Hair Gel vs. Pomade vs. Mousse vs. Wax for Men

Man styling his hair.

The idea of styling hair and caring about appearances has been around for centuries. The Egyptians used castor oil to style their hair. The women in the Elizabethan era used lard to keep their hair in place and in the style of that period. Hair products have been around for a very long time and have changed along with the styles throughout the years.

Now, there are so many products out there used to style mens hair and each are used for different reasons. The most commonly used are hair gel, wax, mousse, and pomade. Each of them have a different strength or malleability and also provides your hair to look shiny or like it doesn’t have any product in it at all.

Depending on the style you are going for, you may want to try different products to see what works best for you and your hair. Below you will find information on the most commonly used hair products for men, so you can better understand them and see what will work best for you and your hair.

Hair Gel

Squeezing hair gel on hand.

Hair gel is one of the most commonly used hair products on the market. It was first created and marketed by Chemico Works in 1929. It was known as Brylcream or brill cream and was used to keep combed hair in place. It made the hair look glossy or shiny.

Today, hair gel is not much different from when it was created. It’s still used to keep hair in place after it’s been combed, but it is also used to create some unique hairstyles. If you have long enough hair, you can make your hair look like a Mohawk.

Some men opt to use it to make some spikes in the front or to make a tousled, bed-head look. You can use as little or as much as you want, depending on what you’re going for. For a Mohawk, you may need to use a lot of gel to make sure your hair stays in place.


When it was first created, it was made with a blend of water and mineral oil and thickened with a type of wax, like beeswax. Some gels were also made with petroleum jelly, corn oil, or macassar oil. Since it’s the first creation, there are more ingredients that go into the gel. The main ingredients of hair gels are aminomethyl propanol which acts as a neutralizer, water, a type of stabilizer, an adjustment agent, and PVP K-90. PVP K-90 is one of the key ingredients because this is how the gel is able to keep its hold for hours or sometimes even days.


Hair gels come in varying holds. Some are strong and can last all day, while others have less of hold and only last a couple of hours. It does, however, provide a stronger hold and make your hair hard as a rock, compared to pomade or wax. If your hair is fine, use a lighter gel. Using less product with a lighter hold may produce better results.

How It’s Applied

Man applying hair gel.

To apply the gel to your hair, start with adding a small amount to your hands. Use your fingers to add the gel to your hair in small increments. For a spiked look, even if it’s just in the front, use your fingers to add gel to small sections of your hair and spike the pieces up.

If you’re going for a tousled look, you can add a little more to your hands and run them through your hair. Tousling your hair as you go. You can use as much or as little as you want. The amount all depends on the length of your hair and the style you want. Blow-dry your hair after styling for maximum hold or dry naturally for a shinier look.

Positives & Negatives

Hand in a gel jar.

Hair gel provides a stronghold, keeping your hair styled and in place throughout the day. Gel with a lighter hold will make your hair more manageable and will emphasize your wavy hair. After applying it to your hair, it will leave your hair looking wet and shiny, and feeling stiff and hard.

Although it is the most commonly used product, it does have some negatives you should be aware of. It could leave flakes and residue in your hair. If you use it often, it also may start to dry out and damage your hair due to the alcohols used in the gel to help it dry.

Using the gel could also cause dandruff and an itchy scalp. If your hair starts to become brittle or prone to breaking, you may want to try using a gel that is alcohol-free.

Because it leaves your hair looking shiny and wet, it doesn’t give a natural look like a pomade or wax might. Also, once you style your hair, you can’t restyle it. This is because the gel causes the hair to harden in place and if you try to restyle it, the comb could get stuck in your hair.

To restyle in the middle of the day, you will need to wash your hair out and start over. A gel is meant to last in your hair for a whole day, so if you are thinking about changing styles mid-day, you might want to rethink using a gel.

Price Range

You can buy hair gel for about $2 and change at most drug stores. Some cost up to about $30.


Man holding black pomade jar.

The pomade comes from the French word pommade which is derived from the Italian word for apple, pomo, and the Latin word for the fruit, pomum. This may be because pomade was originally made with apples, animal fats, and herbs. It also means hairdressing or ointment. It was very popular in the 18th century and during the 50s and 60s.

In the 18th century, it was considered an exclusive product, and only the gentry used it. In the 50s and 60s, it was associated with the rock and roll era, the rat pack, and the greasers. Popular hairstyles were the pompadour, flat top, and the ducktail. Think of the Fonz or Don Draper as the style icons.


Pomade was originally made from apples, animal fats, and herbs. Keeping with tradition, the base materials include fat and a scent, but use products more often used today. The fat used is either beeswax or wool wax and the scent is a mixture of either natural or synthetic fragrances. The fat and scent are then enhanced by olive oil and coconut fat.


There are different kinds of pomades that create different finishes and hold. A water-based pomade has varying degrees of shine, with a medium hold and low restyling ability. While the petroleum-based pomade leaves a high shine, medium hold, and is a lot easier to restyle.

