When it comes to styling men’s hair, two of the most popular products are hair gel and hair wax. But which one should you choose to get the look you want? Hair gel and hair wax each have their own advantages and disadvantages when used for styling. Looking at the differences between the two can help you decide if gel or wax is better suited for your hair type and desired hairstyle.
What is Hair Gel?
Hair gel is a hairstyling product that contains alcohol, water, and various polymers that work together to create a thick, translucent or opaque substance. Gel adds shine and hold to hair while also allowing you to sculpt the hair into the shape you desire. The polymers coat each strand of hair to provide hold and control.
Gel is available in a range of strengths, from light to extra-strong/maximum hold. Light gel provides a subtle sheen and gentle hold for casual styles, while maximum hold gel offers a vice-like grip ideal for dramatic styles that stay put all day. Most drugstore and salon brand gels fall somewhere in the middle, with medium hold and moderate shine.
Advantages of Using Hair Gel
- Provides a strong hold. The polymers in gel cling to the hair, allowing you to mold and shape your style. Even on thick, curly, or unruly hair, gel can provide control.
- Leaves hair looking shiny. The alcohol in gel imparts a glossy, wet look as it dries on the hair shaft. This can create a sleek, polished finish.
- Allows for dramatic styles. With gel’s ability to hold firmly in place, it’s ideal for sculpting dramatic shapes like spikes, waves, or big lift in the front. These styles stay put all day with gel.
- Dries quickly. Gel usually dries within minutes after application and forms a hardened layer of hold. This makes it easy to style in a hurry.
- Offers a wide range of hold strengths. With light, medium, and extra-hold gels available, you can find the right formula for your hair type and style. Lighter gels work well for fine or limp hair that needs gentle hold.
Disadvantages of Hair Gel
- Can cause hair to look flat, stiff, and crunchy. If you use too much gel or a formula that’s too strong, hair can harden and appear shellacked. This isn’t a natural look.
- Can flake. As gel dries, the polymers can bind together and cause flaking, particularly in hair that already has product build-up. Flaking ruins the sleek look gel is meant to achieve.
- Doesn’t wash out easily. Gel can cause product build-up since it doesn’t always rinse cleanly from the hair and scalp. Removing heavy gel use requires vigorous shampooing.
- Not ideal for casual, natural styles. While strong gels excel at dramatic creations, they aren’t necessary for looser, more texture-based everyday styles. The hold may be too firm and create a stiff effect.
What is Hair Wax?
Hair wax is a styling product that contains natural waxes like beeswax or lanolin as well as petroleum jelly and mineral oil. Hair wax has a putty-like consistency that allows flexible hold and natural movement when styling hair. Wax also adds matte texture, piecey separation, and a lived-in finish to hairstyles.
The waxes coat the hair lightly to provide re-workable hold that allows you to reshape and restyle the hair throughout the day by re-running your fingers through it. Wax washes out easily with shampoo and does not cause build-up on the scalp or hair when used in moderation. Most waxes come unscented or feature subtle masculine scents.
Advantages of Using Hair Wax
- Offers light, movable hold. The wax formula allows you to re-style your hair repeatedly by applying, sculpting, and re-sculpting as needed. There’s no stiff, fixed hold.
- Leaves no visible shine or residue. The matte finish of wax looks like your hair’s natural texture, only better. There’s no greasy residue or unnatural gloss.
- Allows flexibility and movement. Wax lets you style and mess up your hair for that natural, effortless look. Hair remains touchable and flexible.
- Delivers texture and definition. By coating strands, wax allows you to separate and define pieces of hair. This creates texture and dimension, especially good for short to medium styles.
- Washes out easily. A quick shampoo removes wax so there’s no heavy build-up over time.
- Works for all hair types. Wax can style everything from thin to thick hair with ease. The light formula means no stiff, crunchy aftermath.
Disadvantages of Hair Wax
- Difficult to achieve perfectly neat, polished styles. The movable hold of wax means hair may not stay perfectly in place if you want slicked or tightly shaped styles.
- Can appear greasy if overused. Applying too much wax can make hair limp and oily-looking. Using sparingly is best.
- Provides minimal sheen. The matte finish of wax does not impart any glossy shine. If you want high shine, wax is not the best choice.
- Short-lasting hold. While re-workable hold has advantages, wax washes out more quickly and provides a shorter period of hold compared to gel. Hair can revert back faster.
- Hard to apply. The thick, stiff texture of wax can make it challenging to take a small amount and warm it up in your hands to spread evenly onto hair.
Do You Need Both Gel and Wax?
If budget allows, it can be helpful to have both gel and wax in your hair styling arsenal. That way you can tailor your hold and finish to your particular hairstyle each day. Here are some examples of when you may want to use one versus the other:
When to Use Gel:
- Slicked back styles with severe parts or tight shaping required
- Spiky styles that must stand straight up all day
- Firm edge control when creating clean lines for short haircuts
- Shiny, wet-look styles such as the sleek pompadour
- Maintaining smooth, frizz-free styles on thick, curly hair
When to Use Wax:
- Messy, undone texture such as bedhead or beachy waves
- Touchable movement allowing strands to fall naturally
- Matte finish with no shine for short textured cuts
- Flexible hold for reshaping and re-styling throughout the day
- Adding gritty, piecey separation to choppy medium-length styles
When comparing gel versus wax, gel typically offers stronger hold while wax provides more touchable texture. The type of hold, amount of shine, hair type, and the style you want to achieve all factor into whether gel or wax will work better. For versatile styling with movable hold, wax is ideal. But for firmly molded styles with sheen, gel excels.
With some experimenting, you can learn when it’s best to use gel or when your style calls for wax – or both if layering products. The combination allows endless styling possibilities. Evaluate your own hair type and the styles you gravitate toward most to decide if you should rely more on gel or wax. Having one or both products readily available ensures you can style your hair just how you want it.