Hair pomades have really taken off in the last few years. Going hand-in-hand with the increasingly popular barbershop culture, hair pomades have naturally grown in demand in correlation with the increase in heritage hairstyles like slick-backs and side-parts.
There is a plethora of pomades available on the market, each promising different levels of hold and shine. We can’t tell you which products are better than others, but what we can layout is the fundamental aspects of the pomade game to get you off to a slick start.
What is Pomade?
Pomade is an oil-based or water-based hair product designed for slick and tight hairstyles. Pomades differ from hairstyling gel as they do not harden, and they differ from waxes/pastes/clays as these products generally have a dry, thick consistency that is formulated for a messy/matte look. The differences between oil and water-based pomades will be explained later on in this article.
A Brief History of Hair Pomades
The English word “pomade” is derived from the French word pommade meaning “ointment”. The first known pomades date back to the 18th century when they were chiefly made from bear fat and exclusively used by the gentry and upper class. In the early 20th century, ingredients like petroleum jelly, lard, and beeswax began to replace bear fat as the primary pomade substance.
Examples of the first mass-produced pomades are Murrays Superior Pomade (1925), Royal Crown Pomade (1936), and Sweet Georgia Brown Hair Dressing Pomade (1934). By the 1920s, pomades had become hugely popular among men of all ages who wanted to imitate the high-flying members of society and their slick hairdos.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, hair pomades were so popular that the term “greaser” was given to young men who slicked their hair back with thick coatings of pomade. Up to the 1960s, archive images of actors, musicians, and celebrities showcased pomade-powered hairdos that range from tight, neat slicks to wild pompadours.
The use of pomades gradually faded out over the coming decades in line with the increasing range of hair-styling products available to both men and women. Hair gels and clay-based styling pastes began to usher in a new generation of hair styling products, with many men opting for voluminous natural looks throughout the 70s and 80s.
Hair pomades have enjoyed a powerful resurgence in the 2010s, with the market growing rapidly in recent years. The fierce comeback of hair pomades has been fueled by the numerous independent pomade brands that have sprung up across Europe and the United States, like Uppercut Deluxe, Suavecito, and King Brown. Many of these brands started out as small, batch brewing operations. And the growing number of vintage-inspired barbershops has provided the perfect platform for pomades to slide back into the fore of men’s hairstyling.
Oil-based vs. Water-Based Pomades
Hair pomades come in two primary forms: oil-based, and water-based. Each form has its pros and its cons, and different pomades will work better for different types of hair. If you’re looking to get into the world of pomades, the likelihood is it will take a bit of trial and error, but we’ve laid out the basics with the pros and cons of oil and water-based pomades below.
Oil-based hair pomades are primarily made from petroleum. Different oil-based pomades will feature different blends of oils and waxes, such as beeswax, lanolin (wool wax), coconut oil, castor oil (vegetable oil from castor beans), and geraniol (natural oil). Oil-based pomades are the most traditional form of pomade, with the ingredients to most modern oil pomades being very similar to pomades of the ’30s-’50s. In fact, many of the oil-based pomades available are from brands that have been producing pomades for over 70 years, such as Royal Crown, Sweet Georgia Brown, and Murray’s.
When approaching oil-based pomades, you need to remember that oil is grease. Applying oil-based pomades to your hair is a commitment, and will require you to alter to your hair care routine. Oil-based hair pomades are notoriously difficult to wash out of your hair with generic shampoos. Reason being? Oil-based pomades are designed to be built up in the hair to give perennial hold. Of course, you should wash out some of the excess grease with a rinse and some light shampoo, but the point of oil-based pomades is to keep a level of pomade in your hair that allows you to style your hair daily with a healthy-looking sheen.
There is conflicting information on whether using oil-based pomades on your hair is bad for your scalp and a potential trigger of hair loss. Some say washing your hair less and coating it in oil nourishes it and leaves it looking thick and healthy, others say the oils clog your follicles and causes your hair to thin and/or shed. My personal experience with oil-based pomades was fantastic—my hair looked thick, healthy, and shiny on a daily basis, and the hold was like no other. I only ceased to use these products when I cut my hair much shorter and there was longer a need for the grease.
If you like to keep things old school and don’t mind a bit of grease, allowing your hair to adjust to a high-quality oil-based pomade with primarily natural ingredients may work for you. What cannot be disputed is the level of hold and styling power oil-based pomades provide. You can style a tight, neat, parted style, or a loose, wavy comb-back. If you’re considering going for oil-based pomades, my advice would be to go for one with the most natural ingredients possible and speak to the supplier on which pomade will be most suitable for your hair type.
- Supreme hold once a build-up is achieved
- Often contain ingredients known to nourish the hair such as castor oil and coconut oil
- Time-honored and traditional form of hairstyling
- Natural-looking shine
- Usually much cheaper than water-based pomades
- Extremely greasy, meaning oil can transfer to your pillow and clothes
- Difficult to wash out, may take several shampoo treatments to completely remove product entirely
- Conflicting research on effects on hair/scalp
Water-based pomades are the modern version of oil-based pomades, adapted for modern lifestyles. Being water-based, these pomades wash out instantly, therefore make your hair care routine very straight-forward. Water-based pomades are good for beginners, as they typically offer a strong hold and varying levels of shine to suit different needs.
Water-based pomades still contain some oils and waxes such as castor oil, beeswax, and linalool, but in lesser quantities. The water-based formulation also allows these oils to wash out of your hair much more easily. In general, water-based pomades are a lot less ‘fuss’ than oil-based pomades, as they can be applied and washed out with ease. The main drawback with water-based pomades is that they have the tendency to dry hard, leaving your hair crispy and stiff. This may be what you’re after, but it means you can’t simply run your fingers through your hair without ‘undoing’ some of the water-based pomades work. For this reason, water-based pomades are generally more suitable for neat styles like comb-overs and side-parts.
In terms of effects on your hair and scalp, some people report some water-based pomades to dry out their scalp, causing itchiness and flaking. Again, this is subjective to each individual and you may need to go through some trial and error. Water-based pomades are generally more expensive than oil-based pomades, and less economical as you will typically use more of the product as you wash it out and re-apply.
If you want to trial a slick, neat style and see if pomades are for you, then water-based pomades are the ideal starting point. If you don’t like it, you can wash it out, and forget it ever happened! And if you do like the results, you can carry on with your current hair care routine and wash all product out of your hair whenever you please.
Try it Out
In your search for the best pomade for your particular needs, you could shell out some cash trying out different options. But perhaps the easiest and most cost-efficient way to start your research is to ask your barber for a sample the next time you get your hair cut. With their expertise, they’ll be better equipped to steer you toward a pomade that’s right for you. This way, you’ll have gotten a fresh cut and some hairdressing wisdom. Pay attention to the strength of the hold, how matte or how sheen the finish is, and how it affects your hair and scalp over the course of the day. From there, you can take notes on what you like, what you don’t like, and what to look for the next time you try a new hair product.
Already use pomade? Let us know which brands you prefer and why in the comments below!