How It’s Applied

Barber applying black hair pomade on a man.

Applying pomade is easy and can be done on wet or dry hair. Applying it to wet hair will provide you with a little more shine and helps to soften a hard pomade. However, it may reduce the amount of hold it provides. If you apply it to dry hair, it will give your hair less shine and provide a stronger hold.

To apply it, you should wait until after you are dressed because it does not dry and may get on your clothes if you style your hair before you are dressed. If your pomade is hard, you can heat it before use by using a hairdryer, warm water, or rub it with your hands.

Start with a little on your finger because less is more. Use your hand to glide the pomade through your hair and style how you want.

Positives & Negatives

Barber styling man's hair with pomade and a comb.

Pomade was originally designed to give hair a neat, slick look. Unlike gels, it will not dry your hair out or make it hard. Your hair will remain loose and smooth so you can run a comb through it throughout the day, or even restyle it if necessary. It’s creamier than wax and can be used with any type of hair, from wavy to straight.

Although it does not dry your hair out, it is sticky and may be hard to wash out, unless it’s water-based. You should wash your hair out before bed so that you don’t get it on your clothes or bedsheets, as it may be hard to clean up afterward. Use it if your hair is dry or dull and to provide texture to your hair.

Price Range

Cost ranges from about $2.50 to about $30 depending on the brand.


Hairstylist squeezing mousse spray on hand.

Mousse is the French word for foam. It was developed in the early 70s as an aerosol styling foam. It was used to add volume to the hair and would be applied to hair when wet and then left in. L’Oreal of France brought the product to North America in 1983 as a styling mousse called “Valence.”

It was light and area and added a light hold, body, and shine to hair. Some mousses are specifically made for certain types of hair and some also are used as a conditioner, but it doesn’t help with styling, so keep that in mind.


Mousse is created as a foam and made with water, a solvent, a polymer, propellant, emulsifier, preservative, fragrance, and other miscellaneous ingredients. The polymer is what gives your hair a fuller appearance.


Mousse creates a light to medium hold. It is mostly used for providing volume but is capable of creating any look. For maximum hold, blowdry your hair after styling.

How It’s Applied

Blonde hairstylist applying mousse to a long haired man.

To get the most volume from the mousse, apply the mousse at the root of the hair. To do this, first, shake the bottle and add a small amount to your hand. Then apply the mouse with both hands and style to your liking. Blow-dry your hair from the roots out for maximum hold.

Positives & Negatives

Hairdresser styling man's hair with a comb and mousse.

With mousse, you are capable of creating any look. Styling with wet hair will provide you with a sleek, wet look, with a lot of shine. Styling with dry hair will help to shape, mold, and hold your hair in place and give it a more natural look.

Unlike gel, mousse won’t leave you with flakes or residue in your hair if you run your fingers or a comb through it throughout the day. It’s made to allow you to restyle your hair, without the stickiness that the other products might give.

Price Range

The cost can range from around $5 to over $100.


A tub of hair wax.

Wax has been around for a long time, stemming from the times of Julius Cesar. It is one of the most popular styling products because of its ability to mold and shape, as well as create texture to hair. It is also often confused with water-based pomade due to its ingredients. It can be used with any hair type and length. It is also good for people with sensitive skin as it’s made with more natural ingredients.


Wax is similar to chapstick is made with a formula of paste, balm, or clay. The main ingredients include beeswax that is diluted with an oil like coconut or olive oil or fat. This makes it more pliable and provides shine and moisture to the hair. Due to it being created with a minimal amount of ingredients, most waxes have smells added to it for an extra bonus. Smells range from bubble gum to a woodsy smell.


Wax provides a medium to medium-hard hold. It is created with a rubber-like consistency that allows you to be able to restyle it throughout the day, even after it has been set.

How It’s Applied

Man holding a tub of wax and a comb.

To apply, put a small amount in the size of your hand. For wax, a little goes a long way. If you need more, you can add it later. Warm the product by rubbing your hands together, then spread the wax through your hair starting from the root and working towards the ends.

You will want to apply the wax when your hair is damp so that it can be more easily absorbed as the hair dries. This will also create a stronger hold. You can apply to dry hair to retouch or restyle your hair throughout the day.

Positives & Negatives

Man applying hair wax to his black hair.

Wax can be used on any hair type or length. It doesn’t last as long as pomade, but it is easier to re-apply and restyle throughout the day. It is similar to chapstick and will provide moisture to your hair, as well as your hands after application. It won’t dry out your hair or create flakes unless you use a cheap or low-quality product.

With wax, you are able to create different finishes ranging from glossy to spiky and fluffy to bed-head. It offers more control than gel and also doesn’t clump your hair. It can add texture or thickness to your hair and will also tame frizzy hair, as well as hair that sticks up in places you don’t want it to.

Price Range

Wax ranges from around $15 to $30.

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