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Paste, Pomade, and Clay.. What's the Difference?

A Guy’s Guide to Understanding Hair Styling Products

The world of hair styling products can be a confusing one, and often times its overwhelming trying to understand what each one does.  Do you know the difference between a hair paste, pomade, or a clay?  How about gels, crèmes, or waxes? And don’t forget about mousses, hair sprays, oils, and serums.  All of these different names can make it quite difficult finding the right one (or two) styling products for your specific hair styling needs.  Which one is right for you? Well I hope we can answer some of these questions here.

Mister Pompadour sells a few pastes, pomade, and texture powder in our styling line, so we'll begin with each of these products to give you some bearing. 

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Pomade

Pomade is one of the most commonly used words to describe men’s hair styling products today.  Now whether the word pomade is used correctly is a completely different story, but it seems to be the catch-all term to describe anything that’s not a gel or fiber. 

They are primarily designed to showcase your hair in a slick, neat manner while providing a high shine finish (ie pompadours, ducktails, or classic side parts).  Basically, pomades work extremely well for hairstyles that are formed using a comb.   Unlike gels, pomades do not dry out or leave your hair hard and crunchy allowing you to style your hair again and again throughout the day.  Options for medium to high shine pomades are widely available. 

Pomades can be broken down into two major categories: 

  1. Oil-based (the more traditional version)
  2. Water-based (the more popular option)

Oil-based pomades are basically grease or petroleum, which makes it a very cheap option compared to water-based pomades.  In the 1950s, the term greaser” appeared to describe the greased-back hairstyles that use this type of product.  Their ingredients are water insoluble which makes them practically impossible to wash out in the shower (buyer beware!).  While the petroleum and grease might give your hair long lasting shine and infinite mold ability, it does come at a cost.  Practically anything you use to wash out oil-based pomades will also strip all of the natural oils out of your hair, potentially leaving it looking quite unhealthy.  One final thing worth mentioning is the oil-based pomades may leave you more acne prone, particularly along your forehead and on your scalp.  If you don’t give your hair and scalp a proper wash, then pore and hair follicles can be clogged resulting in unwanted buildup and undesirable acne. 

Water-based pomades on the other hand are a little more user-friendly.  They are designed to allow you to achieve similar looks and holds to oil-based pomades, but they wash out easily with water.  Most water-based pomades don't hold as firmly as the oil based type, but they maintain flexibility and can be restyled throughout the day.  Check out our Peppermint Pomade which falls within the water-based pomade category.   

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Hair Paste

There is no consensus on the definition of “hair paste”, but there are obvious similarities between them all when you see and touch them.   In general hair pastes are a bit thicker in consistency than pomades, and their consistency and texture can range from something like a thick toothpaste to tacky glue.   A hair paste usually gives your hair a medium to very firm hold, and can leave your hair with a natural matte finish or add a touch of shine.

 This makes hair pastes the most versatile men’s hair products out there and can be recommended for practically any hairstyle.  Hair pastes are ideal for all hair lengths, types and styles…from short to long, fine to thick, messy to combed.  And they are water-based, so washing them out is super easy.  You really can’t go wrong with choosing a product in the hair paste family! 

Now typically, thicker hair pastes require them to be warmed up before application.  Rubbing thicker hair paste between your fingers or palms will soften the product allowing you evenly distribute it throughout your hair.  Once the product is applied and your hair is styled, the product will begin to cool again and re-thicken, which helps give your hairstyle the hold it needs. 

We have two products in the hair paste category and they're quite different, but quite versatile.   The Natural Beeswax Paste is a firm hold, matte finish paste.  It’s very thick and it definitely requires warming up in your hands before applying it.  It is by far our best seller because it has amazing hold and leaves your hair looking natural with a matte finish.  The Moroccan Texture Paste is a medium hold and provides semi-shine finish.  It gives your hair great separation and flexibility, but it also works as a volumizer and texturizer prior to blow drying.  The Moroccan Texture Paste also smells amazing! (Check out our hair styling tutorial video below and scroll to the 1:49 mark to see the Natural Beeswax Paste being applied as a finishing product).

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Clays

Clay hair products are a relatively new classification for men’s styling products and these products can range from very thick to very creamy consistency.  The one thing in common with all clay hair products is the fact that they actually contain a clay ingredient in their formulations.  The most commonly used clay is bentonite, which is completely natural and usually forms from weathering of volcanic ash.    It’s incredibly fine and powdery making it almost “velvety” to the touch, and can swell as much as 6x when contacting water.  

