Pomade, Clay, Paste, Gel, Sprays? What product is right for you and your customers?

Written By:
Vince Alton, COO

If you’re looking to build a line of products for styling hair or looking for the right product to style your own head of hair, then you’re in the right place; this article was written to help YOU. We know how confusing it can be to bring the right product or products to market when there are so many styling options that exist. The rest of this article will look at different types of hair styling products and how they differ.

Hair Gel

Let’s start with Hair Gel, because until recently with the resurgence of pomades, this is what we typically think of when referring to hair-styling products, especially for men.

Hair Gel works by using plastic called PVP, which readily dissolves in any popular solvent forming films. These films form between and bind hair strands tightly together. Unfortunately, the solvent usually used in hair gels is Alcohol. Alcohol is typically used because it dries faster and is water-soluble, making it easier to wash out. However, as alcohol evaporates the moisture in the product to leave the hair hard and crunchy, it often dries out the hair and scalp causing the product to flake or your scalp via dandruff.

Whether you need a soft hold or a hard hold, hair gel performs well and does what it’s designed to do. But with the active ingredients mentioned above being harsh, if not toxic, and present in most hair gels, we believe that the alternatives that exist like a water-based pomade, are a better solution for end-users.

There is one positive variable to consider about hair gels that’s difficult to beat; it’s price. So, if you are solely concerned about Price, hair gel tends to be the cheapest hair styling product to produce.


Pomades are the products our grandfathers used, and like a lot of cyclical trends, they are back in vogue. Confusingly, we now classify a lot of hair styling products under this catch-all buzzword, however, ‘pomade’ used to be reserved only for oil-based products that produce the perfect greased back look. The differences between hair gel and pomades are; their performance and their ingredients. As we already discussed hair gels, let’s have a deeper look at pomades.

Oil Based

Historically, pomades were made with an oil base and most commonly used petrolatum as that oil. This gave people that slicked back look, but not a stiff hold. So, users often had a comb in their back pocket to restyle their hair as the day went on, think of the movie Grease. Pretty cool right? What isn’t cool, is that petrolatum is a petrochemical derived from crude oil. Perhaps not the stuff we want to be lathering all over our heads.

However, more recently companies like Petra are using more natural oils that are good for your hair, such as; olive oil, coconut oil, and lanolin (for example), as the base for this type of pomade. One of the drawbacks of using an oil-based pomade is that it’s… oily. These greasy based pomades can be difficult to get out of your hair, and you wouldn’t want to lay down on your pillow for too long without getting this product out of your hair first. Unfortunately, oil-based pomades are water-insoluble, making it extremely difficult to get out of your hair.

But hey, if you’re looking for that greased back look, a good solution is an oil-based pomade.

When it comes to price, natural oils from food sources like coconut or olive oil, are going to be more expensive than a petrolatum-based product. Thankfully, the consumer trend is for higher-priced, more natural pomades as buyers become more conscious of what they’re putting on their heads.


More popular today and a good replacement for your 16-years-old glue hair gel or oil-based pomades are water-based pomades. These water-soluble solutions come in a variety of holds, finish, and texture. The water-based pomade can achieve the look of oil-based pomades or hair-gel and everything in between.

The formulation sometimes might not give you the exact same hold as a stiff gel, or the performance of a slick oil-based pomade, but the benefit can outweigh the negatives here. Their ease-of-use is a trade-off well worth it for most end users. They’re easily spreadable to the hair, and best of all they’re a lot easier to be rinsed off your hands and hair with just water. This prevents the product build-up in your hair and reduces the chances of getting acne or breakouts on the scalp. Last but not least, another advantage worth mentioning is that the water-based pomade, unlike their traditional oil-based counterparts, maintains its hold in warmer weather.


In comparison to the other two, this is a relatively newer product and an easy one to make. Clay-based hair products, contain… clay, but don’t be fooled, if you’re getting a product made for your business or you’re buying one for personal use, make sure it lists a clay high in the ingredient list, typically bentonite, kaolin, or a combination of the two.

Interestingly, bentonite usually forms from weathering of volcanic ash. It’s a fine powdery substance that’s smooth to the touch. When in contact with water, it can swell as much as 6x, which is why it’s great for adding volume to hair without additional weight. So, if your product doesn’t contain bentonite or kaolin; it’s not really a clay. Pro tip: companies are obligated to list the ingredients from most used in the formula (as a percentage) to least used, this is great to keep in mind when evaluating any manufactured consumable product.

Clays tend to give you a matte, natural-looking finish with a medium hold. This type of product is perfect for hairstyles that want more volume, texture, and something that is reworkable throughout the day. Not only is clay great for its styling performance, but it has other benefits as well; it draws out dirt and impurities without stripping the natural healthy oil from the hair, it has natural healing properties that can promote hair growth, and it nourishes the hair and scalp with its nutrients. It is a styling product that makes you look good and feel good as well!

Hair Sprays

Fun fact; hairspray came into existence after World War II when the Department of Agriculture developed insect sprays for use in the war. Today hairspray tends to contain polymers (chain-like molecules) in a liquid and at times a propellant. Once sprayed, the liquid evaporates leaving a stiff layer of polymers that keep the hair in place. A liquified gas is usually the propellent used to force the hairspray out of an aerosol can. Fortunately for end-users, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned certain propellants from use in hairsprays, such as chlorofluorocarbons and vinyl chloride. Today, a more common propellant used is isobutane. It’s important to note that non-aerosol sprays, which are more common today because they’re more natural, don’t contain a propellant.

Hair sprays are thought to be more common for women’s hairstyles, such as the beehive and the bouffant. However, natural non-aerosol sprays have become more popular with men as of late, providing a medium to hard hold with a medium to high shine.

Hair Cream

Hair creams add a natural shine and control to your hair. Most commonly hair creams are oil-in-water emulsions, which incorporate nourishing ingredients like natural oils, emollients that add natural shine and amino acids to replenish the hair and scalp. Hair creams as styling products usually provide great heat protection from styling and blow drying, anti-pollution from the external environment and sometimes UV-protection. Creams are extremely mild products, providing flexibility and repairing frizzy hair, and because the nature of the emulsion, creams can do so without the greasiness of an oil-based pomade.

If you need a product with moderate hold, that just adds more oomph to what you’re already working with, than a hair cream would be the product of choice.


Clearly, there are a lot of options to choose from when considering what product/s is best for you and your customers. We strongly recommend, choosing a product mix that’ll satisfy most of your clientele’s needs, such as a water-based pomade for the slick back look, a clay pomade for the matte look, and a hair cream for touching up the natural look. Please feel free to reach out to us at Petra with your next hair care development project, our R&D team is ready to help you bring the right product to market.



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