Man for Himself

Men’s Hair | Guide To Hairstyling Products

What’s the difference between gel, pomade, wax, clay, putty, paste, cream, mousse and hairspray? I’ve pulled together my simple guide to hair products to explain what they do, how you should use them and if they’ll...

What’s the difference between gel, pomade, wax, clay, putty, paste, cream, mousse and hairspray?

I’ve pulled together my simple guide to hair products to explain what they do, how you should use them and if they’ll suit your hair type.

By far the best piece of advice I could give you is to get to know your own hair: is it thick, is it thin, is it curly, is it straight, are you balding? Once you know these things, picking the perfect product for you and your desired hairstyle should (he says!) be easy.

It’s also important to realise – and accept – that there’s no right or wrong answer with hair. I’ll suggest one thing, whereas someone else may suggest another. Get experimenting and see what works for you, your hair and your lifestyle.

So with that in mind, here’s my guide to the main groups of hair products. Watch the video and read the guide below.


Gels are water-based products – making them easy to wash out of your hair. Ranging from a light to heavy hold, and matte to wet look finish, gels can be extremely versatile for a variety of hairstyles.

Unlike pomades and waxes, gel hardens on the hair, which can leave the hair feeling stiff and brittle. As such, gels can break and flake in the hair leaving unsightly dandruff-like bits.

Hairstyles: Perfect for a wet look slick back. Think modern day greaser.

Hair types: Thicker hair and short to medium hair lengths. If you have thin hair, use a lightweight gel.

How to use: Rub a small amount (10p/dime sized piece) into your hands and apply to damp to towel dry hair. Style as desired and leave to dry. Do not touch once dry as this can cause flaking.




Pomades are a male grooming classic – think Mad Men’s Don Draper or Elvis.

Unlike gel, pomades do not dry hard and can give your hair a malleable finish which can be combed and fixed throughout the day – whilst still giving it a strong hold.

Traditional pomades are a compound of two things: wax and oil – with the oil giving the product its high gloss finish. Original pomades are extremely hard to remove from your hair and can leave it feeling greasy.  Modern day pomades, however, are aqueous (water based) and can be removed just with water.

Like gel, pomades come in a range of shine finishes and hold.

Hairstyles: Pompadour, Slick back or elephant’s trunk (Alex Turner).


Hair types:  Perfect for medium to longer hair types. If you have an oily scalp or hair, avoid pomade as it can add to the build up of oil.

How to use: Start by rubbing a small amount into your hands. Work through damp hair. Style as desired and add more pomade if needed. Add the product in layers to avoid saturating the hair and making it look greasy.



So what’s the difference between a wax and a pomade? While pomades include oil, waxes don’t. Without oil, waxes generally have a matte (no shine) finish. They have a strong hold and can be used to both control and style the hair.

Hairstyles: Comb over and slick back.


Hair types: Thick hair and medium hair lengths.

How to use: Ensure that you sufficiently warm the wax before applying to your hair – you don’t want clumpy bits. Apply in layers to ensure even distribution. Wax can be used on dry or damp hair.



Clay, Putty, Paste

I’ve grouped these products together as their function is the same – to add definition and movement to the hair. Like wax, these products generally have a matte finish but will have a lighter hold.

These products are perfect for a totally relaxed, just out of bed look. They’ll give your hair texture without making it look over-styled.

Hairstyles: Bed head.

Hair types: Perfect for all hair types just to add a little more movement to the hair. Great for longer, thicker hair for a real beachy tousled look.

How to use: Work a small amount of product through the length of your hair (either dry or damp). Use to define strands and sections for texture.




Like clay, putty and paste; creams have a light hold and are the perfect product to add a little more texture and movement to your hair, as well as a light gloss.

You can also use creams as a finishing product – i.e. after wax or pomade – to give the hair more shine and texturise individual sections.

Hairstyles: Bed head, comb over (light hold).

Hair types: All hair types. If you have curly hair, you can use cream to help define and control your curls – whilst leaving your hair looking natural.

How to use: Warm up a small amount in your hands and work through your hair; or use on individual pieces/sections for texture. Can be used after other products or on its own.




The original and best – in my opinion – product to create a quiff. Mousse builds volume into the hair, whilst helping it to appear thicker and fuller.

Hairstyles: Big, voluminous quiff.


Hair types: Medium to long hair. Thin to thick hair.

How to use: Shake the can and spray a small amount into your hands. Work throughout the length of damp hair – root to tip. Use a hairdryer to dry whilst building volume and height into the hair. Finish with a styling paste and hairspray.




Hairspray is a must-have finishing product. Ranging from a light (who needs a light hold?) to high hold, the hairspray will secure your hairstyle in place.

Hairstyles: Use after creating any hairstyle.

Hair types: All.

How to use: For flyways – spray a light mist onto your hand and work over the surface of your hair. To finish – sweep the hairspray all over your hair. After using, leave to dry naturally and then do not touch!



If you’ve found this article helpful, please do share it and comment below.

  • pramono911 says:

    hi robin, thanks for your article and all your guides, they’re really helping. I’ve tried to make a quiff for my hair. I have a very straight, smooth, and limpy hair. so it looks like always going down, like kinda heavy. so can u please recommend me what product that i should use?, and is that possible to make a quiff in this kind of hair? or, I should have another hairstyle? Thanks a bunch. :))

    • Robin says:

      Thank you. That’s kind of you to say.
      Definitely use a mousse. It will build volume in your hair. Then use a paste to add definition and then finish with hairspray. 😀

  • Niedziejkore says:

    Thank you! This article and accompanying videos were very helpful. I recently got a haircut and discovered your YouTube channel after noticing your cut was very similar to mine. Thanks to you, I have a few good ideas in regard to styling.
    I’m just wondering, what category would American Crew Fiber fit in with? It is a wax, but not all waxes are this firm and sticky, right? …It pulled out my hair in chunks, am I using it wrong? Also L’Oreal Deconstructing gum. It’s primarily water and petrolatum. Is that a cream or paste?
    It would be nice to see a guide to hair product ingredients, because when I’m looking at the containers a product can claim all it wants to claim, but an understanding of ingredients makes for more informed decisions.

    • Robin says:

      Hey there. Hair products can be really confusing. If anything is damaging your hair, stop using it.
      American Crew Fiber is a matte product.
      Will look into creating a video/article on product ingredients. Really great idea!