Pomade vs Paste vs Clay - Explaining Hair Styling Products For Men

Finding the right hair product for you can feel like a nightmare, and understandably so with so much choice of hair styling products for men available.

Do you choose a hair pomade, clay, paste, gel, wax or one of the many others for your hair? And how are you supposed to know which one is best for your hair and your style? Well in this guide we hope that we can help you to figure that out. 

Hair styling products for men can often be split into 4 main criterias to really determine what they are - 

  • Hold strength - how long does the product hold the hair in style for? Often expressed from low to high hold.
  • Shine - how much shine does the product give to the hair? Often expressed as low to high shine with low shine sometimes being called matte finish.
  • Consistency - how does the product feel in the hands? What texture and consistency does it have?
  • Ingredients - what does the product contain as its main ingredients?

But the two that you will almost certainly care about knowing about most when choosing a hair styling product are hold strength and shine, as these are the two that will most affect your style.

So without further do, let's get started and help you to find the hair styling products for you.

Pomade vs Paste | Pomade vs Clay | Clay vs Pomade - Explaining Hair Styling Products For Men vs Cla

Haircuts by @jakelansley_jbs

Jump to Content:

1. Types Of Hair Styling Products For Men

What is pomade?

What is clay?

What is hair paste?

What is hair gel?

What is hair wax?

2. Other Popular Hair Products For Men

What is texture powder?

What is hairspray?

What is salt spray?

3. What Hair Product Should I Use?

What hair product should I use?

1. Types Of Hair Styling Products For Men

What Is Pomade?

We'll start with hair pomade, as the term "pomade" is one of the most confusing in hair products at the minute.

A lot of brands and people seem to use pomade to define any product that can be used to style the hair, and we're also seeing a lot of products being launched like "clay pomades" and "wax pomades" which aren't really hybrids, they are just clays or waxes. There are even matte pomades being released, but we'll get onto why that could be confusing for you in a second.

Typically, a hair pomade is a product that gives a medium to high shine and a medium to strong hold. The most important part of the pomade, and what separates it from other hair products on the market, is normally the shine.

To dig a bit deeper into that, it's good for you to know that there are two categories of pomade and they are -

  • Oil based pomade (Traditional pomades)
  • Water based pomade (Most modern pomades)
What Is An Oil Based Pomade?

Traditional pomades were always oil based, which means that the main ingredient is an oil. These are the sort of pomades that would have been used to get your greaser style looks, the ultra high shine slick backs and pompadours of the 50s and 60s. But as great as the shine and hold is with an oil based pomade, there's one massive drawback - it's hard to wash out of your hair. To get the ultra high shine look that a traditional hair pomade would achieve, it needs to use a lot of oil and this is near impossible to get out without using shampoo. With more men looking to wash their hair less and looking to rid of harsh shampoos from their grooming routines, an oil based pomade may not be for you!

Oil based pomades = High shine, high hold. Hard to wash out.

What Is A Water Based Pomade?

But don't worry if you are worried about your product being water soluble, as there is another option for you and that's the water based pomade. Water based pomades were designed to bring the look and feel of an oil based pomade, but while also being water soluble allowing you to wash it out of your hair easily. The only trouble is that a lot of water based pomades can often be more like gels and stiffen and harden the hair once they start to dry, or you may find that the hold and/or shine diminishes throughout the day especially if you're in hotter locations. So it's finding the balance between the performance of an oil based and having the washability of a water based pomade. This is personally something we've experienced with the creation of the Regal Gentleman range as often a product can have amazing performance but not wash out easily or washes out easily and dries out in the hair making it stiff and hard.

A good water based pomade will typically have a medium to high shine and give you a high hold without overly drying out.

You can spot a water based pomade by looking at the ingredients and seeing if the first ingredient in the list is water or aqua. This means that it is the main ingredient used in the product.

Water based pomade = Medium to high shine, high hold, easily washable. Can dry hard & stiff or lose hold in hotter weather.

