Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
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.
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.
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."
However, there are certain hair gels that 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.
Keep scrolling for the best hair gels for men.
Best Overall: Kiehl’s Grooming Solutions Clean Styling Gel
Kiehl's never looks at a product in a linear way, which is why the brand's hair gel offering has conditioning benefits, too. Enriched with botanicals and formulated with pracaxi oil, the product nourishes the hair as much as it styles it. Overall, it does exactly what you would want your gel to do—it gives just the right amount of both shine and hold.
Best Budget: Harry’s Sculpting Gel
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.
Best Scent: Horace Gel Pomade
Horace, a new brand on the block, isn't following the rules when it comes to this category. Think natural ingredients, a pot (!!!!), and a fresh fragrance—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.
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 Give ‘Em Gel
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.
Best Clay: Larry King Velvet Texture Clay
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.
Best Balm: Aesop Violet Leaf Hair Balm
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.
"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
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.
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.