The 10 Best Hair Gels for Men of 2023

With picks from Harry's, Aesop, and more

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Best Hair Gels for Men

Byrdie / Amelia Manley

Hair gel has long been a staple styling product for men. It has a rich history to say the least, with some of the most famous style icons of the last century (think: Gable, Dean, Travolta, Beckham) all fans of a firm hold. However, even though it’s been around longer than many other grooming essentials, it is perhaps the most precarious and intimidating product to use. Too much and the hair collapses like a sad scarecrow; too little and your barnet is bouncing around like an inflatable at a car dealership.

Overall, gels can be drying, says Janice Kinjo, a professional men's groomer. "For all hair and skin products, be aware of certain alcohols like isopropyl alcohol and [specially denatured] alcohols—the first three ingredients are the main ones, and these alcohols are drying and can cause breakage," she explains. "On the other hand, cetearyl alcohol is an emulsifying ingredient that smooths and softens and is the good alcohol. Lastly, hair gel leaves that wet hair look which is the clean look and polished look. Just remember to wash the gel out every night because it will help keep moisture in your hair." 

Certain hair gels are truly a cut above the fold, with both styling and nourishing benefits, and we've done the work of rounding up the best of them. We conducted hours of research on the best hair gels for men, evaluating them on active ingredients, size, finish and hold, and other qualities. After consulting with a professional men's groomer, and considering dozens of options, we landed on these top-rated choices.

Best Overall

American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel

American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel


What We Like
  • Firm yet flexible hold

  • No residue

  • Hydrating formula

What We Don't Like
  • Contains triethanolamine

American Crew is a classic drugstore staple, offering a slew of products with conditioning benefits, too. This alcohol-free formula contains ginseng and sage extract and has a firm hold, making it ideal for many styles. Overall, it does what you would want your gel to do—it gives just the right amount of both shine and hold. And it has the company's original scent beloved by many reviewers.

Price at time of publish: $12

Active Ingredients: VP/VA Copolymer, safflower seed oil, panax ginseng root extract | Hair type: All | Size: 8.4 fl. oz. | Formula: Gel | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Budget

Harry's Sculpting Gel

Harry’s Sculpting Gel

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Good value

  • Shine-free finish

  • Strong hold

What We Don't Like
  • Could be more hydrating

If you're a grooming nut, chances are you’ve heard of Harry’s. The brand has a smart subscription service for razors and shaving products, delivering everything you need straight to your door on the regular. However, its hair offerings are equally strong, with pomades, waxes, and gels available at a great price. This gel, in particular, is great—its non-glossy, easy-to-use formula has a decent hold, giving you a slick (but not overdone) vibe.

Price at time of publish: $9

Active Ingredients: Polyacrylate-2 Crosspolymer | Hair type: All | Size: 6.7 fl. oz. | Formula: Gel | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Scent

Horace Cream Pomade

Horace Cream Pomade

Courtesy of Horace

What We Like
  • Hydrating formula

  • No silicones

  • Doesn't contribute to buildup

What We Don't Like
  • Contains alcohol

Horace, a new brand on the block, isn't following the rules when it comes to this men's haircare. Think natural ingredients, a pot (!!!!), and a fresh fragrance of grapefruit, mint, and lemon—all free from parabens, silicones, and mineral oils, which is no easy feat. The formula feels great, leaving a glossy shine and strong hold to the hair when you work it through.

Price at time of publish: $15

Active Ingredients: Shea butter, castor oil | Hair type: Dry | Size: 1.7 fl. oz. | Formula: Pomade | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Hair gels are great for those with fine hair for a strong hold versus using a wax that can weigh hair down, says Kinjo.

Best Splurge

Bumble & Bumble Gel

Bumble & Bumble Give ‘Em Gel

Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • Adds shine

  • Has flexible hold

What We Don't Like
  • Contains methylisothiazolinone

Any cool-kid salon will be stocked with Bumble & Bumble, a hairdresser go-to brand. More flexible than traditional gels, this one has a medium hold, moderate shine, and a non-sticky finish. It's definitely a get-up-and-go kind of gel—the sort you need when you're running late in the morning and just using your fingers or if you prefer low-maintenance haircuts.