Which hair pomade should you go for? 

If you want a high shine and high hold for a classic look, but are not worried about washability then you should probably go for oil based. If you want the shine and hold, with washability then go for a water based pomade like the Regal Gentleman Vintage Pomade.

Which styles is a hair pomade good for?

Your classics. Side parts, slick backs and pompadours. Anything that has a higher shine look and is more "perfectly styled" and combed through, like the Conor McGregor side parting.

What Is Clay?

The hair clay is a lot more simple to define than the pomade because it contains clay. So if you ever see a "clay" on the market that doesn't contain a clay ingredient high up in the ingredients (typically bentonite, kaolin or any combination of these)  then it's not really a clay!

Clay is a relatively new one on the market, but has become a common product for men to use for more modern hairstyles. 

    Typically clay will give you a matte, natural looking finish with a medium hold. It normally works best for short to medium length hairstyles and will help to add texture and volume to the hair, allowing you to achieve messier hairstyles.

    Clay is also great as it -

    • Draws dirt and impurities from the hair
    • Nourishes the hair and scalp as it is rich in minerals
    • Has natural healing properties and can promote hair growth

    Clay = Lower hold, matte finish, reworkable, adds texture & volume. For short to medium length hairstyles. Contains clay ingredient.

    What styles is a clay good for?

    Crops, textured quiffs and crew cuts. A clay like the Regal Gentleman Matte Clay is great for almost any of the short to medium length messier hairstyles that we're seeing being popular in 2018, think David Beckham's new haircut and the new Thor haircut.

    Pomade vs Paste | Pomade vs Clay | Clay vs Pomade - Explaining Hair Styling Products For Men

    All styled with Regal Gentleman Matte Clay

    (Related: How to use hair clay - The ultimate guide to mens clay)

    What Is Hair Paste?

    Hair paste is one of the most versatile hair products on the market, and if you're just getting started and are really unsure then it should probably be your go to! Hair pastes are normally water based, meaning that they're easily washable and can be used to achieve almost any style on any length hair. The hair paste will typically give a low to medium shine and offers a medium to strong hold.

    Hair pastes are thicker in consistency than a pomade and their feel and texture can be from a toothpaste like consistency to a PVA glue.

    The great thing about hair paste is that although it may be thicker, once warmed thoroughly in the hands it's then easy to apply through the hair. It will then start to cool in the hair and thicken back up, which will give you the firm hold of a paste.

    Hair paste = Versatile hair product for almost any style or hair type. Easily washable, medium to strong hold, low to medium shine.

    What styles is a hair paste good for?

    Almost any style. You can use it on your messier hairstyles of any length and will also work great for pomade like styles with a matte finish. Think the matte side parting or pompadour. Use a paste like the Regal Gentleman Texture Paste (coming soon).

    What Is Hair Gel?

    Hair gel is the dying breed of mens hair products and the one we almost all started with. We all had our own experience with the 99p blue drug store gel, didn't we? And a lot of the time it was a bad experience, it left our hair crispy and we overloaded the front of our hair with too much product.

    Even with this, hair gel still has it's place for those of you that want a wet look to your hair and at a much cheaper price as we know some of you don't want to or can't afford to fork out for hair products and just want something quick and easy. But we'd always suggest looking towards pomade for those styles as opposed to gel if you can as you can almost always guarantee that you'll get a better look and feel to your hair with a good pomade, and most of the time without the harsh chemicals and alcohols that a lot of gels contain.

    If you have no options and are still set on a hair gel then these can be used for almost any style with a bit of shine. Hair gel will give you a high hold with a high shine, but just be careful of your hair looking too shiny and also be doing too stiff, which a lot of gels can make your hair once they dry. 

    If you have thinning hair then avoid gel at all costs. When you have thinning hair, you want to look for lighter products that don't weigh the hair down, hair gel is the complete opposite.