Clay (bentonite) makes your hair feel “fatter” by adding body, thickness and structure to the individual hair strands, and ultimately gives your hair structure and stability throughout the day.  Hair clays are ideal for hairstyles that require tons of volume without having to worry about the styling product weighing down your hair.  There are other benefits of using hair clay products including: 

  • Clay has the tendency to draw dirt and impurities from the hair without drying the hair of its natural oils
  • Clay has properties that are naturally healing and stimulating of the hair shaft and scalp (making it good for men with sensitive skin and scalp) and promotes hair growth
  • It nourishes the hair and scalp because it’s rich in mineral and nutrients
  • It conditioner and moisturizes the hair to control and maintain frizzy hair, particularly for men with curly or longer hair 

Our Sculpting Clay is has an incredibly smooth and creamy texture which allows it to be spread easily and evenly through the thickest of hair types.  Its lightweight formula also absorbs quickly into the hair without leaving any unwanted residue.  Applying the Sculpting Clay can be applied before (as a pre-styler) or after (as a finish product) using a blow dryer to give you extra volume and stability without weighing your hair down.   Either way you choose to use it, your hair will be left with matte to semi-matte finish and give your hair medium to high hold. 

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Waxes

Hair waxes are often mis-classified because in some parts of the world there are no words for pomades, gels, or pastes…so these hair products automatically get lumped into generic “wax” category, which adds to the confusion.  Waxes, in their truest forms, have two things in common:  they do not harden over time and typically have a shiny finish.

 So what hair products are waxes similar to?   Waxes are most comparable to pomades, but typically have a lighter hold.  They typically have the medium to high shine, but they lack in the overall hold.  Like pomades, waxes are ideal for hairstyles that require a comb such as the pompadour, classic side part, or ducktails. 

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Crèmes / Creams 

Hairstyling cream can essentially be called “hair lotion” because that’s exactly what it’s used for.  They have a lotion-type consistency (versus the solid, pasty-type consistency of pomades and pastes) and they work great for moisturizing your hair in an effort to control and maintain frizzy hair.  Hair creams offer a light, softer hold compared to any other hair styling products, and they are recommended primarily as a pre-styling product as they add substance, shine and separation to the hair.  So if you’re looking to tame unruly hair and control the frizz on curly haired guys, then adding a crème to your styling regime would be recommended.   Our Sculpting Clay has features and benefits that fit within this category, but it is slightly thicker and has actual clay in it. 

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Gel

Hair gel is the most known and most commonly used (and probably most hated) hair styling product for men.  It would be a fairly safe bet to say that every guy has tried using hair gel at least once in their life.   It’s typically the “starter” hair product for most guys who begin styling their hair in middle school or high school because it’s cheap and readily available at any local store….and unfortunately for a lot of us, we simply didn’t know any better!  

Gel is great product if your intention is to have stiff, non-movable hair and if you don’t care if products damage your hair.  It does work well with all hair lengths, thicknesses, and textures to mold, sculpt, and hold your hair in place.  Gel tends to coat the hair strands and binds them together to lock them in place.  Gels are water based styling products that have a concoction of harsh alcohols and holding chemicals.  They typically leave your hair shiny and rock hard and don't have the flexibility to style your hair throughout the day.   

The “extreme hold” of using gel in your hair does come as a cost: 

  • Flaking or residue when gelled hair is disturbed by running your fingers through your hair
  • Hair damage and excessive drying due to the type of alcohols that are used to help the gel dry
  • Corrosive chemicals strip all moisture from the hair and scalp resulting in itchy and flaky scalp and dandruff
  • Hair becomes brittle and prone to breakage
  • Hair becomes more frizzy, thereby making it unmanageable, dry, rough, limp and lusterless
  • Promotes dead skin cell build up and excess sebum (natural hair oil) on the scalp which clogs the hair follicles and eventually causes hair to fall out and hair loss 

Sounds great right (insert sarcasm here)?  Hair loss, dry hair and scalp, flaking….we don’t think so either! That’s why Mister Pompadour has not and will not introduce a hair gel to our product line.  We only want styling products that contain natural oils and proteins to promote healthy hair and scalp while naturally hold hairstyles in place.

 So basically, if you’re using gel to style your hair you might as well shout to the world “Hey! I’m new at styling my hair”. 

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Mousse

Mousse is probably the most recognizable hair product type there is based solely on its unique foamy texture.  And for most guys, hair mousse is also one of those products they tend to shy away from.  Possibly because mousse received a bad rap in the ‘80s for making hair feel crunchy and sticky.  Or maybe it is the simple thought of product squirting out of a metal aerosol can that turns guys away.  Either way, mousse is a hairstyling product that is designed to add body, light hold and shine to your mane.  

One could argue that mousse is probably one of the most underutilized styling products for men, especially for men looking to achieve hairstyles that require volume.  Applying mousse at the hair roots and blow drying from the roots outward is key to achieving massive volume.  Using mousse with this method works well for all hair types – thick, fine, short, medium, long, curly, wavy and everything in between.  Unlike hair gel, if you disturb the crunchy hair you won’t be left with flakes and residue.  

