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Pomade vs Mousse vs Hair Gel: Which Is Best To Style Men’s Hair?

Lots of men make one fatal mistake when they style their hair: they choose the wrong styling product. When it comes to pomade vs mousse vs hair gel, the three couldn’t be more different. Your hair will look significantly better when you know how to choose the right one for your style.

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What Is Pomade?

Pomade is a hair styling product. Most people think of Elvis and greasers when they hear the word “pomade.” It’s a product that we associate with the 50s and 60s, but it’s aged well into the 21st century.

These days, guys appreciate the slicker, fancier hair styles that you can achieve with a pomade. Traditional pomades feel oily, but modern pomades are water-based, so they feel closer to the texture of a gel. Water-based pomades are easier to wash out of your hair, too.

Pomade is great for a shiny hairstyle with some texture and volume. I recommend it wholeheartedly for a night out.

Who Is Pomade For?

Pomade works best for men with short, thick hair. If you have thin hair, make sure you buy a light pomade so that it doesn’t weigh down your hair. If you have long hair, pomade can be difficult to work with – it wouldn’t be my top recommendation for you. Skip down to mousse.

Aside from hair type, pomade is for guys who want a dressy hairstyle. The shine and slickness pair well with a fancy outfit. It has enough hold to keep every hair in place, but it’s also forgiving enough to let you rework your hair slightly as needed.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Pomade?


• Pomade pairs really well with business casual and fancier outfits.

• Pomade has a medium hold, so it’ll keep every hair in place, but you have some wiggle room to reshape your style if needed.

• Modern water-based pomades are just as effective, but they’re 1000x easier to wash out of your hair at the end of the day.

• Pomade is classic. It’s a high-end styling product for high-end men.


• Pomade can cause scalp acne.

• Old fashioned pomades are oil-based and horribly difficult to wash out of your hair.

• Pomades aren’t always best for a casual or modern hairstyle.

How Do You Use Pomade?

  1. Start with damp hair. Water helps activate the pomade, and it’s still moldable enough for you to shape it.
  2. Comb your hair in the direction that you want it to sit.
  3. Take a pea-sized amount of pomade and warm it up between your hands. 
  4. Run your hands through your hair to evenly distribute the pomade.
  5. Finalize the shape with your hands or a comb. For a classic pomade look, stick with a comb.
  6. Remember to wash out the pomade at the end of the day. Leaving pomade on your scalp can cause irritation and dandruff.

What Is Mousse?

Mousse couldn’t be more different from pomade and hair gel. It comes in an aerosol can, and when you push the top, a sticky foam comes out. Make sure to shake the can beforehand, or you’ll get more of a liquidy mess than a foam.

Mousse is meant to be used on damp hair. If you use it on dry hair, you’ll get knots, snarls, and frizz (especially if you have longer hair).

Primarily, guys use mousse to either enhance their curls while their hair is air drying or to protect their hair before they blow dry it. Mousse is a “setter,” so it coats each strand of hair to protect it from heat damage. It also adds volume to your hair.

Like gel, if you use too much mousse, your hair will get crunchy. Guys with short hair can use a cotton ball-sized squirt, and guys with long hair should add more as needed.

Who Is Mousse For?

Mousse is a great option for guys with long hair. It’s easier to coat your full head with a squirt of mousse than a handful of gel or pomade.

That’s not to say guys with short hair can’t use it as well. It’s always good for a blowout or curly hairstyle. 

Think of it this way: you can get all the same hairstyles with mousse that you can with gel – try the wet hair look for example. The difference is that mousse has a softer hold, and it’s really designed with long hair in mind. The foamy texture is easier to work with on long strands.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Mousse?


• Mousse adds a lot of volume and texture to your hair. It can also enhance curls.

• Mousse is great for covering long hair with ease, unlike gel and pomade.

• Mousse acts as a setter to protect your hair from heat damage when you blow dry it.

• Once your hair is dry, you won’t feel any stickiness or crunch from the mousse (if you use a proper amount).


• If you use too much mousse, you’ll get crunchy hair (just like gel).

