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Wax vs Pomade vs Gel – What’s The Difference?

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[Updated May, 2022] Many men are giving the lady in their life a serious run for her money when it comes to putting in the effort to look their very best at all times and the extensive range of men’s grooming products on the market is a testament to that. It’s a fact that many men now spend often relatively large amounts of their hard earned cash on various forms of ‘male cosmetics’ and the like, however that which seems to capture the most attention in the men’s market is hair styling products. No one wants to have a bad hair day; that’s just not the in thing anymore and there’s certainly products available for men with all hair types and styles. The trouble, however, is often knowing which product is best for you or even knowing the difference between those which are available.

Whether looking through the shelves of a high street store or browsing an online boutique, you’ll find waxes, pomades, gels and often much more, all of which have their place and are used by men all over the world, but what exactly is the difference and more importantly, which is best? Below, we’ll take a look at the difference between these three hair products:


Pomade is a product which is unrivaled in terms of the shine and luster it gives and is either wax or water based. If you’re going for a slick, well groomed hairstyle, pomade is likely the best option however it is also the product of choice for those sporting a quiff, pompadour or ducktail. Pomade makes the hair a bit greasy, making it the perfect product for those who have naturally dry hair. Pomade allows you to alter the effect by changing the amount you use and whether you apply to wet or dry hair, with wet hair giving less hold with more shine and dry hair giving more hold with less shine.

Pomade is traditionally petroleum-based and provide excellent hold and shine with the ability to reshape and comb throughout the day. It does not wash out with water and is generally left in the hair. This is the look favoured by ‘greasers’ and those looking for the more traditional slickback. The recent development of water-soluble pomades allow users to get the same high hold and slicked back look but can be removed with just water. Water-based pomades lack the high shine of petroleum pomades and will harden to a stiff finish however they are more versatile and offer a stronger hold to keep styles in place.

To Use: Apply a small amount of the product to your palm and warm it up by rubbing your hands together before applying to slightly damp hair.

Great For: Pompadours, Quiffs & Slick Back Styles but can be used for most styles.

Use It Because: It’s the only way to give that shiny, slick look to your hair!

Example Products: Suavecito Pomade* (Normal Hold), Baxter of California Clay Pomade*, American Crew Pomade*.

Related Post: Everything Pomade


Whereas pomade is most suited for those slicked back styles, wax offers a solution for those who want a product which can hold a hairstyle. In addition, for those with naturally oily hair, wax often offers a much more suited solution given that pomade can add extra grease to your hair. Whereas pomade remains palliable, wax will often dry out after a few hours however will allow you to restyle until then. Wax is great for making detailed expression and accentuating your hairstyle and can also be used to give a spiky look, unlike pomade.

To Use: Apply in the same way as pomade, warming a small amount in your palms but always apply to completely dry hair, never wet.

Great For: Most hairstyles including spikes!

Use It Because: You can create different textures and add expression to almost any style.

Example Products: Gatsby Moving Rubber*, TIGI Bed Head Workable Wax*.


Few products are able to give as strong a hold as gel, however you’re generally left with hair that is absolutely rock solid as well as often being flaky. If you’re looking for maximum hold where pomade and wax just won’t do, however, gel may be your only option and there’s the added benefit that it will wash straight out with just water. You’ll find gel available in both light and firm hold gels and which you use depends entirely on your hair type and the style you’re aiming for. As a general rule, the finer your hair, the lighter the gel you should use.

To Use: Put a small dab of gel onto your fingers and rub together before applying to damp hair.

Great For: Those styles which need maximum hold such as spikes!

Use It Because: No other product can offer the same level of hold as some gels.

Example Products: Imperial Barber Products Gel*.

The Verdict:

All in all, pomade is the best all-round option for most styles given that it offers both hold and shine, giving you a product which can give a different appearance depending on how you apply it. Wax and gel both have their places and for some styles, only one will do, however if you’re looking for a sophisticated appearance, you’ll find it easiest to achieve with pomade. With a wide range of pomades now available on the market, you’re certainly spoiled for choice and as far as we’re concerned, it never hurts to stock up on a few different ones and try them out until you find the one you love!

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Related Post: Three Styling Clay Products For Fine, Thinning Hair


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

9 thoughts on “Wax vs Pomade vs Gel – What’s The Difference?”

  1. Thank you so much. I’m a lady, however I have truly short hair at this moment. I have been searching for an item to smooth down the parts of my hair that can stand out in the wake of thinking about it. This post has helped me a great deal, as I am not one to do much with my hair more often than not. A debt of gratitude is in order for the assistance!

  2. The best I have ever used and that worked for my hair is the GKhair gel. Just perfect I can say that. I am totally in love with this very product. Great product with great results. 🙂 <3

  3. Alejandro Robles Gandarilla

    Who wants to help a 17 almost 18 year old guy find his ideal hair product? Doubt this matter but im dark skinned & have curly -ish, mostly wavy I guess black hair. For hairstyles I guess ive recently been going with slicked back or to the left side with altitude.

  4. I say Pomade for the win if you get the right one. Some of them look too shiny, and for most women having a greasy look to your hair isn’t the hottest thing on earth. A little shine though goes a long way and when the hair has been combed well, Pomade really sets it off.

  5. I’m a fan of pomade, wax, and paste. Pomade when I want free flowing or slick hair. Wax and paste when I want a non-greasy matte finish with stronger hold. Not sure what Groom and Clean would be labeled as (water based pomade?), but that’s a great product as well – kind of like a greaseless Brylcreem.

  6. Just my opinion of course, but when a man (or even a woman) uses something in their hair that screams “I have some product in my hair!” that’s a bad look. I’m old enough to remember when men used Brylcreem and I hated it then, too.
    IMO hair should look natural and CLEAN. But then again, I’m an old cranky man. YMMV

  7. Not a fan of any of the aforementioned products. I prefer paste which isn’t mentioned. Also, the picture at the beginning of this article is obnoxious. Makes me want to slap that kid silly! Ahaha!

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