    Hair gel = High shine with a high hold. Be aware of hair drying out & looking too stiff. Often contain harsh chemicals & alcohols. Avoid if have thinning hair.

    What styles is hair gel good for?

    Hair gel is often used on shorter, spiky hairstyles. It can also be used to achieve similar styles to the pomade, like slick backs and side parts but just be careful not to apply too much as then you may struggle to style! Think the Tom Hardy Taboo haircut - something with a real wet look to it.

    Pomade vs Paste | Pomade vs Clay | Clay vs Pomade - Explaining Hair Styling Products For Men vs Cla

    What Is Hair Wax?

    Just like gel, wax is another product that is on it's way out as a standalone, and the more traditional hair wax doesn't really exist away from older brands. A lot of products nowadays have taken natural waxes like beeswax and lanolin, which have a lot of benefits for the hair and used them in a wide variety of products like pomades, pastes and clays to create hybrid products. The more traditional hair wax became the go to product for a lot of men in the bed head era in the late 90s to early 2000's. Wax would usually give you a low to medium hold with a medium shine, however it's always advisable to use sparingly as waxes can often give an ultra greasy look if overused.

    Hair wax = Low to medium hold, medium to high shine. Use sparingly - can give an ultra greasy look.

    2. Other Popular Hair Products For Men 

    What Is Salt Spray?

    Salt spray or sea salt spray is designed to mimic the look you get from a quick splash in the sea at the beach. It works on your hair because sea salt is naturally dehydrating and absorbs the natural oils in the hair. This means that you are easily able to create natural, textured and wavy looks with the spray. We recently created the Ultimate Guide to Sea Salt Spray which you can read here.

    Sea salt spray is often used a pre styler on damp hair before blow drying through and gives a low to medium hold with a matte, natural looking finish. It can be used on any length hairstyle from ultra short to really long hair. On long hair you'll more than likely use as your styling product to add texture and volume to the hair, but with short hairstyles it will likely be used as a pre styler before finishing with a matte clay, like the Regal Gentleman Matte Clay.

    Just like texture powder, be wary of overusing salt spray if you have dry hair as sea salt spray can dry the hair out a lot! 

    Sea salt spray = Low to medium hold, matte finish. Use as a pre styler on damp hair. Can be used on short to long hairstyles. Adds texture and volume. Can be overdrying.

    What styles is sea salt spray good for?

    Salt spray is a versatile hair styling product that can be used on almost any hairstyle that requires a matte finish with added texture and volume. A product like the Regal Gentleman Salt Spray can be used on short to long length hairstyles. Use instead of texture dust on short to medium length textured hairstyles or use on longer length hairstyles.

    Pomade vs Paste | Pomade vs Clay | Clay vs Pomade - Explaining Hair Styling Products For Men vs Cla

    What Is Hairspray?

    Hairspray is one of the more common finishing products for men, and with that being said we won't go into too much detail here. Hairspray doesn't really have a set format, all that we can say is that it comes in an aerosol can and is designed to give your hair added hold. This can be used on it's own or more commonly after using another styling product. Hairspray is best used when paired with a low to medium hold styling product to help you get some added hold, especially before a night out when you want your hair in place for a long period of time.

    Be careful though as you don't really want to use a hairspray with ultra high hold products as this can just make your hair crispy and stiff. There are a wide variety of hairsprays on the market that range from low to ultra high hold, and from matte to high shines, so take your pick and pair wisely with your hair styling product of choice to get the hold and shine level you desire.

    Hairspray = Used as a finishing product for extra hold. Ranges from low to ultra high hold. Pair with your hair styling product of choice.

    What styles is hairspray good for?

    Hairspray can be used on almost any hairstyle you can think of. The longer your hair the more beneficial it will be, but it can also be used on short hairstyles. Like we said though we would use sparingly, if at all, when paired with higher hold styling products on slicked hairstyles.

    What Is Texture Powder?

