Hair Clay, Gel and Pomades - What's the Difference and How To Pick the Right One

Hair clay is a newer type of men’s hair styling product. As indicated by the name, the product is (usually) clay based and can range from very thick to creamy depending on the type of the clay used.

The most common clay base for styling hair clays is bentonite, which is a natural clay made from volcanic ash.

Top 5 Hair Clays (Summary)

Image Product Details
sample-table__image Firmest HoldKrieger SÖhne
  • Non-greasy and flake free
  • Perfect matte finish
  • Easy to spread across hair
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sample-table__image Longest Lasting HoldLamel
  • Shine-free matte finish
  • No heavy or sticky feeling
  • For all hair types
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sample-table__image Easiest to Wash OutLayrite
  • Allows you to shape hair in any style
  • Doesn’t cause flakes or dry hair
  • Clean matte finish
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sample-table__image Smooth Viking
  • Adds thickness and texture to hair
  • Preserves matte finish
  • Simple to wash out
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sample-table__image Rocky Mountain
  • Most natural, non-greasy finish
  • Firm, long lasting hold
  • Doesn’t cause hair flakes
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For more detailed and complete product reviews on benefits and features, keep reading.

Hair clay has a variety of uses and benefits for styling and hair and skin health:

Styling Benefits

  • Great for adding volume to the hair without adding weight
  • Provides a great hold and stability to keep the hair styled all day long
  • Has a matte finish, giving you a more natural look
  • Works fantastically for textured hairstyles (aka the deliberately messy style)

Health Benefits

    • Natural clays draw out impurities from the skin and hair without stripping them of healthy oils
    • Clays possess nutrients that are naturally healing and nourishing to skin and hair
    • Because of its nutrients, it stimulates hair growth
  • Clay works as a natural conditioner and moisturizer, which helps cut down on the frizz and fray of thicker hair

Because of its natural properties, hair clays are a styling product you can feel good about since it’s actually good for your hair and skin and works well.

What Features Should the Best Hair Clay Have

As indicated above, clay is the key ingredient of most styling clays. However, there are many types of hair clay and a variety of ingredients.

Determining how you want to use it exactly and the type of sheen you want to achieve will help you determine the best type of hair clay for you.

Here are some things you need to consider when choosing a clay that is right for you:

Ingredients

As mentioned previously, bentonite is the most common clay that you will find in hair styling clays.

However, there are definitely more ingredients and they impact just how the styling clay will work best.

Beeswax, for example, is a key ingredient in most clays that offers stronger holds and more versatility for serious styling.

Kaolin or white clay may also make an appearance. This is a gentle clay that exfoliates and cleans hair without stripping it of needed moisture.

Ingredients

It also absorbs toxins from the hair and scalp. In some styling clays, this is the clay of choice, as it is in Woody’s hair clay.

Rhassoul clay or Moroccan Red Clay may also pop up as an ingredient.

It is mineral rich and helps reduce dryness while removing toxins at the same time.

This type of clay is very beneficial for helping soothe sensitive skin that is prone to dandruff and psoriasis.

Essential oils are often added to provide scent to the styling clay, as it is usually odorless or mildly earthy.

Essential oils can also provide additional health benefits for skin and hair since many of them are antibacterial, antifungal and have other health and cleansing properties.

Hold – Exactly How Long Does It Last?

Clay products will offer varying levels of what is called hold – the ability of the product to hold the styling in place throughout the day.

In general, clay has a strong hold compared to other products, but you can find clays ranging from light to very strong holds.

Light to medium hold clay is good for a sleeker look and/or finer hair, as strong holding clay can at times leave fine hair looking oily.

Clays that boast the strongest hold claim to hold your styling all day even if you are being active, getting sweaty or putting your hair under duress.

These stronger holds are better for more extravagant styles since they’re strong enough to keep the hair supported and in place.

Finish

Again, in general, clay products have a much more natural looking finish so it’s usually difficult to tell that you even have a product in your hair.

