something that’s acceptable in both situations so you develop a style you’re known for which becomes a part of your signature look.
And of course — you want a hairstyle what will make you look good right?
Different products have different strengths and weaknesses. In order to make the most of your hair, you need to know which product is right for you. This depends on the type of hair you have and the style you’re trying to achieve. We’ll talk about what you should use each product for so you won’t have to do any guesswork.
Before we begin, here are some helpful terms to know:
Hold refers to how flexible your hair is once you apply the product. A strong hold means your hair will be stiff and keep its position while a medium or weaker hold will be more pliable. You can use the different types of holds products have to get the exact style you want.
Shine refers to the appearance of your hair after you apply the product. A wet shine will leave a sleek glossy finish to your hair while a low shine or matte finish will do the opposite and make it seem like you have nothing in your hair. Shine is important in helping achieve certain hairstyles which require more of it than others.
Texture refers to the way your hair looks and feels after applying the product. This ranges a lot from greasy to smooth to crunchy to slick and more variations in between. Different textures also create different opportunities to layer your hair which becomes more important for advanced styles. Texture is also important for when you or somebody else runs their fingers through your hair.
Types of Men’s Hair Styling Products
So, now that we got all the basic stuff out of the way let’s take a look at each type of hair styling product one by one.
Hold: Varies but tends to be on the stronger side. Depending on the brand, some have weaker “strong” holds than others. One brand’s strong or “firm hold” will be another brand’s “weak hold” so don’t take the product labels too literally just as a guideline.
Shine: Leaves a wet and shiny finish to your hair. Think Gordon Gekko or the Jersey Shore characters. Some classic looks require a shiny finish but you also have other options which we talk about further below.
Texture: Leaves behind a crunchy or brittle like feel to your hair.
How to Use: Spread the product evenly across your palm and fingers and then run it through your hair styling it the way you want. You can use a comb to help slick it back and then let your hair and gel dry naturally.
You should also experiment applying gel while your hair is wet and while it’s dry because you’ll get two slightly different finishes.
- Once a quality gel dries, your hair will hold its place and you won’t be able to alter the look without messing it up unless you wash the gel off your hair or wait long enough (or if it has a very weak hold). Try using water to wet your hands and then run it through your hair again to change its positions. This all depends on its strength.
- It’s important to look for quality, because cheap gels leave behind flakes on your hair after they dry. You don’t want people thinking you have dandruff, do you? Make sure your gel is “flake-free”.
- Ideal for any controlled, sleek looking hairstyles and for people with thick and medium length hair or shorter. There are better options for longer hair.
- Do not use gels with a strong hold on thin or fine hair! You might be able to get away with a weaker hold but there are better options. If you have very thick hair you’ll definitely want to use a strong hold for the style you’re trying to achieve.
Hold: Most have a moderate hold but there’s plenty of variety with some pomades offering something slightly stronger and others slightly weaker in terms of holding everything together.
Shine: Typically offer a shiny, wet finish to your hair similar to gels although some do leave a dryer, matte finish so depending on what you want, experiment with a few products (see the first tip below).
Texture: Will leave a smooth, greasy feel to your hair.
How To Use: Apply it to moist hair — not too dry but not completely wet either. Rub the product between your palms and then style your hair using your hands. Usually you’ll want to get the product all the way down to your roots.
- There are a lot of different brands and thus types of pomades available. From the old school classics like Murrays to the newer brands like American Crew and Baxter’s, it’s a good idea to experiment with a few of them before choosing your go-to product so you find something that works best for your hair and the style you’re trying to achieve. The older brands are typically greasier than the newer ones making them better for sleek old school styles. The downside is they’re also harder to wash off your hair.
- In most situations, we consider pomades superior to gels because you can achieve the same look with the added bonus that pomades offer a more flexible hold making it easier to adjust your hair on the fly. They don’t leave behind any flakes.
- Pomades work best with shorter styles but medium and longer hair can make use of them too. They also work well on wavier hair types and for classic men’s cuts. Think the old Hollywood stars and their hair from the 50s and 60s or the Mad Men cast.
Hold: Usually have very strong holds. Most are stronger than pomades making them better for styles that need greater control.
Shine: Leaves a dry, matte finish great for a more natural looking style
Texture: After applying a wax, expect a dry, somewhat stiff texture to your hair. Great if you don’t like the greasy feel of pomades or other products but still need a strong hold.
