How to choose a pomade - which hair product is right for you?

  • 6 min read
how to choose a pomade

One of the questions we get most, both online and in-store at Church Barber, is – what hair styling product should I use?

To answer that, we need to know 2 things: 

  1. Your hair type -  thick/coarse, fine/thin, wavy, curly, long, short, etc. 
  2.  The look you want to achieve - textured, tamed, styled, natural 

Once we understand your hair type and the look you want, it’s rather easy to match you up with the right product. 

Before we go into matching hair and style to product, let’s break down what product options there are. 

Firstly, what is pomade (and why is it called pomade)? 

The word Pomade as we know it today comes from the French word, pommade, which translates to “ointment”. The French created the word pommade based on a mashup of the Latin word, pomum (“fruit”) and the Italian word, pomata (“apple”), because French ointments were originally made with a mixture of mashed apples, animal fats, and herbs. Crazy, right? 

*Note: Church pomades are 100% botanical, vegan, and made with zero animal product and/or animal bi-products :) 

Today, the English word “pomade” has universally become the way we describe a hair product that provides some form of hold for styling purposes. 

Pomades come in many forms and serve many purposes, but the three most commonly used are some variation of a Clay, Creme, or Wax. We’ll break each down below. 

Before that part, it’s crucial to understand that there are two ways to make a pomade, with a water-base or with an oil-base.

What’s better, water-based pomade or oil-based pomade? 

Without a doubt, water-based pomades are far superior because they’re easy to wash out, and easy to re-activate by adding a touch of water throughout the day. Oil-based pomades are very difficult to wash out, they stick to your hair and make for a messy lifestyle. Worse, many oil-based pomades are loaded with petroleum, which attracts bacteria and can block hair follicles from growing. So why would someone make an oil-based pomade instead of a water-based pomade? Water-based products require an emulsion process, which is very difficult for amateurs to make. Typically, a water-based product also means the product will mold if you don’t add a preservative. That’s exactly why most grooming products on the shelves today use ingredients you can’t pronounce (those are the preservatives). It’s also why most natural pomades you see online or on instagram are oil-based, and not water-based - because it’s not an easy thing to do, to make a water-based natural product. What we do is different - we’re master natural formulators, and we make water-based products using an emulsion, with the addition of 100% plant-made preservatives (like rosemary antioxidants.) This is a more costly, and difficult way to make a product, but it’s also the only way to make a natural product that’s also high performance. 

Now let’s break down the difference between the variations of pomades - Clay, Cream, and Wax.

Clay Pomade

Clay pomades should be made with bentonite clay, though some are made with man-made concoctions meant to mimic a clay (watch out for those). Bentonite clay is a naturally occurring, tacky substance that achieves hold and volume by binding your many hair follicles together. Real, high quality  bentonite clay is also filled with vitamins, minerals and key proteins which promote hair growth, serving a true dual purpose. While oil-based clays can prove difficult to wash out, our Volcanic Clay Pomade is water-based, made with pure vitalized water, plus lavender hydrosol and a host of protein-rich plant oils and extracts for scalp nourishment. 

Clay is also drying, intentionally so. For people with healthy, naturally oil hair, the bentonite clay serves as a counter balance, drying the hair, to achieve a dry, matte finish. However, if you have dry, brittle hair to begin with, the clay will only make your hair more dry, so take that into consideration before choosing a clay pomade. Lastly, if you do have dry hair, it could be from shampooing too frequently

clay pomade smear

You should use a Clay Pomade, if: you have fine (opposite of coarse), straight (not curly) hair, and you’re looking to add volume (great for thin hair), good hold for styling purposes, and achieve a matte (no-shine), natural looking finish. It’s also great for those with short hair who want to add texture. 

 Cream Pomade

Cream pomades get the name cream, or Creme as we call it, because they have a healthy amount of cream in the product, which lightens the hold, while still adding volume. Creams really shouldn’t provide too much hold, ideal for those who like to run their hands through their hair periodically throughout the day. When we set out to make a cream pomade, our goal was to create a healthy protein-boost of a product, a natural leave-in-hair conditioner that stimulates hair growth and serves to embrace the hair you have. Less of a styling product, and more of a volume boost and subtle organizer of hair follicles. Our Coastal Creme is truly unique, boasting super-food ingredients like Coconut, Aloe Vera, Spirulina, Olive Squalene, and Marshmallow Root. It’s gained a bit of a cult following, a favorite for those who prefer a natural look. 

You should use a Cream Pomade, if: you have straight, curly, fine, coarse, long, or short hair (most hair types can use a cream), and you want to add volume, hydration, very light hold, and achieve a light shine (near matte) finish, with a natural look. Said another way, cream is best for those who have a haircut they feel comfortable in, without combing too much.  

Wax Pomade

Wax pomades, you can probably guess, get the “wax” name because they use a wax as the main ingredient for hold. Hair waxes are often associated with the classic petroleum-based, slicked back, old school greaser pomades, like the kind used to form pompadours and poofs. Waxes are also used by those who have thick, coarse hair, in order to tame the hair, or keep it from spiking up. They’re equally great for people with fine hair who like to sharpen and polish up their look. Said another way, the wax base works to sculpt and hold hair into styles that may not be natural to the hair pre-styling. 

The trouble with waxes though, is they typically have the highest content of toxins you’ll find in a hair product. In order to achieve the hold needed, most wax makers load the  product with ingredients which should not be close to your skin, let alone your scalp. People often ask us if pomades are bad, and can lead to hair loss - these types of hair products especially, waxes and other super strong products loaded with cheap oils and petroleum, can and do lead to hair loss. They’re also a nightmare to wash out, feel gross to the touch, and often lead to acne breakouts, especially if you rest your head against a pillow prior to washing your hair. 

This is the challenge we found ourselves up against when we set out to make our Sun Wax Pomade. How do you make a hair wax with strong hold, but water-based so it’s easy to wash out, yet is still a 100% natural, plant-made, vegan product? 

Beatrice, our Co-Founder and formulator, spent thousands of hours researching, creating, mixing, emulsifying, testing, and getting feedback, and after about 2 solid years finally achieved a one-of-kind, 100% plant-made, vegan hair wax that has since gone on to win GQ’s Grooming Award for “best hair product”! 

Now you can achieve a slicked back style that doesn’t cover your pillow in toxins, but washes away without a trace (and doesn’t clog your drain or pores). Consistent with our other two pomades, we begin with a base of soothing aloe, hydrolyzed water, and floral hydrosol (organic rose water in this case.) We add in a trio of vegan plant waxes along with herbal extracts, to deliver a light wax that applies easily, offers strong hold for all day styling, and washes away easily. 

Our wax formula pulls off the impossible and is light but strong; perfect for hair that needs a firmer product to hold styles. 

You should use a Wax Pomade, if: you have coarse, thick hair, and you need a high hold product to keep your hair in place. Also great for those with all types of hair who aim to dress up their style a bit, by adding a firm hold with nice, natural shine.

Final thoughts, how to choose a hair pomade

The key differentiators between various types of hair pomade are hold, finish, and application. Wax has the most hold, a more polished shine finish, the thickest application, and the most style altering effects. Cream has the least hold, adds hydration and moisture, good volume, and has the most natural application. Clay has a medium hold, matte finish, adds volume and texture and is best for people with fine and/or straight hair. 

Finally, make sure your hair products are water-based, not oil-based - they work better and wash out more easily. Church California pomades are your best bet if you want a pomade that is water-based and also organic/natural, plant-made, and vegan.