Price at time of publish: $28

Active Ingredients: Polyacrylate-2 Crosspolymer | Hair type: All | Size: 5 fl. oz. | Formula: Gel | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Pomade

Malin + Goetz Hair Pomade

Malin + Goetz Hair Pomade


What We Like
  • Smooths hair

  • Contains nourishing oils

  • Won't weigh down hair

What We Don't Like
  • Not vegan

As the name would suggest, a pomade is paste-like in feeling—a sort of wax-meets-cream. If you want a little hold but a lot of texture, this product is your new best friend—it delivers that effortless bed-head look with ease. With beeswax, this unscented product offers a firm hold while keeping hair feeling soft. It's also chock full of other ingredients like vitamin B5, aloe leaf juice, and meadowfoam seed extract.

Price at time of publish: $24

Active Ingredients: Lanolin wax, beeswax | Hair type: All | Size: 2 fl. oz. | Formula: Pomade | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Clay

Larry King Velvet Texture Clay

Larry King Velvet Texture Clay

Courtesy of Larry King

What We Like
  • Adds great texture

  • Unique scent

  • A little goes a long way

What We Don't Like
  • Contains petrolatum

Larry King's sleek London salons are a staple of It-boy culture, and his eponymous brand of hair products follows suit. His signature Velvet Texture Clay might be the standout, though. Perfect for a little more hold than a pomade, this is a dream for a gritty, matte look. The scent is a warm, heady blend of smoke, cedarwood, amber, and musk.

Price at time of publish: $29

Active Ingredients: Petrolatum, kaolin | Hair type: Fine/thin | Size: 1.8 fl. oz. | Formula: Clay | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Balm

Aesop Violet Leaf Hair Balm

Aesop Violet Leaf Hair Balm

Courtesy of Nordstrom 

What We Like
  • Contains nourishing oils

  • Sustainable packaging

  • Creamy texture

What We Don't Like
  • Scent may be strong for some

For those seeking a bit of shape but not a stiff style, balms are the ticket. They leave a floppy, schoolboy look and a slight gloss that hints at really healthy-looking hair. (For this reason, they're especially perfect for dry, coarse, or unruly locks.) Aesop’s version should be your go-to. Its blend of nourishing butters and natural oils absorbs beautifully without leaving any residue—brilliant if a dry scalp also plagues you.

Price at time of publish: $35

Active Ingredients: Shea butter, cocoa seed butter | Hair type: Coarse/dry | Size: 2 fl. oz. | Formula: Balm | Cruelty-Free: Yes

"If you want piecey hair, put gel on dry hair and focus application middle of the hair to the tips," Kinjo recommends. "If you want full control coiffed look, then dampen your hair, apply gel, and then use a blow-dryer to set the hair. Your hair will stay all day."

Best Wax

Hanz de Fuko Sponge Wax

Hanz De Fuko Sponge Wax

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Matte finish

  • Subtle scent

  • Hydrating formula

What We Don't Like
  • Not as strong hold as other options

Perhaps the most common hair product after gel, wax has a nice pliable hold that can be adjusted throughout the day with ease. Think Zayn Malik, David Beckham, or Zac Efron—all great hair, all wax devotees. Hanz de Fuko has nailed the category with a formula that's the perfect combo of firm and flexible. The formula is certified organic and also doubles as a heat protectant. And with its light vanilla scent, it's not overpowering.

Price at time of publish: $25

Active Ingredients: Jojoba seed oil, castor seed oil | Hair type: Fine/thin | Size: 2 fl. oz. | Formula: Wax | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Unknown

Best for Fine Hair

American Crew Fiber

American Crew Fiber

Courtesy of American Crew

What We Like
  • Adds fullness

  • Good value

  • Gives flexible hold

What We Don't Like
  • Contains parabens

American Crew has built a solid reputation on providing high-quality men's hair products, and its Fiber styling cream is a standout option for fine, thin hair. It shapes the hair with a flexible, medium hold that feels soft and touchable, thanks to a formula that includes beeswax and lanolin. It also helps smooth the hair without adding extra shine.

