A Guide to Men's Grooming Products

model backstage at fashion week

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

The market for men's styling products, shaving, and shampoos and conditioners is booming. Men are going to the spa, getting manicures, buying designer labels, and paying attention to their reflection in the mirror. Even the trendy "just rolled out of bed" looks take a lot of work—and a good dollop of product. But with so many styling products out there, many men are confused. The guide should help clear up the confusion.

Styling products can be placed into one of two categories: fixatives or pliables. Fixatives are products that dry hard (e.g., gel and hairspray), while pliables remain flexible (pomades, waxes). If you want that cute person at the bar to be running their fingers through your hair later, stay away from those fixatives.


  • Gels: These are normally water-based and good for those who want that wet, sleek look. 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. You'll usually find gels in firm or light hold. The key to choosing the right one is this: the finer the hair, the lighter the product. 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. Try American Crew Firm Hold Gel
  • Hairsprays: 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.  Try TIGI Pro Look Set Hair Spray


  • Pomades: 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. Try Suavecito Firme Hold Pomade
  • Waxes: Waxes are similar to pomade, 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. Application is the same as with a Pomade except the product must be applied to hair that is completely dry (oil and water don't mix). Remember to wash the product out at night and never use a wax on fine hair. Try Jack Black Wax Pomade
  • Muds, Fibers, and Clays: 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. Try 18.21 Clay
  • Creams and Pastes: A styling cream has the consistency of a soft, opaque wax. 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. Try Kevin Murphy Rough Rider Paste

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.

Related Stories