However, check the clay you are looking at to see if it offers a mild sheen or is truly a matte finish.

Finish

When choosing a clay, you need to make sure you understand, first your own hair type and condition and second, the look you want to achieve.

Based on those two things, you can then move forward with choosing the clay that is best for you.

In general, when you look, you will see clays labeled as matte, styling, barber, finishing and molding clay.

The latter will be discussed briefly below, but in general, each does have a bit of a different focus.

Be sure to read the labels to see what the main focus/purpose of that clay is.

Molding Clay for Hair

Molding clay is styling clay with a much stronger hold.

It’s meant specifically for those who need the style to hold all day while they go about rigorous activities, such as sports or strenuous physical activities that would make one prone to sweat.

While most hair products would not be able to hold with heavy perspiration or activity that could disrupt the styling, molding clay can.

Because of its thickness, though, it will be a little bit more difficult to wash out and may not be the best for finer hair types.

What’s the Difference? Hair Clay vs Pomade vs Paste vs Gel

So, what on earth is the difference between other styling hair products like pomade, paste and gel?

Here is a quick break down of each and what they are good for.

Hair Clay vs Pomade – The Innovator vs a Classic

Pomades are a styling product that help style and hold the hair in a neat, slick manner while giving it a high shine finish.

This type of product works best for hairstyles formed with a comb.

A benefit of pomade over something like a styling gel is that it won’t leave your hair dry and crunchy once it sets, meaning you can continue to style repeatedly throughout the day.

Hair Clay vs. Pomade

Pomades are either oil-based or water-based. Oil-based are composed of grease or petroleum, which are incredibly difficult to wash out and likely to strip your hair and skin of good, natural oils.

The results may be acne and unhealthy hair.

Water-based pomades are easier to wash out and don’t have the negative effects, but still give the same, slick and shiny look.

Pomade is good if you want to have a smooth, sleek look with a bit (or a lot) of shine and if you like the option to reshape and restyle throughout the day.

Hair Clay vs Paste/Cream – The Difference Is in the Shine

Hair paste is thicker than pomades and usually provides a more natural, matted look, though some can add a bit of shine.

Pastes are good for holding hair styles, offering medium to very firm hold, depending on the thickness of the paste you use.

Hair paste takes a little bit more work to use for styling, as some are so thick that you must first rub it between fingers and hands to warm it up so that you can even work it through your hair.

However, it is a very versatile product and works for a wide variety of hairstyles and it is very easy to wash out.

Hair paste is good if you want to have volume and a good hold with a more natural look.

Hair Clay vs Gel – A Rivalry

Hair gel is the gateway hair styling product. It is the cheapest and most readily available product, but also the most synthetic and unhealthy.

Gels are composed of chemicals and alcohols that, while they work, are harsh on the hair and skin and quite damaging.

Gels work for all sorts of hairstyles to mold and hold them, but will leave the hair stiff, crunchy and immovable once it sets.

Hair Clay vs. Gel

It leaves a glistening shine, but if disturbed (as might happen if you run your fingers through your hair), it can flake and leave a residue appearance.

The alcohols in hair gel lead to excessive dryness in the skin and the chemicals strip the hair of natural moisture, leaving it frizzy and damaged and with no healthy shine of its own.

What is it good for? Ultimately, a lot of what is different between these products and hair clay is what they are made from.

Hair clay is by far the most natural product and can actually be healthy for your hair and scalp.

Hair Clay vs Hair Wax – To Oil or Not Oil

To begin, wax. Is wax really something we want on our heads every day?

While there is nothing wrong with hair wax, there are more advanced alternatives for the modern-day man.

In regard to hold, a wax is superior to gel. Wax does not solidify and flake as gel does. However, clay still has a stronger hold than wax.

While clay and wax both are manipulatable throughout the day, wax will cease to maintain its hold before the day is up.

Clay, however, will maintain its hold until it is scrubbed out.