Price at time of publish: $21

Active Ingredients: Beeswax, lanolin | Hair type: Fine/thin | Size: 3 fl. oz. | Formula: Pomade | Cruelty-Free: No

Best for Curly Hair

Oribe Hair Cream for Style

Oribe Hair Cream for Style

Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Tames frizz

  • Boosts shine

  • Nice scent

What We Don't Like
  • Could provide stronger hold

Curly hair needs extra moisture and a strong hold, so styles won't fall flat or look frizzy throughout the day. Oribe's Hair Cream for Style tamps down frizz and provides a flexible hold for curls. The formula is full of goodies, too, like geranium, lavender, and chamomile extracts, green tea extract, and Oribe's signature protein complex. It also helps volumize hair, so it works well on straight and layered styles as well.

Price at time of publish: $42

Active Ingredients: Hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein | Hair type: Curly | Size: 5 fl. oz. | Formula: Cream | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Overall, top honors goes to American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel for its firm, flexible hold and conditioning formula. It helps tamp down frizz and give hair a more defined, texturized look, a win for many hair types and styles. But Harry's Sculpting Gel is a less expensive option that also provides a clean, sleek look without any residue or excess shine.

Meet the Expert

Janice Kinjo is a professional men's groomer and celebrity makeup artist. Some of her clients include Idris Elba, Drake, Mary J Blige, and Uzo Aduba.

What to Look For in a Hair Gel for Men


The hold that hair gels produce is typically due to the inclusion of polymers. You can find either natural or synthetic polymers in hair gels. Natural examples include cellulose, hydrolyzed wheat protein, silk protein, or starches. Synthetic polymers include polyester, silicone, and polyamide.

Hair gels for men that don't contain polymers often contain ingredients like beeswax and lanolin, such as American Crew Fiber, for example. These products can offer flexible hold, but keep in mind they're not vegan.

Hydrating Ingredients

Look for nourishing and protective ingredients in gels to boost the condition of your hair—particularly if the gel contains certain alcohols like isopropyl alcohol and denatured alcohols, which can cause dryness and breakage. Seek products with natural oils and butters and plant extracts, like Horace Cream Pomade. Overall, you'll want to find a product full of nourishing ingredients and without drying alcohols.

Type of Formula

Choose a hair gel product that has a formulation that produces the look you're after. For instance, pomades and creams help you create a matte, messy textured look, while more liquidy gels might hold firm and glossy. You'll find products that range from traditional gel to pomades and waxes on our list. Larry King Velvet Texture Clay is one great product that produces a matte, second-day hair look.

  • Is gel damaging to your hair?

    Some gel formulas can damage hair, mainly those with drying alcohols, so look for gels without damaging alcohols. Make sure to wash gel out of your hair to prevent damage and avoid contributing to dandruff. And, be sure to choose a product with nourishing ingredients like oils, butters, and plant extracts. Keeping your hair hydrated goes a long way in helping to prevent damage.

  • Does gel stop hair growth?

    It is thought that some gels can clog pores and may prevent optimal hair growth. For this reason, it is wise to avoid putting gel on your scalp. Add it to the tips and midshaft only, and be sure to wash your hair before bed.

  • Can I use hair gel every day?

    Hair gel can be applied every day, just make sure to wash it out at bedtime. If you are a daily gel user, choose a high-quality product that offers hair protective and nourishing properties.

Why Trust Byrdie

Gregory Allen is a freelance male beauty and grooming writer, and a contributor for Byrdie. After attending Central St. Martins in London, he became the Beauty Editor at Glamour and Elle. He now also contributes grooming features to publications like Mr Porter, Evening Standard, and The Independent.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Parabens in cosmetics.

  2. Lin T-K, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018;19(1):70.

  3. Caillol S. Special issue “natural polymers and biopolymers ii.” Molecules. 2020;26(1):112.

  4. Alves TFR, Morsink M, Batain F, et al. Applications of natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic polymers in cosmetic formulationsCosmetics. 2020;7(4):75.

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