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Pomade vs Gel: Which One Should You Use?

Guys who use pomade vs gel sometimes seem like they’re sitting on opposite sides of the men’s grooming battlefield. I’d argue that they’re possibly the two biggest hairstyling contenders. Before you choose your camp, you should know what both of them are and how they work.

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What Is Pomade?

Pomade is a classic hair styling cream. Most have a sticky-creamy-waxy texture. Using pomade on your hair gives your hairstyle a medium hold with lots of shine and extra volume.

Most people think of Elvis when they try to picture a classic pomade style. You can go just as bold, or create something more understated with pomade. Use your hands to tousle your hair for a casual look or a comb for something more sharp.

Who Is Pomade For?

Pomade is best for guys with thick hair. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean guys with thin hair can’t use pomade – it just takes more precision and patience to style. Thick hair takes naturally to a pomade look.

The real trick to remember is that a pea sized amount will cover most short hairstyles. Use less if you have less hair, more if you have more hair. If you use too little, your hair won’t stay in shape. If you use too much, the heaviness of pomade will weigh down your hairstyle. Just a little drop goes a long way.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Pomade?


• It’s classic. We associate pomade with rich pompadours and fancy updos.

• The medium hold lets you rework your hair if something goes wrong.

• Modern water-based pomades are easy to wash out.

• The high-shine is sophisticated, great for classy events.


• Pomade acne is pretty common. (On the bright side, it’s easy to get rid of it.)

• Oil-based pomades are awful for your scalp and difficult to wash out.

• Pomade looks best with a “classic” hairstyle. It doesn’t always fit modern trends.

How Do You Use Pomade?

Pomade is pretty intuitive. The biggest mistake you should avoid is using too much or forgetting to warm it up before you apply it to your hair.

Some pointers:

  1. Start with damp hair.
  2. The less hair you have, the less pomade you should use. Start with a pea-sized amount and use less or more as needed.
  3. Rub the pomade between your hands to warm it up. This step makes the pomade much easier to apply.
  4. Run your hands through your hair to evenly distribute the pomade.
  5. Shape your hair with your fingers or a comb. Classic pomade styles call for a comb.

Remember to properly remove the pomade from your hair at the end of the day so that you don’t get scalp acne or irritation.

What Is Hair Gel?

Hair gel is a styling product that has a strong hold, and it adds lots of shine to your hair. You can use it to add volume as well, but that takes extra steps with a blow dryer or hand-styling.

It’s one of the most affordable styling products on the market. Lots of guys are exposed to hair gel in their teenage years – hopefully you’re not making the same hair gel mistakes now that you were back then (*cough* crunchy hair *cough*).

Who Is Hair Gel For?

Hair gel works for most guys. You can use it to add volume to straight hair, get tighter curls with more hold for curly hair, or slick it all back with lots of shine for a fancy night out.

The key is practice. Even though it’s one of the most universal hairstyling products, gel isn’t necessarily easy to use. Lots of guys miss out on all of its benefits because they never take the time to learn new styling techniques.

In that sense, gel is for the guy who’s willing to take the time to learn what it can and can’t do for their style. Any hair type can use it, but not just any guy is successful with gel.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Hair Gel?


• Gel’s strong hold keeps every hair in place all day.

• Lots of guys enjoy how shiny and slick gel makes their hair look.

• Gel is one of the  most affordable styling products.

• Gel is versatile – use it with damp hair, dry hair, just your hands, a comb, a blow dryer, or anything else you can think of.


• There are lots of ways for gel to go wrong. You could end up with crunchy hair and irritated scalp if you don’t know what you’re doing.

• Gel residue can cause acne, just like pomade.

• Gel has a cheap reputation among hair styling snobs.

• It dries on strong, so there’s no mercy for restyling your hair later with gel.

How Do You Use Hair Gel?

We’ve written entire articles on how to use hair gel for different types of hair. It’s almost an art, and there’s no single formula to get it right every time.

Very broadly speaking, the steps that most guys follow:

  1. Typically, if you want a cleaner look with more control over the style, start with slightly damp hair. If you want a messier, casual updo, start with dry hair.
  2. For guys who style their hair with a comb, take out that comb now and brush your hair in the direction that you want it to sit.
  3. Take a dime-sized glob of gel and rub it between your hands in a thin layer. Run your hands through your hair to evenly distribute the gel. If you need more, add more slowly.
  4. Shape your hair as you go. If you started with damp hair, you can get out a blow dryer now to finish off the look with lots of volume.
  5. Make sure to wash the gel out of your hair at the end of the day when you’re done with the style. Leaving residue in your hair can cause scalp problems.

Be aware, if you have curly hair, not all of these steps will work for you. You’ll probably need to blow dry with a diffuser attachment, or air dry. It’ll take more experimentation for you than guys with straight hair.

Follow these steps instead if you want the wet hair look with your gel.

Pomade vs Gel: Final Verdict

For most guys deciding between pomade vs gel, I’d have to say pomade is the better option over gel. It’s harder to get it “wrong” when you’re styling your hair with pomade, and you have some flexibility to remold it if you hate how the look turns out.

The downside is that pomade doesn’t work for every hair type. Gel does. But gel is shiny, sticky, and it’s really obvious if you use it poorly. It takes practice to figure out how it can enhance your hair, and most of the best gel styles are difficult to accomplish.

If you don’t feel like either option is right for you, no worries! They’re not the only two contenders on the hairstyling battlefield. We’ve also written about the differences between wax, putty, and pomade.

Really, your hair product options are endless. Don’t get so caught up in the pomade vs gel fight that you miss out on even better options.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.