Men's Hair Products: What You Need, What You Don't

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on October 29, 2013
3 min read

What are your hair care essentials? If you're like most guys, they're simple. Any bottle of shampoo that doesn't have a cartoon character on it or smell like fruit. And a brush. Anything beyond that -- like hair products -- might seem confusing or fussy.

But it's never been unmanly to dab on a little something -- think of Bogart's pomade-slicked hair in Casablanca. Today, average guys are reclaiming their right to put stuff in their hair. So if you want to tame unruly hair or spiff up your look, go ahead and try a little product. You may just look better for it.

Hair care starts with what's in your shower caddy. If these are the only products you use, make them work for you. If you also use styling products, these will lay the groundwork.

  • Shampoo. You know how bottles are labeled for dry hair or oily hair? That's not just a marketing scheme, experts say. It makes a difference. If your hair still seems too oily, shampoo more often. Too dry, shampoo less often.
  • Conditioner. While you may accept shampoo as a necessary part of living in civilized society, you may view conditioner with deep suspicion. Does it really do anything? It’s crucial in protecting your hair, experts say. Shampoo alone can dry out or damage your hair, which makes it more likely to attract oil and dirt, says Jessica Krant, MD, a dermatologist in New York.

If you want to go beyond clean and conditioned -- to get a specific look or control a misbehaving mane -- there's a wide range of men's hair products to choose from. Today's options won't make you look or feel like you shellacked your head, so you can use a little product without looking like you used product.

But the options can be overwhelming -- waxes and pomades, pastes and putties. We asked two celebrity stylists in New York for their favorite picks: Amy Komorowski, who has styled the hair of Justin Timberlake, Jonah Hill, and Andy Samberg; and Gilda Pastina, from Pierre Michel Salon, whose clients include pro hockey star Michael Del Zotto and NASCAR greats Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

  • Wax. Wax is thick, which is good if you want to shape your hair. "It's perfect for a messier, just-woke-up look," Pastina says. "It adds control without the wet, stiff, texture of gel." It's too heavy for fine, limp, or long hair to handle. And it can take some work to shampoo it out. Pastes and putties are often variations on wax.
  • Pomade. Pomade is what gave greasers that wet, slicked-back look. It's thick like wax but creamier, Pastina says, and easier to distribute. "It controls unruly hair and adds smoothness," she says. It makes your hair look shinier and wetter than wax.
  • Serum. These liquids or sprays are perfect if your hair is dry or frizzy. They're not really for shaping your hair. Instead, they add a little shine and softness.
  • Cream. Creams add extra shine and control without a lot of hold. They're especially good for thick or coarse hair, Pastina says.

There are many other options, too -- like gel and mousse, which tend to dry stiffer. Keep in mind that these aren't hard-and-fast categories; there's a lot of overlap. You really have to try different ones to find what works.

  • Don't use too much. Start with a little bit and add more if you need it."Rub the product between the palms of your hands to warm it up," Komorowski says. Otherwise, it won't spread evenly.
  • Carefully rake it through all your hair. Take a minute to make sure it's evenly spread out. Komorowski says guys tend to slap on a product so it clumps in one spot and looks obvious.
  • Don’t get intimidated. Have fun with this. Grab a few different kinds off the shelf and see what works. "Don't be afraid to experiment with hair products," Komorowski says. "It's just a product. It washes out."

Using a product may add a few minutes to your morning routine, but it's worth it, Pastina says. Your co-workers and your significant other will notice the difference -- and so you will you.

"If you look good, you'll feel good, too," Komorowski says. "That's great for your confidence."