Defining your Signature Style: What to Know when Choosing Pomade vs Clay Hair Styling Products

It's happened to all of us at least once. You've decided on a new look, and you just need to find the right hair product to pull it off. Seems simple enough.

Only one problem. You picked out the one!

Hopefully, you tried out your new look at home first, but more than a few of us have had to deal with the embarrassment of going out in public with badly styled hair. And besides, no one wants to waste good money on a product that doesn't work for them.

If you're deciding on whether to use a pomade vs clay product, then you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each. And the first step there is learning the difference between the two.

What Are Pomade Hair Products?

Pomades have been around for a long, long time. If you remember the 1930's period movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? you'll recall that George Clooney's character spends a lot of the film trying to find his preferred brand of pomade.

And it's not much of a mystery why pomade has endured for as long as it has. It's simple, there's no trick to it, and it simply works. But just because it's been around for a long time doesn't mean that there's never room for improvement.

Modern pomades come in all kinds of formulations with varying strength levels and a variety of ingredients. Many now come with all comes of vitamins and nutrients that help keep your hair healthy along with styling it. And unlike a lot of hair products, they run pretty inexpensively.

There two main types of pomades are water-based and oil-based.

Water-Based Pomades

Water-based pomades, as the name would imply, use plain old water as a primary ingredient. The perks are that since they're water-soluble, they're easy to wash out at the end of the day. No heavy shampooing or specialty products required.

It's also a bit creamier than other varieties, making it easier to work into your hair. And the water in the formula evaporates away after it sets, only leaving the holding ingredients.

Early water-based pomades had their drawbacks: being water-soluble made them easy to sweat-out in hot climates, and they tended not to hold as well as their counterparts. But with time, formulas have improved and now a solid water-based pomade is as good as any product that you'll find on the market.

Oil-Based Pomades

These are the classic hair products that you probably imagine when you think about pomades. Its consistency is smooth, maybe even greasy to the touch. So if you ever wondered why those 50's guys you see in movies are called greasers, that's why.

It's best for more traditional looks, slick-backs, tight quiffs, and the like. And being more malleable than water-based pomades, you can rework it throughout the day.

What Are Clay Hair Products?

Clay products are technically a type of pomade, but they tend to fall into their own category because they fill a unique role.

A much more recent development than more traditional pomades, clay products endear themselves much more to a natural look. So basically the opposite of the classic, shiny, pomade look. If you saw someone wearing a clay product, you wouldn't know to look at them that they were wearing a product at all.

The Big Question: Choosing Pomade vs Clay

The biggest deciding factor in what type of product you choose is what type of hair you have.

Clay products were designed with a specific hair type and style in mind. That it adds volume makes it an ideal choice for people with thinner hair. And its matte finish helps give a more natural look. But bear in mind that it works best for hair that easy to manage, so you probably don't want to use a clay product if you have a more unruly mane.

Pomades, by contrast, are versatile. With the sheer number of formulations and levels of hold, there's one out there for pretty much every application.

The second thing to consider is what type of hair you have. Straight hair and curly hair will react better or worse to different products.

Straight Hair

If you have straight hair, for example, you really don't need that much hold to style it. Particularly if you wear it short. As a matter of fact, if your hair is straight but thick, a stronger product is exactly the opposite of what you want.

And if your hair is straight and short, you really don't need much. Just start with a dab and work it in, then focus on any problem areas that need a little extra hold.

Curly Hair

If you have curly hair, you've probably struggled to get it to behave here or there. An unruly mane can seem like it has a mind of its own. But you have options.

The most simple option is to just hit your hair with a good dose of some strong pomade. With the right product and little time, you'll have those curls tamed sure enough.

However, taming those curls can be a missed opportunity, as curly hair can look great with an elegantly disheveled look. Just add in a little pomade and blow-dry, and you'll have a great "bed head" look in no time at all.

The Right Choice Depends on You

Both clay and pomade products can work great, depending on what your hair type is and what your style goals are. It ultimately comes down to you to determine what will work the best for you.

Of course, picking a pomade vs clay product isn't the only choice that you will end up making. There are multitudes of available products out there, and these two are just the start. To help you narrow down the field, check out our guide on the difference between pomade and clay product.