The line between pomade and hair wax is a fine one because technically, pomade is a type of hair wax. Each styling product differs depending upon their ingredients and intended uses. But first, a bit of history will help you understand why they’re similar yet different.
The English word “pomade” comes from the French pommade meaning “ointment” and the Latin pomum, “fruit” or “apple” via the Italian pomata, which also means “apple.” The original ointment recipe contained mashed apples along with animal fats and herbs
During the Roman era, soap, most likely made from olive oil, was used to groom hair by the Gauls and some European tribes. In the 18th century, hair pomade was considered to be a luxury product used by members of an elite gentry. 19th-century pomades were made with bear fat, and by the early 20th century, formulations included petroleum jelly, beeswax, and lard. (Imagine the hair wash it would have taken to get it all out.)
The modern use of hair wax products is connected to early 20th-century barbers, who were eager to showcase the newly-invented hair clipper. Hair clippers made popular haircuts – like the disconnected undercut, or buzzed or “faded” side areas with much longer hair on top – quick and easy. These styles required a salve to keep the top from flopping forward and to keep it neat underneath the hats that most men wore everywhere but indoors. Wax and pomade became grooming essentials for men’s hair in the 1920s to the 1950s to create the popular ducktails, pompadours, and quiffs.
Contemporary versions are either oil- or wax-based, and recent iterations are water-based. Compared to the traditional formulas, water-based versions that lean into the putty, gum, or paste category are easier to wash out. (If you’ve ever made the mistake of using Vaseline on your hair, you know what we mean.)
Pomade vs Wax: which is the one for you?
Choosing between hair wax and pomade depends on what hairstyle you’re aiming for in terms of finish and hold – and what type of hair you have. However, if you’re wondering how to add volume, wax may be the better bet.
Pomades typically have a higher oil content and are the kings of shine but offer less hold, whereas waxes with higher wax content tend toward matte with firmer control. A few other factors to consider are whether your hair tends to be naturally dry or on the oily side, or if you have fine hair or thick hair.
Oil-based pomade can make hair quite greasy, which can actually be beneficial for naturally dry, or even bleached hair, whether by sun or chemicals. Applying a tiny bit will help reduce the frizziness you may be prone to and boost the shine you may be lacking. A more generous amount can be the equivalent of an all-day moisturizing treatment.
Those with very fine or naturally oily hair, however, may find it challenging to get the dosage of such an oily product just right without getting too greasy, and wax may be the better bet to help create the texture you’re looking for. If your hair is quite oily to start with, you may want to look into how often you wash your hair.
That’s not to say that hair wax can’t be the balm for defining a coarse curly or afro texture; in fact, it can be perfect for making those coils coalesce and do your bidding. And for gents sporting beards and mustaches, it helps tame the grizzlies and act as a beard balm for a smoother texture.
Water-based versions lack the high shine of fattier products and will likely harden into a stiffer finish similar to hair gel as the water evaporates, though the hold may last longer and be less likely to melt and wilt in hot weather.
Grooming Guide: How to style with hair wax or pomade
Applying either pomade or hair wax to damp hair or even wet hair will result in a softer hold with more shine while applying to dry hair will give less shine and stronger hold. Be gentle with styling, especially if you’re wondering how to grow hair faster. Here is how to apply either:
- Towel-dry hair well, with the option of blow-drying into the shape you desire, especially if you want to stretch out curls or to straighten waves.
- Depending on your hair type, apply a dab or two to the palms of your hands.
- To control your application, rub your hands together as if you were moisturizing them with lotion; this also warms up and softens harder products.
- Consider your palms a reservoir and your fingers the applicators. Comb your fingers through your hair, starting at the back of your head where it typically grows more densely. Keep re-coating your fingers from the hair product on your palms, and repeat throughout your head.
- Comb through for a sleek look, or finger-style to keep it casual and tousled.
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