Hair wax vs Mens Hair Styling Products

Comparing hair wax with other hair products for men

So it would not come up as a surprise to those of us in the barber profession that hair wax is always compared to other men’s hair styling products. From hair gel to pomade, we get a lot of our barbershop customers asking what’s the difference between hair wax and hair gel, pomade or styling creams. In the quintessential hair product search for the best hair products for men we have our barbershop customers ask us not just the differences between hair wax and other men’s hair products but also which are the best hair styling products to buy. I’d say that on average, much of the time spent cutting a customer’s hair is spent discussing the best men’s hair products to buy.

A picture of a hair styling wax from Pantene and which is used for shaping mens hairstyles among many other hair products for men

In order to provide a reference page to the internet that explains some of the issues that we regularly discuss with our barbershop customers, I’d like to go through how each men’s hair product compares to hair wax as well as what each of the hair styling products does for male hair. However, let’s first clarify what hair wax is.

What is hair styling wax?

Hair wax, also known as hair styling wax, is a type of men’s hair product used for styling hair. Hair wax has a range of different specifications used in men’s hair styling as the product is light, pliable, malleable and doesn’t oxidize when expose to air. Hair wax also does a decent job at trapping moisture within the cuticle of the hair strands, especially those hair waxes designed for a wet hair look. Because of its hair moisturizing effect, hair wax can be used on all male hair types and there are even specific hair wax products for wavy hair and curly hair as well as afro textured hair.  This was unthought of until the early 2000s, when men with curly hair were limited to hair gels and styling creams.

There is a wide range of hair styling waxes in the market and some manufacturers use different terms to describe hair wax, such as “hair clay”, “hair fiber” or “hair putty”. This can (and usually does) cause confusion among consumers, who many times don’t know if they’re truly getting a hair styling wax when they’re buying a hair styling clay (or if instead they’re getting an actual hairstyling product made of clay!).

A picture of an American Crew hair wax also known as hairstyling fiberThe topic of which hair wax to buy for men comes up a lot at our barbershop and at most American barbershops. Even online, there have been plenty of discussions from barbers and hairdressers alike on which is the best hair wax for men as the range of hair styling waxes is so wide that choosing one particular wax as the best wax out of all of them truly comes down to preference as most top-end hair waxes perform just as well as each other. Thus you’re truly left with choosing a men’s hair wax that offers the best styling specifications to you, and hence your own preference for a type of hair wax is what matters these days and not the inherent quality of a hair wax by itself.

Hair wax compared to hair gel

Hair gel is the most known hair styling product for men. It’s been with us for decades, and prior to hair gels we had pomades and hair tonics, both of which have faded in popularity.

A picture of a hair gel for mens hair from the TIGI hair products brand

Hair gels, unlike hair styling waxes, provide a harder and drier texture and look; this is the main difference between a regular hair wax and a hair gel. Nowadays, thee do exist hair gels that imitate the lighter and natural-looking texture of hair wax, for, unless you’re buying very-specific hair styling gels, you can go by that rule of thumb: hair gel for a harder and drier texture; hair wax for a lighter and smoother texture.

Hair wax compared to hairstyling pomade

Hairstyling pomades are used for slicked hairstyles that contain a lot of moisture and thus provide a wet hair effect. The ancient problem with pomades has been that their slicked hair effect comes from its oil-coating abilities, which tends to make hair look greasy and awkward.

Nowadays there do exist water-soluble pomades that avoid the oil slicking problem of oil-soluble pomades. This is a good thing and it has spiked the popularity of pomade for the last 7 years since the mid-2000s.

A picture of a water soluble pomade from the Suavecito brand

Whether it’s a water soluble pomade or an oil soluble pomade, pomades are still heavier hair styling products for men which is the contrary of hair styling waxes. This means that pomades are best used predominantly for flat hairstyles like the side swept hairstyle, the slicked back hair style or the classic side part hairstyle.

Pompadour hairstyles can also be achieved with a pomade, but you do need to use more pomade than usual to style a pompadour style, and hence the “greaser” name for the rockabilly guys in the 1950s who used heavy oil pomades to slick their hair in pompadour hairstyles and quiff hairstyles.

Hair wax compared to hairstyling creams

Hairstyling creams are a type of men’s hair product used to style the hair with a low hold but with plenty of shine. One extra benefit of styling creams for men’s hair is that they are great moisturizing products and thus they fight frizzy hair. This is specially useful for men with curly hair as the styling cream provides cushioning for fuller and shaped curls while weighing them down so that they lay low instead of puffed up.

A picture of a styling creme for curly haired men from the Bumble and Bumble brand

Most hair waxes for curly hair provide a shaped up style that enhances the puffy and afro-hairstyle nature of curly hair. Some curly men prefer to wear their curls big and vertical, hence a good hair wax for curly hair will enhance the curly shape of the hairstyle while keeping the hairstyle big and with volume. On the other hand, styling creams will provide pretty much the same effect as curly hair waxes, only that styling creams will weigh the hair down instead of helping it stand up and with volume (the latter being what hair waxes for curly hair do!).

Hair wax offers the widest range of men’s hairstyling options

All in all, hair wax is a very versatile hair product for men. It’s a light product that offers a wide range of holding strengths and shining textures. Unlike the rest of the men’s hairstyling products that I’ve gone through above, hair wax can adapt to pretty much any hair type or hairstyle so long as you choose the right hair wax!

I hope that this men’s hair products guide has been of use to you and that, next time you’re buying hair products, you are able to differentiate between hair wax and the rest of available hair products, and then make an informed purchasing decision!

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