How to Use: The most important thing to remember with waxes is you need to “warm” them up properly with your hands and have the wax spread out evenly over your palms to avoid it clumping together in one spot. Do this before putting it on your hair so you have more control while styling.
Like gels, you’ll want to experiment with applying it on damp and dry hair because depending on the style you’re trying to achieve you’ll get two different finishes.
- Ideal for medium and shorter length hairstyles. They also work and look great on thicker hair. Use them for those effortless, natural looking styles that require your hair to be kept in place.
- They’re also better for those with naturally oily hair because true waxes don’t contain any oil (or at least use very little of it) and adding oil to oil isn’t too great of an idea unless you want to look like a greasy mess.
Hold: Have a very weak hold compared to other products. Some are a little stronger and give a more moderate hold but they’re best used as a “primer” to set your hair up before applying other products (unless you have very fine hair, see below).
Shine: Varies from product to product. Depending on what you want, you can find both shiny and matte finishing mousses but most are on the matte, low shine side.
Texture: Most leave a soft and smooth texture.
How to Use: Try on both dry and damp hair. Again, you should experiment using it under different conditions to see what looks best on your hair because they’ll leave slightly different finishes in each situation.
Like other products, you want to get a little bit on your palms and fingertips, massaging the roots of your hair or by spraying it on from a distance.
Blowdry your hair after applying the mousse for an extra volume boosting appearance.
- These are perfect for thinning hair and balding hairstyles because they coat the strands of your hair, adding volume thus helping your hair look fuller.
- Apply some mousse to wet hair, let it dry and then try using another type of hair styling product like a pomade or wax to achieve a more interesting and unique texture to your hair.
Hold: They give a weak to moderate hold, with most of them on the weaker side making them easy to adjust on the go.
Shine: Typically leave very little shine. Some are a little shinier but styling creams are mainly used to appear like you aren’t using any product so don’t expect it out of them if that’s what you’re looking for.
Texture: Despite styling creams being relatively similar to waxes, thanks to their lighter hold they’ll leave your hair with a more a flexible, smooth and natural looking texture.
How to Use: Get some into your palms, rub them together and get to work on your hair. Can be applied on either moist or dry hair. Simple and straightforward.
- Styling creams can be used on any hair types and lengths. Overall, they’re one of the most versatile types of styling products.
- Similar to other products that leave a relatively non-glossy finish, styling creams are ideal for hairstyles that disguise the fact they’re using products making them appear more natural.
- Like mousse, try using them as a primer before applying other products or even as a finisher to round off a near-complete style. These are more advanced techniques but you can play around and strike gold so it definitely doesn’t hurt trying.
Clay, Mud, and Fiber
Hold: These types of products range from moderate to very strong with most of them on the stronger side.
Shine: Pretty much all of them will leave a dry, matte finish with much lower levels of shine (if any) than gels or pomades making them similar to waxes in that they both give strong holds and control without a greasy look and feel.
Texture: Varies slightly from very stiff, and firm to something a little more flexible. Great for adding a very natural thick, looking texture to your hair.
How to Use: Apply on dry or damp hair by first rubbing the product between your hands before using your fingertips to lift, pull, and style desired areas.
- Ideal for the messy bedhead, and “I look like I don’t care how my hair looks but I actually put a lot of effort into it” type of hairstyles.
- Decent option for taming wavy and curlier hair types into your desired hairstyle.
- Fibers work well for more “vertical” hairstyles that need your hair to stand.
- Some clays are very dry and hard to work into hair especially if yours is very thick so before you apply it make sure you really rub it well together between your palms to evenly distribute it into your hair (or if you have thick hair, opt for a wax instead).
- In pretty much all cases, muds are the exact same thing as clays except a different name.
Hold: Give strong holds meant to lock hair in place and give you greater control over your hairstyle.
Shine: Typically low to moderate amounts of shine. The more you spray the shinier it’ll get.
Texture: Will leave hair feeling stiff, almost “crunchy” like.
How to Use: Hold the can / bottle about a foot away from your hair and spray the mist until your hair is covered in it.
- Hairsprays are finishing products applied after you’ve already finished styling your hair with a pomade, gel, wax, etc. Spray a moderate amount of hairspray into your hair to help keep its position longer through the day.
- A good option for balding men. Some hairsprays help create the illusion of volume to thinning hair and don’t weigh it down as much as other products.
- Also good for longer hair that’s more likely to fall apart. Shorter hairstyles won’t need hairspray unless you’re using a product such as a cream or mousse with a weak hold and need something stronger.