So what makes mousse different?  Mousse works by surrounding the hair strand with synthetic resins called polymers and assists the hair in holding its shape when it dries.  Mousse will give hair a certain amount of lift at the root level, which makes it a perfect candidate at a pre-styler.  Use mousse to get the initial volume – then use another product, like the Natural Beeswax Paste, to better define and shape the hairstyle.  Some mousses are specifically formulated to thicken fine hair - making it a perfect choice for hair that is beginning to thin out or fine hair types in general.  

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Serum

For men with longer hair, a serum is used to control frizz and fly-aways by moisturizing the hair and providing a silky smoothness.   Most guys will never use a serum due to the application, but can be used to add a quick shiny finish by applying a little bit after your hair is towel dried. 

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Hair Oil

We wouldn’t necessary classify hair oils as a styling product, but rather a hair repairing product.  Its recommended use is overnight or when styling your hair isn’t needed because hair oils will likely leave hair looking extremely greasy/oily and provide no hold whatsoever.  Their main purpose it to hydrate the hair when the scalp is insufficiently producing enough sebum (natural hair oil) or when the sebum isn’t traveling from the root to the top to effectively protect the hair.  Depending on the needs of your hair, you’ll need to choose the product right for the job: 

  • Argan Oil – Protects the hair and makes it feel smoother, softer, and less frizzy
  • Coconut Oil – Improves overall hair health by penetrating deep in the hair shaft and strengthening weak spots
  • Almond Oil – Contains a Vitamin A, B and E which improves hair health and adds shine and body
  • Olive Oil – Revives dry hair (*use sparingly for fine hair types) 

While Mister Pompadour does not offer a stand-alone hair oil product, we do include oils within our products to help condition, strengthen, and improve overall hair health.  Take the Moroccan Texture Paste for example – its ingredients include argan oil and coconut to condition and soften the hair throughout the day.

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Texture Powder

The vast majority of men don’t even know texture powders exist, let alone use them.   The recommended use is to create instant crazy volume and natural lightweight hold.   Our Texture Powder is primarily a pre-styler and are applied either before or after you blow dry your hair, but most definitely before you finish it off with a pomade or paste.

 All powders typically contain the same basic ingredients.  They all have a base of silica silylate.  This is a rough particulate (unlike silicones which are smooth and shiny).  The roughness sticks to your hair fibers and create the volume that you need by increasing friction between the hair fibers.   In addition there are certain chemicals in the texture powder that absorbs moisture, which in turn rids your hair of excess oil.  This also contributes to the extra boost in volume.  (Check out our hair styling tutorial video below and scroll to the 1:09 mark to see the Texture Powder being applied as a pre-styler after blow drying)


They’re generally recommended to apply to the roots of your hair.  Using your fingers to mix the powder within your hair will give that much needed boost.  If applied to just the ends of your hair, you can create a different effect; this typically creates great separation among the strands and piecey effect.

The negative that we’ve seen in using texture powders is that it doesn’t leave your hair soft like other products might.  Your hair isn’t crunchy like a hair spray, but feels a bit stiff.   In addition, application is a bit different that a typical hair product in a jar.   Using too much and you may notice it at the roots of your hair.  Apply it sparingly to ensure it blends well is the best way to use it.

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Hairspray

The hair product marketplace is filled with all types of hair spray products that can set your hairstyle, enhance shine, reduce frizz, and even promote volume.  Hair spray can be used by itself, or used in conjunction with any hair paste or pomade.  They can also be sprayed on the outer layer of hair to lock in the hairstyle in place, or sprayed deep into the roots to coat the hair and lift them up.  

Typically, hair spray is packaged in an aerosol can or bottle with a pump sprayer, and is primarily geared towards women – this does not mean that men can’t and shouldn’t use them as well.  To make life simple, stay focused on the holding power because that’s the main difference between all hair spray products.  They can generally be categorized as flexible-, medium-, or maximum-hold. 

Flexible-hold hair sprays offer the least amount of staying power and work well for longer hairstyles.  They provide just enough control to reduce frizzing, but still allow some natural movement.  The medium-hold hair sprays have a slightly stronger hold than the flexible types and should be used sparingly if movement is still desired.    Medium-sprays are ideal for hairstyles that require volume, but don’t necessarily need to be stiff. 

 Maximum-hold sprays are obviously the strongest of the bunch and they work to keep every strand in the same place throughout the day.  If you’re styling product isn’t giving you enough hold throughout the day, then blast it with a few shots of maximum-hold sprays and that’ll do the trick.  You’ll still maintain the definition and texture of the hairstyle, but it’ll now be locked in place.  Just be mindful that some types of hair spray product may require washing with a clarifying shampoo to remove all residues. 

