A Guide to Men's Grooming Products

model backstage at fashion week

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

The market for men's personal care products is booming. It's estimated that by 2027, the category will reach $183.2 billion dollars, with haircare being a leading sector. And it shouldn't be a surprise to consumers as notable male celebrities invest in the space (see: Pharrell Williams' Humanrace skincare line and A Rod's concealer stick collaboration with men's telehealth company, Hims). Couple that with the changing conversation around men's beauty and the rise of social media, and any trace of taboo nature will soon all but evaporate. (And thank goodness for that!)

While men taking care of their appearances, particularly their hair, isn't anything new, it might be helpful to provide some insight on how the plethora of products on the market work. It's hard to know offhand what products will provide stronger or lighter holds, which are best for a particular hair type and length, and how best to apply them. WIth the help of some expert stylists, this guide should help clear up any confusion and transform you into a hair product master.

Gels

Hold:  Moderate to strong

Best Hair Type: Curly

These are normally water-based and good for those who want that wet, sleek look. They are normally "used by men wanting a wet look with a stronger hold, or a softer hold to add more control," says Celebrity Stylist and SoftSheen-Carson Brand Ambassador Derick Monroe .

Some cheap supermarket gels have the tendency to break and flake off in the hair, so get the good stuff. Most professional gels sold at salons do not have this problem. The key to choosing the right one is this: the finer the hair, the lighter the product. "Gel is great on curly hair, but can be used to hold down the fort on looser textures," Monroe says.

Using a firm hold gel on fine hair will weigh it down, while light hold gels on thick, coarse hair will not offer enough control. Since most gels have a "memory" after they are dry, combing through the hair will give you a dry look while maintaining the shape. A gel can be "reactivated" by wetting your hands and running them through the hair.

Byrdie's Product Recommendation: American Crew Firm Hold Gel

Hairsprays

Hold:  Light to moderate

Best Hair Type: Thick

As a finishing product, hairspray is used to lock a style in place. As with gel, choose the lightest product for your hair type. For fine hair, a light spray can be used to give hair a messy texture without weighing the hair down too much. As an added bonus, many hairsprays contain a sunscreen and will add shine to the hair. 

"Hairsprays are usually favored and work great on thick hair that is unruly and needs to be controlled," says Jorge Buccio, a celebrity groomer & senior colorist for Cleverman. He adds that for fine hair a "low to medium hold hairspray on dry hair can make it look perfect" because it "controls flyaways and freeze, giving a very natural finish with low shine."

Buccio's Product Recommendation: 18.21 premium hairspray

Sea Salt Sprays

Hold: Light

Best Hair Type: Fine

Sea salt sprays add texture and grit to your hair, giving the user a beach-like hairstyle without ever having to touch foot on sand. Buccio says the spray "can make hair look picture perfect without the need of any other products." What kind of hair works best with salt sprays? Buccio recommends salt spray on "mostly any type of hair." It can be used on wet or dry hair and it "gives hair a light control level and texture, while still making it movable." He adds that it gives texture, grit, with a matte finish."

So what should you look for in a sea salt spray? Buccio says "not all salt sprays are created equal, it’s important to look for salt sprays with low or no alcohol, high alcohol levels can make your hair feel very dry and dehydrated."

Buccio's Product Recommendation: R+Co RockAway Salt Spray

Sugar Sprays

Hold: Light

Best Hair Type: Most hair types

Sugar sprays can provide similar results as salt sprays in terms of adding texture and grit, but sugar sprays differ in that they can add more polish and softness to hair than salt sprays can. Buccio says "sugar sprays have less hold than salt sprays and work great on most hair types." He says they "tend to have a less matte finish than salt sprays" and that "choosing a sugar spray over a salt spray has to do more with preference of texture and feel."

Buccio's Product Recommendation: Paul Mitchel NEON Sugar Spray

Pomades

Hold: Moderate to strong

Best Hair Type: Curly, thick

"Pomades are control products, but won’t leave the hair hard or sticky," Monroe says. These products can be either water or wax based and are used to add shine while maintaining a pliable hold. A pomade will give a wet, shiny look and is a great option for a sleek, well-groomed style. This product is also great for shorter, texturized styles where shine is desired and can also give shine and separation to long hair. Most pomades can be too aggressive for fine hair and can make it look greasy and limp.