• Mousse foam has an unpleasant sticky texture. Wash your hands before and after.

• Mousse tangles your hair, so it’s hard to brush once it’s dry.

• You have to wash mousse out at the end of the day.

How Do You Use Mousse?

  1. Always start with damp hair when you use mousse. (Unless you want a caveman hairdo. That came in handy for me over Halloween.)
  2. Shake the can to ensure that the mousse foams up properly.
  3. Squirt an egg-sized amount of product in your hands if you have long hair. Use less for short hair.
  4. Run your hands through your hair to distribute the mousse foam evenly. You can use a scrunching motion to help your curls get springy or a finger-combing motion to prep your hair for blow drying.
  5. From here, you can air-dry or blow dry. I recommend air drying curls, but blow drying straight hair.
  6. The mousse will add volume and texture to your hair.
  7. Make sure you wash your hair with shampoo at the end of the day. Leaving product build-up near your roots can cause irritation.

What Is Hair Gel?

Most guys start out with hair gel when they first get into styling products. It’s translucent, sticky, and one of the most affordable hair styling options out there.

Most guys also make the same mistakes with hair gel. Use too much and your hair will turn into a glistening, hard, crunchy helmet. Use too little and it won’t stay in place. 

But once you get the proportion just right, you’ll appreciate how shiny and firm your hair feels. Lots of men enjoy how versatile gel is – you can pass it off as a fancier hair styling tool, or use it every day for a polished look.

Who Is Hair Gel For?

Hair gel works well for short hair. It does an equally good job of styling curly and straight hair, thick or thin. The problem with putting it on long hair is that it’s so difficult to get a nice even layer. If you want to use gel on long hair, you have to be patient and careful.

You can also achieve a variety of styles with gel. From the wet hair look to wild curls, it’s great for shaping your hair. 

Gel and mousse share a lot of similarities, so it’s more important that you consider the differences between gel and pomade. If you mix up gel and mousse, it won’t ruin your style. But swapping pomade for gel can be disastrous.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Hair Gel?


• Gel has a strong hold, so you don’t have to worry about fly-away hairs.

• You can air dry gel for a shinier look, or blow dry it for a matte finish. It’s versatile.

• Gel is easy to dress up or dress down. You’ll see it everywhere, from the kindergarten pick-up line to award banquets.

• Gel can enhance curly hair, or add volume and shine to straight hair. It’s an every-man’s product.


• It’s easy to overdo it with hair gel. You’ll get that awful crunchy finish if you do.

• Gel has a reputation as a cheap hair product. You have to have some styling skills to make it look expensive.

• Air-drying your hair with gel is 50-50 as to whether it will actually add volume to your hair. I’ve had it go both ways. Some days it just falls flat.

How Do You Use Hair Gel?

We have a full guide on how to use hair gel here, but some quick pointers: 

  1. Start with damp hair.
  2. If you want a polished look, comb your hair in the direction you plan on styling it before you get out the gel.
  3. Take a dime-sized amount of gel, rub it between your hands, and distribute it evenly throughout your hair. Use a little more for longer hair, less for shorter. Style with your hands for a casual look or with a comb for a put-together look.
  4. From here, you can watch as it air-dries or get out a blow dryer to speed up the process and add more volume to your hair.
  5. Don’t forget to wash the gel out at the end of the day. It can cause scalp irritation if you don’t.

Pomade vs Mousse vs Hair Gel: Final Verdict

Pomade vs mousse vs hair gel are for different hair styles. Don’t choose one based on the price or quality. Choose based on your hair type and how you want to style your hair.

Mousse and gel are great for curls and blow dryer styles. Mousse tends to work best on long hair, while gel is better for short hair. Both add shine and volume. You can air dry them, or use a blow dryer to get glossy hair. If you use too much of either product, your hair will feel crunchy.

Pomade is for sleek, swept-back hair. It’s fancy. It adds lots of volume, texture, and shine, but it has a looser hold than mousse or gel, perfect for reshaping your hair as needed.

A good stylist would never use the three interchangeably because the differences between pomade vs mousse vs hair gel are that different.

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.