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Thank you for taking the time to read about the various hair product categories on the market today – hopefully you learned a thing or two along the way!  There is a lot to consider when choosing the right product for your perfect hairstyle and we want to make sure you are equipped with this valuable information when making that decision.  As always, we strive to offer you the best products and the best information you can find. 

Please feel free to reach out to us at anytime if you have any further questions or comments, or if you’re simply looking for a product recommendation.  We are always here to help!

Best regards,

Matt and Zack


24 Responses

Zahid
Zahid

October 19, 2016

Thank you for this very interesting article. Very helpful. I’ll throw away my gels now.

Anna Valencia
Anna Valencia

August 07, 2016

I have a question. I am searching for a hair product for my son and my husband. My husband has always had super short hair. (A 1 on top) and I’m trying to get him to grow his hair out. The only problem is he’s stuck in the 90’s thinking that gel or some greasy product are his only options. I’ve looked into clays, waxes, pomades and puttys but they are all too expensive for me to try out and not like them. I want something that holds well (preferably no shine but whatever) but that also does not flake or leave an oily or greasy residue on my couch or on the seat of my car. He is also wants to train his hair back. Your article is very informative but I want a product that doesn’t leave an oily or greasy residue. Basically I want it to dry up without also flaking. Thanks.

Jayant
Jayant

July 30, 2016

Thank you for this detailed explanation.
I immediately threw all my hair gels after reading this article and replaced them by your Natural Beeswax paste!

Amazing product and smell.

Davspeed
Davspeed

July 26, 2016

I thought I knew what was what and I’m sorry for using gel for so many years,lol.Thanks so much very informative

Landi Lopez
Landi Lopez

July 06, 2016

Awesome article that’s very informative… Thanks for the help

Kevin Garman
Kevin Garman

June 28, 2016

Very informative and extremely interesting! I love hearing the science behind each product and hearing why you guys have developed the products you are putting on the market. Thank you for putting in the time to write these articles! I love hearing the insight y’all have to offer. It makes me excited and thankful to be a Mister Pompadour member. :)

suman
suman

June 11, 2016

its a great article compared to another just read before. but i have a question can we use two product or not once like pomade and wax mixing them at once. is there any conciconses or not.

Abdur Khan
Abdur Khan

May 29, 2016

One of the best articles I’ve ever read. Life changing I’d say. I’m going out to get clay products…

Alex
Alex

March 07, 2016

Brilliant article! What is a prestyler?

RAW
RAW

February 10, 2016

This helped a ton !! Very informative and precise.

Abhishek Bedi
Abhishek Bedi

January 26, 2016

Awesome……vry Awesome. ….sharing ur knowlede in such a beautiful & easy manner….straight to the concerned points……thx

Luis
Luis

January 16, 2016

I am a Barber and Cosmetogy educator i will share this great information with all my colleagues and students. Thank you.

Hal
Hal

January 02, 2016

This is a fantastic article, thank you!

Buff Stud
Buff Stud

January 01, 2016

Great info, Thanx

Monica
Monica

December 19, 2015

This was very informative. My hair had been in a natural state i.e. curly coily for a couple of years I like to change styles a lot so I like versatility.
Thank you

Ben
Ben

December 01, 2015

Very well written and informative. I found out a lot because of this, and realized how “noobish” I was when I first started gelling my hair. I’ve moved on to pastes and pomades now. Thanks, guys!

Gabriel
Gabriel

November 16, 2015

Beautiful beautiful article. The enlightenment I’m feeling right now is unreal lol. I’m still waiting on a hairspray from you guys though!

Dale
Dale

October 13, 2015

This post cleared up a lot of confusion. I’ve used many different hair styling products for many different hairstyles but I did not know the difference in all the products. Now I know exactly what to use for my pompadour. Thank you.

Aloysius van Gaal
Aloysius van Gaal

October 06, 2015

This is the shit! Thanks, guys!

Kelli
Kelli

September 02, 2015

Thank you! I’m a woman, but I have really short hair right now. I have been looking for a product to smooth down the parts of my hair that can stick out after sleeping on it. This post has helped me a lot, as I am not one to do much with my hair usually. Thanks for the help!

pvollentogo
pvollentogo

July 16, 2015

terrific essay! I can’t wait to get my “starter kit” & apply your suggestions!

jc
jc

March 19, 2015

a ver y good post, thank you

Shadul
Shadul

February 25, 2015

great article I’ve been looking for one like this for a while that explains everything so clearly. This is the first I’ve read that explains it so clearly. Really looking foward to your next one.

Fawaz
Fawaz

February 23, 2015

Wow and thank you for this great article please keep it up, and would like to see more like this

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