If you’ve been using the same hair product since you were a teenager, even if your style has changed, it may be time to rethink your regimen. After all, the right product can mean the difference between good hair and great hair.
We get it, the grooming aisle can be confusing, especially when the difference between a lot of the products is subtle at best and incomprehensible at worst. But knowing what you’re looking for is half the battle and that’s what we’re here for. This list includes all you know need to know about some very common products — and, most important, which is best for you.
The Product: POMADE
What It Does: The most classic men’s styling product, it comes in a variety of weights and is generally used to mold hair into a certain shape.
The Hair: The beauty of pomade is that it can be used on any type of hair, but take into account the texture and amount. A good rule of thumb is the more hair you have, the lighter the product.
The Style: It’s ideal for shorter styles that need a bit more control, but guys with medium-length hair can use it too to get a messy, defined look. Opt for a matte version if you want to cut down on shine.
Our Pick: V76 by Vaughn Pomade
The Product: WAX
What It Does: Wax gives the most hold out of any product on your list, so it’s ideal to use if you want to keep your hair in place all day. It’s thick and oily, so a little goes a long way and might take a bit more work to wash out.
The Hair: It’s great for coarse or close-textured hair to keep it in place and can be used as a spot treatment on any kind of hair to press down cowlicks and flyaways.
The Style: Wax is ideal for defining longer, coarse hair but also to smooth down highly-shaped styles like slick side parts.
Our Pick: TIGI Bedhead Hair Stick
The Product: CLAY
What It Does: Like a pomade, clay is used for shaping, but has a matte look and gives hair a gritty, lived-in texture.
The Hair: It’s perfect for anyone with oilier hair or who wants to cut down on shine without sacrificing hold. Since it can be drying, it’s best for short to medium-length hair.
The Style: Clay is the secret to a messy, relaxed look like you thought about your hair, but not too much. Don’t try to use to get a crisp, clean part.
Our Pick: Bumble and Bumble Sumoclay
The Product: PASTE
What It Does: Like pomade’s more casual cousin, paste is creamy and usually has a lighter hold. It feels slightly sticky in your hand, a little like a gel, but isn’t as wet and slippery.
The Hair: Paste is ideal for medium hair that needs a little bit of control, but can’t afford to be weighed down. It’s also great for guys with thinner hair since it can help pump up volume.
The Style: Use paste for a natural look that’s shaped but not shellacked. It gives you definition and move (and a little bit of shine) without the grit of a clay.
Our Pick: American Crew Defining Paste
The Product: CREAM
What It Does: A good cream smooths everything out and has a little bit of hold, but not too much. It helps control frizz, keeps dry hair moist and makes everything look sleek but not wet.
The Hair: Since cream is hydrating, it’s ideal for anyone whose hair tends to get dry: curly, long or thinning hair. It helps moisturize strands but also protects them.
The Style: Since creams are lightweight, they’re perfect for longer hair, but anyone who can use a little moisture should use them consistently.
Our Pick: Kiehl’s Creme with Silk Groom
The Product: SALT SPRAY
What It Does: It’s all in the name: a spray with salt in it. It’s used to give hair that right-off-the-beach look, the salt in these sprays helps volumize and dirty-up hair (in a good way) without weighing it down.
The Hair: These sprays can be used on all hair types, but is especially suited for anyone whose hair could use a pump (thinning, fine or straight hair especially). The salt can be drying on curly hair, but if you’re oily, then they’re a good counter.
The Style: Salt sprays work best when they have something to work with, so medium-to-long hair is great. They’ll give texture and flair without weight. But if even if you have short hair, spray a little on top for some natural volume.
Our Pick: Byrd Texturizing Surfspray
The Product: GEL
What It Does: Gel is all about high shine and lots of control. That’s why it’s a favorite for spiking, slicking and shellacking hair into submission. It’s like a glue, use enough and nothing’s going to move it.
The Hair: Modern gels are more about flexibility, so they are tailor made for medium length hair that needs more control than any cream or paste could give. It’s especially good at control, so if you have curly hair, a gel might be good for you.
The Style: Flexible hold gels are meant to be put on wet and then blown-dry, so they don’t end up shiny and crunchy. Medium-length hair is ideal, so you can shape it how you want without worrying about it falling down.
Our Pick: R+Co Motorcycle Flexible Hold Gel