For those with oily skin, wax will make it worse. Oil is a primary ingredient in wax because it gives the wax its malleability.

Also, wax has a “waxy” texture and makes one’s hair feel as such.

Individuals in search of a more natural style should turn away from wax.

Unlike wax and gel, clay absorbs oil and leaves the hair and skin without the oily shine of other products.

Hair Clay vs Sea Salt Spray – Lasting or Fleeting Styles

Sea salt spray is well known for its summertime, “beachy” look popularity.

Many people turn to sea salt spray for a naturally messy and effortless look.

This spray is also popular for its versatility as it is a great product for both women and men.

With sea salt sprayed hair and some of the best undershirts for men, you’re well on your way to a social media-worthy, no-filters look.

The secret behind this spray is the salty water. It absorbs oil to provide a more voluptuous and bouncier look.

Similar to clay, sea salt spray doesn’t change the feel of one’s hair and allows for a more natural, product-free look. Like clay, this product may be used daily.

However, while this product holds some of the excellent characteristics of hair clay, sea salt spray does not have the advantage of an all-day hold that clay does.

Hair clay has a far superior hold when compared to sea salt spray.

But, for those just looking for an all natural, limited-hold product, sea salt spray is definitely an item to consider.

How to Use Hair Clay

Of course, you may have found an excellent clay, but if you don’t know how to apply it correctly, it may do more harm than good.

So, check out the basics of the application below:

Step 1

Make sure your hair is clean and free of other products. You can leave your hair wet or have it partially or completely dry, just make sure it’s heading in the styling direction that you want it to go.

Step 2

Get a small amount of the clay in your hands – about a pea-sized amount.

Step 3

Rub the clay in your hands until it melts and there are no pieces or clumps.

Step 4

Work the product into your hair from root to tip and begin styling and directing your hair as you apply it.

Step 5

When you’re happy with the style, you can get just a smidgeon more or the product to smooth away the fly-aways.

Helpful tips:

    • More is better does NOT apply here. You only need a small amount.
    • Get the clay nice and melted in your hands before you apply it or else you will unsightly clumps or streaks in your hair.
    • Use a blow dryer to get even more volume and bigger style.
    • For best results, keep your hair damp (towel dried is perfect).
  • The more diluted the clay is with water, the looser, messier and more natural the look, the thicker, less diluted clay will result in a longer lasting hold.

Want to see it done? You can check out this video giving you a quick break down and walk through of applying hair clays.

How to Wash It Off

As a product with such strong hold, it may be a common concern that you’ll have trouble washing it out.

Luckily, this is not the case. Clay is exceedingly easy to wash off.

Clay is an all-inclusive product that provides the results desired without any damage to your locks.

When it has the right ingredients, it provides essential minerals and vitamins.

Due to its lack of damaging ingredients, it can be left in for days at a time without repercussions.

Since it absorbs oil and dirt, men can get by with just using conditioner alone if desired.

5 Best Hair Clays: Pros & Cons

Now that you have learned all about what hair clay is, how it’s different from other hair styling products and how to apply it, it’s time to explore your options and choose the best clay for you.

To help you get started, we want to review the top 5 hair clays that you can find on Amazon and briefly go over their pros and cons:

1. Krieger + SÖhne Styling Clay

Infused with beeswax and paraben free, Krieger + SÖhne Styling Clay helps you achieve the perfect matte finish.

This clay will keep you looking sharp all day long. Additionally, it helps preserve moisture and healthy hair.

You should apply a small amount for softer hold or a bit more for super hold and spread it evenly through the entire hair. It can be used while blow-drying to create a perfect hairstyle.

It comes in 2 oz jar and the product isn’t tested on animals. It’s easily transported, so your hairstyle will be sleek anywhere you go.

The texture is reportedly softer and creamier than it should be, but the product is non-greasy and flake free.