To properly use a pomade, apply a small amount to the palm of your hand and rub them together until your hands get warm. Work the product through slightly damp to dry hair. Consider washing this product out of your hair before bedtime as excessive accumulation of the product can clog pores and harm the scalp.

Byrdie's Product Recommendation: Suavecito Firme Hold Pomade

Waxes

Hold: Moderate

Best Hair Type: Thick

Waxes are similar to pomades, but are normally more aggressive and petroleum based. This product is great for lending shine and control to short cuts like flattops and buzzcuts. Waxes are also good for managing very thick hair. For fine hair, "waxes can be too heavy and tend to make hair look flat," Bucci says. He adds that "waxes work best on dry hair giving a medium control level, and medium to high shine." Waxes used on dry hair can help control frizz and flyaways.

Buccio's Product Recommendation: Bed Head For Men by TIGI

Muds, Fibers, and Clays

Hold: Strong

Best Hair Type: Most hair types

Similar in application to pomades and waxes, a mud (or fiber) is used when maximum control is needed. Many muds and fibers will give a more matte finish, so they are perfect for those "bed head" type styles. This product type is great for giving texture to short, disheveled styles and for adding separation to long styles. Buccio says that some kinds are lighter and some are heavier or thicker. "The lighter provide less hold and control, and the thicker or heavier will give more hold and control and they can be used on dry or wet hair, on dry hair, it gives definition and helps minimize frizz and flyaways." They work great on most hair types and textures, from thick curly to straight and fine.

Buccio's Product Recommendations: Victory barber and brand Dry grooming cream

Creams

Hold: Light

Best Hair Type: Curly

A styling cream has the consistency of a soft, opaque wax. "Creams normally are for softness, adding a healthy looking element to the hair and also definition to curls," Monroe says. These products are lighter and are great for controlling flyaway hair and for giving a bit of shine and control while leaving you looking like you don't have anything in your hair. For fine hair, use a very small amount to avoid a greasy look. If your hair is curly, a cream is a great option to add shine and keep the curl together. "Pomades and creams are perfect for my brush cut Caesar with waves."

Byrdie's Product Recommendation: JVN Complete Air Dry Cream

Pastes

Hold: Moderate to strong

Best Hair Type: Thin

Pastes are stronger versions of pomades. "They tend to add definition to hair and normally need to be broken down using the heat of your hand to make it pliable," Monroe says. "This will add hold, but is still more touchable than the person using a gel. Each product is characterized by the hold. Stiffer hair tends not to need as much product as coarser hair."

Byrdie's Product Recommendation:  Kevin Murphy Rough Rider Paste

Styling Powder

Hold: Light

Best Hair Type: Medium to fine hair

Styling powders are great for adding volume and texture to your hair and best of all, they are easy to to use. Buccio says styling powders are "best for medium to fine hair and they are mostly created to be used on dry hair." But it's important to know there are different kinds of styling powders. "Some are stronger and create more texture and grit," Buccio says. "And some are softer and still give hair some texture and grit but maintain hair movability."

Buccio's Product Recommendation: OSIS+ Powder Cloud by Schwarzkopf Professional

Mousse

Hold: Light to moderate

Best Hair Type: Most hair types

"Mousse defines waves, and helps reduce freeze on curly wavy hair, and it can add volume and texture to medium to super fine hair," Buccio says. What kind of hair can Mousse be used for? "Mousse can be applied to dry or wet hair, and it’s mostly used on wet hair."

What are some of the different kinds of mousses one can buy? Buccio says there are "some with strong hold and control and some very light and with moderate hold and control. Some new mousses have changed the application method, instead of pouring the foam into the hand you can now spray it directly into the hair, making it easier and less messy."

Buccio's Product Recommendation: Oribe Tres set styling foam

We hope this has taken some of the guesswork out of selecting the right styling product for your hair type. Of course, maintaining a great looking head of hair starts with getting a great haircut, but the right product can take your look to a new level. Now that you've got the knowledge, go out and get your groom on.


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