How to Use Pomade to Get the Hairstyle You Want

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Applying hair product is one of those things that feels relatively straightforward. Maybe you never actually learned how to do it, since there isn’t much to learn. Or so it may seem! But there is an order to the operation, and a best way to apply pomade.

It starts with a knowledge of how these hair products actually work and includes a small lesson in physics. Combine these two things (plus a few other tips along the way), and you’re on your way to knowing how to use pomade properly.

First off: What is pomade?
Pomade is a soft, gel-like or waxy hair product that typically delivers a range of holds and shines, depending on its formula. These days, the word ‘pomade’ has become interchangeable with ‘hair product’. You see it written on products that promise high hold and shine, or even loose hold with a matte finish (plus a bunch of other thing on the hold-shine matrix). You can apply it to towel-dried hair, or completely dried hair, to different results. So, in this overview, “pomade” refers to a spectrum of products, including the ones that leave you looking like a slicked-over Mad Men extra. We’ll assume that “pomade” first requires one to apply said product to slightly damp hair, and hair that is long enough to coach into place with a comb.

How to Apply Pomade

1. Pick your shine

For a few years there, the whole world seemed shine-averse. This was a sharp turn from the decades before, where looking slick and polished was a good thing.
Just as beards came to be accepted in the workplace, so did relaxed, matte hairstyles. But now, the pendulum has swung back ever so slightly in favor of shine, and more guys are embracing a light-to-medium slickness, since it adds definition and texture to styles. There’s no need to go full 1980s Wall Street with a super slick hair gel, and luckily most pomades won’t cement your hair into place.
Most products will indicate their shine and hold levels on the label. Here are some of our favorite pomades.

GQ’s Picks for the Best Pomade

For high shine, and high hold:

American Crew high-hold pomade

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For medium-to-high shine and light hold:

Baxter of California

Amazon

$23

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For low-to-medium shine and low hold:

By Vilain pomade

Amazon

$25

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For a matte finish and high hold:

Blind Barber pomade

Amazon

$18

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2. Towel-dry your hair (and leave it slightly wet)
There are a few exceptions, but generally pomade is best applied to towel-dried hair. That’s because pomade is activated by water, which differentiates it from dry-application products like waxes and fibers. (If you’ve ever tried applying those to damp hair, you understand why it doesn’t work.) So, once you’ve rinsed or showered in the morning, dry your hair almost all the way. You want a little dampness when applying pomade.


3. Emulsify a small amount in your hands
There’s no single answer to the question “how much pomade should I apply?” because each product will have its own rules, and each guy will have a different amount of hair to work with. So, the best advice we can offer is this: If you hair is long enough to style with a comb in the first place, then start with a pinky-fingernail-sized amount.

Warm this product up in your fingertips by rubbing both sets of fingers together in counter-circular motions. It should be evenly distributed across the fingertips, and is now ready to apply. (You will repeat this process if you need more product after all. Then, in the future, just apply more to begin with.)

4. Target the roots first
Here’s where physics plays a role: You need to target the roots first. The base of the hair shaft is where you take control over your hairstyle, since that’s where you influence its direction. This is also why it’s important to warm up the product in your fingertips and not your palms, so that you can get all the way to the base of the hair and actually massage the product in. And don’t worry, you’ll still get the product through the entire hair—that’s in Step #6. However, keep this styling advice in mind for any and all products, particularly the ones that you apply to dry hair. You need to target the roots first, in order to define the style.

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