Krieger + SÖhne Styling Clay

 

Pros

  • Non-greasy and flake free
  • No animals were used for testing
  • 2 oz jar at a good price
  • Paraben-free
Cons

  • Reportedly soft and creamy texture instead of firmer clay texture
  • Weaker hold than expected

2. Lamel Fine Grooming Clay

Lamel Fine Grooming Clay will help you gain perfect style without a heavy or sticky feeling.

In addition to that, you will achieve that hard to get, shine-free matte finish. This barber grade performance clay is suitable for both men and woman and all types of hair.

It works similar to gels and creams, but with a more fibrous texture which doesn’t make your hair too shiny if you overuse it.

To apply it, take a small amount and rub it between the palms. It can be used on both dry or wet hair.

Depending on your hair type and texture, it’s possible it won’t hold as long as you would expect it to. Also, it doesn’t have a very pleasant smell, which you might dislike.

Lamel Fine Grooming Clay

 

Pros

  • Shine-free matte finish
  • Barber grade performance
  • Ability to vary the hold based on the amount used
Cons

  • Hold doesn’t last all day
  • Not a very pleasant scent

3. Layrite Cement Matte Hair Clay

Water-based formula of Layrite Cement Hair Clay will help you achieve curly and thick hair at all times.

Because it’s water-based, it may not hold as good if you’re sweating. Despite that, this clay will dry as cement to try to provide you the most extended hold possible.

Mild cream soda scent is also present. In addition, the product leaves a clean matte finish while thickening hair.

It doesn’t dry hair, doesn’t flake and can help you shape your hair into almost any style. Since it’s water based, it easily washed with plain water.

Lastly and surprisingly, this hair clay doesn’t contain clay in its ingredients list.

Layrite Cement Matte Hair Clay

 

Pros

  • 25 oz – good bang for your buck
  • Matte finish
Cons

  • Hold may give if wearer sweats, as it is water soluble
  • No actual clay used in the ingredients

4. Smooth Viking Hair Care Styling Clay

Both bentonite and kaolin clay are the main ingredients of Smooth Viking Clay for hair. Along with other ingredients, they help you add thickness and texture while preserving the matte finish.

More than that, it keeps hair in place and is simple to wash out. Since it offers strong hold, it’s particularly convenient for shorter hairstyles and those with an active lifestyle.

Regardless, the hold may vary depending on your hair type. It is applied the same way as creams and gels and can be used on dry or slightly damp hair.

Unfortunately, you might find the smell to be somewhat unpleasant.

Smooth Viking Hair Care Styling Clay

 

Pros

  • Matte finish
  • Uses both Bentonite and Kaolin clay
Cons

  • A hold is weaker than expected
  • Unpleasant scent

5. Rocky Mountain Barber Company Styling Clay

Nutrient-rich natural ingredients such as water and beeswax in Rocky Mountain Barber Company Clay keep your hair fresh and healthy.

Firm hold for both long and short hairstyles without flaking or clumping is what this product primarily provides.

A small amount of clay in the palm, with a drop of warm water, needs to be worked into hair until fully absorbed. To get the best results, apply it to slightly damp, freshly washed hair.

Although it doesn’t actually contain clay, this item still provides a long lasting firm hold and doesn’t have a greasy finish.

It’s crafted in small batches to ensure fresher product. In spite of that, the price is kind of excessive.

Rocky Mountain Barber Company Styling Clay

 

Pros

  • Barber grade product
  • Good, masculine scent but not overpowering
Cons

  • No actual clay used in the ingredients
  • A bit pricey for the quality

As you can see, there are many options for hair clay at your disposal.

Each of the above products has their good points and drawbacks, but considering your circumstances, we are certain you will benefit from one of them.

Go ahead and give one a try. We are sure you won’t be disappointed!

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Photos from: Kazmulka / depositphotos.com, asimojet / depositphotos.com, photo_oles / depositphotos.com, brulove / depositphotos.com, Dmyrto_Z / depositphotos.com.

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