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Hair Tonic: What It Is And How To Use It

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hair tonic
[Updated May, 2022] Hair tonic is an “old school” hair styling product.  It makes the hair look glossier (though some say greasier), something which many people viewed as a sign of healthy hair.  The oils in the hair tonic also help hold the hair in place, making it easier to style, much like mousse or hair spray.  

They differ from other hair styling products in that they are almost always a liquid (except for “pomade,” a hair tonic that comes in a gelatinous or other semi-solid form), with mineral oil or liquid petroleum jelly being the primary ingredient.  Some types may also include ingredients like ethanol and something to give the product a scent.

In the 1950s and 60s, hair tonics were in widespread use but fell out of favor with the introduction of styling gel, mousse and a variety of other products.  However, with a return to traditional barbering and grooming techniques, hair tonics are enjoying something of a revival.

What Are The Benefits Of Hair Tonic?

lucky Tiger Hair Tonic
Lucky Tiger Hair Tonic

Historically a variety of claims were made on the packaging for hair tonic, including that it could reverse baldness or would make the hair grow longer and thicker.  In fact, like most hair care products, the main function of hair tonic is to hold hair in the desired style.  

But hair tonic can also add moisture to dry hair and lubricate a dry scalp, helping reduce split ends, broken hair, and dandruff.  In addition to an oil which coats the hair (though there are oil free tonics as well!), many hair tonics are also scented.  Hair tonic is for men who want their hair to be styled in one particular style, and to stay that way for as long as possible.  

In the 1950s and 60s, hair tonics were in widespread use but fell out of favor with the introduction of styling gel, mousse and a variety of other products.

At the barber, hair tonics are also sometimes referred to as “friction lotions” because they can be used to give clients an invigorating scalp massage. Massage helps to stimulate blood circulation to the hair follicles, while the tonic itself moisturizes and conditions the hair and scalp.

How To Use Hair Tonic

TOBS hair tonic
To use hair tonic most people brush their hair out and massage the tonic into the hair and scalps. Massaging helps to stimulate circulation to the scalp, promoting scalp health, while the tonic moisturizes the hair and scalp. Once the tonic has been applied, the hair can be styled, with the tonic holding the hair in place and giving it a shiny appearance.  

Though the main purpose of hair tonic has always been to use as a hair styling aid, it can also be used to style beards, sideburns, or other facial hair.  

Example Products

[Note: Amazon links are affiliate.]

Lucky Tiger Three Purpose Hair Tonic: “Our Three Purpose Hair Tonic grooms your hair, stimulates the scalp and conditions your hair to keep it healthy all day. Made with fine oils to nourish your hair it’s a great start to keeping your hair how and where you want it.”

Pinaud Clubman Greaseless Hair Tonic:“Prevent hair and scalp dryness without using oils. Clubman Hair Tonic strengthens and shines hair to reach its maximum health without greasiness. Works great for all hair types.”

Vitalis Hair Tonic: A classic.  “Good hair is timeless. Grooming products that help you style good hair, are also timeless. Vitalis Hair Tonic is the key for more manageable and healthy-looking hair. Specially formulated to leave your hair neat and well-groomed. Vitalis works to restore manageability to all hair types through a light, non-greasy formula.”

Related Post: 7 Hair Tonics In The Old School Style

Cautions and Warnings

Hair tonics should be applied in moderation to prevent a greasy buildup in the hair, and some hair tonics may need to be washed out at the end of the day, or they will stain bedding and attract dirt.

Hair tonic can be poisonous, especially those containing ethanol, if taken internally.  Symptoms of hair tonic poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, intoxication, increased urination and coma.  Contact a Poison Control facility for anyone who has ingested hair tonic. 

Do you use hair tonic?  Any words of wisdom for those who want to try?  Leave a comment below!


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

16 thoughts on “Hair Tonic: What It Is And How To Use It”

  1. In my Barber Shop – I use Reuzel Grooming Tonic – I put it into a spray bottle with some water – and spray it on wet hair – then I blow dry, and put it straight from the bottle to finish – looks good and smells even better!

  2. I use Lucky tiger daily for a classic slicked back look. It dries with shine, very good hold, and it keeps my scalp healthy.

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  6. I see Ruezel out of Holland has released to new tonics. An oil free one listed as Hair Tonic & an oil based one they recommend for blow dried styles labeled Grooming Tonic. I picked up the Oil free yesterday & I will tell you it smells really nice. More on the performance later.

  7. I’ve just started playing around with hair tonics in the past month or so. So far I’ve tried both the Pinaud and the DR Harris Eau de Portugal. It seems to be a perfect solution for my fine hair. I wish more brands made them still. I had heard Floris and Penhaligon’s used to, but sadly no longer.

  8. I was looking for information about hair tonics and of course Mantic59 was there to help! Great article on a great site!

  9. I have a bunch of tonics. I like Jeris with oil, Master with oil are both excellent. And Gabel’s hair tonic probably has the best scent of them all.
    Lucky Tiger and Vitalis have the same consistency and can make your hair feel icky due to its strength in hair control. Jeris doesn’t do that to me. Pinaud is good for the scalp but definitely can make your hair dry if used a lot.

  10. I LOVE Lucky Tiger! Apart from being a great value, it’s the only hair product that doesn’t break out my acne prone skin – yet it provides some hold, unlike a lot of tonics. What’s more, I think the ingredients have remained largely unchanged since the 1930s – antiseptics aplenty are still present. Can’t recommend this enough for those suffering from acne. Even my favorite performer Vitalis gave me spots.

  11. I like using a very simple hair mask with olive oil. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil on my hair and comb your hair carefully. Wait for about 30 minutes, then use your hands to massage the hair gently for 1-2 minutes. Wash off with water. That’s all. I apply this 2 times per week.

  12. I find lucky tiger hair tonic to help with my frizzies. And my hair generally looks healthier and softer with it.

  13. I use a hair tonic nearly every time I step out of the shower. I like Lucky Tiger’s Three Purpose Hair Tonic, though I’ve been using Pinaud Clubman’s Eu de Quinine lately. I’ll be glad when it’s gone, I hate the smell, and I can return to the Lucky Tiger tonic. Great article!

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