    Texture powder, texture dust or volumising powder to give it just some of its common names, is used for doing exactly what it says on the tin, it's used for building texture and volume in the hair. Texture powder has became a very popular product over the last year or so, with matte textured hairstyles being the go to of many men but still a lot of men don't know of it's existence. It's been our go to product for a lot of 2018 so far!

    Texture powder is different to almost any hair product that you would have used in that it comes in a shaker that should be sprinkled in to the hair. Texture powder gives an ultra matte finish, with a medium to strong hold and is normally used as a pre styler after blow drying and before applying a tiny bit of styling product like a matte clay.

    Overusing texture powder can dry out the hair, just like other powder products, like dry shampoo, it does take the natural oils out of the hair, so be aware of this if you have dry hair. Also be wary of using too much powder, some texture powders if overused can leave your hair looking white, so make sure to use sparingly and make sure to blend the product in well by rubbing your hair all the way through.

    Texture dust = Ultra matte finish. Medium to high hold. Used as a pre styler before styling product. Be wary of using too much.

    What styles is texture powder good for?

    Crops, textured quiffs and crew cuts. Any short to medium length hairstyle that needs to have plenty of texture and a messier look with a matte finish. Not for your smart slicked styles like slick backs and side partings.

    Pomade vs Paste | Pomade vs Clay | Clay vs Pomade - Explaining Hair Styling Products For Men vs Cla

    Haircut by @jakelansley_jbs

    3. What Hair Products Should I Use?

    So now you know what all of the hair products are, which one should you use?

    Well the 3 most common hair styling products for men in 2018 will be pomade, paste and clay. So it's best to get acquainted with these 3 before worrying about all of the others just yet.

    Typically focus on a pomade if you want higher shine, higher hold looks. Look for clays, like the Regal Gentleman Matte Clay, if you want textured, matte finish hairstyles with a lower reworkable hold and look for pastes if you want a versatile hair product that can pretty much manage any hairstyle with a low to medium shine.

    If you have thinning hair then we'd suggest using lighter products and going for more textured, messy hairstyles so throw away the pomades and gels and look towards clays and pastes. And if you have thicker hair then really you can go for whatever you want, but your hair is likely harder to hold, so you probably want something with a stronger hold to it!

    We'd always suggest to look at the properties of the product, read reviews to see what styles people have used it on and see if you can find pictures and videos of the product in action. This is the easiest way to choose the hair product for you. It's something that we will be championing at Regal Gentleman with our first product, the Regal Gentleman Matte Clay (it does contain clay ;)) and with our future range of hair styling products. We'll be trying to focus more on showing you in action the styles it can achieve, the type of hair it can work on and the look it gives, rather than bogging you down with confusing names.

    4. Key Takeaways

    So that's it, hopefully this has helped you to find the hair product. We know that was quite a lot of information to throw at you, so here are the key takeaways.

    1. It's easy to get bogged down in comparing pomade vs paste or clay vs pomade, but there are a lot of products on the market that say they're a pomade, a clay, a paste when they're not by definition. Try not to get bogged down in names and look for the properties of the products and the styles they can achieve instead. One brands paste will be another's putty.

    2. The 3 most common hair styling products for 2018 styles are clay, pomade and paste. With one of those 3 you can't really go wrong to achieve most hairstyles that require a styling product.

    • Clay - Great for shorter to medium hairstyles. Helps to add texture and volume to the hair. Will contain a clay.
    • Pomade - Most commonly will have a medium to high shine. Will often have a medium to strong hold. Consider whether modern water based or traditional oil based pomades are for you.
    • Paste - The most versatile of all of the hair products. Great for any length hair, and for most styles. Easily washable, low to medium shine, medium to high hold. 

    3. Dont be afraid to try new products. It may take a little bit of shopping around to find the right product for you. Everyone's hair and expectation in a product is different.

    4. If you have thinning hair, look towards lighter products like creams, clays and pastes, don't for anything too heavy like high hold pomades and gels. This will just the weigh the hair down.