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Mousse? Gel? Lotion? What styling products do you really need?

Christina Ablahad

Posted by Christina A.



Mousse? Gel? Lotion? What styling products do you really need?

If you want great hair, you have to put in the work. It takes a lot to find the right style for you. Once you do, you have to maintain it. Sure, that involves properly washing your hair and getting haircuts at the right time, but it also involves styling the hair yourself on a daily basis. For that part, you need the right tools. So, here’s a crash course in hair styling products.


Mousse is pretty well-known by name, but there are a lot of similar products, and it makes a little more sense to discuss the entire class of them. Mousse is a foam cream, and you can find creams in many different consistencies. 

Creams are all about shine and control, but they avoid an ultra-stiff hold. You get shape and body with a cream, but you don’t get brittle, rigid hair when you’re done. Because of that, creams are great for a natural look that gets that extra shine. They’re also ideal for thick and coarse hair. Finer hair usually needs something a little bit stiffer.


Gel used to be a lot more popular than it is now. In the 80s and 90s, it provided a classic sleek look. Businessmen and Wall Street types were using gel left and right. Over time, that look came to be associated with less than amazing people. These days, when you see an ultra gelled, slicked-back hairdo, your first thought is corporate movie villain or mobster, and who can blame you?

Gel still has its place in the world, but it’s extremely effective for styling hair. It has a glossy look that rigidly locks hair in place. Thinking of modern hairstyles, gel is at its best for the sides of your head. You can get the exact shape and texture that you want, and it won’t mess up over the course of the day.

But, you want to leave the gel off the top of your head. You can use something a bit softer to get a more natural look that is less 80s movie villain in appearance.

man with gelled hair


Let’s keep this simple. Your hair doesn’t need lotion. That’s for your skin. So, who would be using lotion to style the top of their head? Obviously, we’re talking about the scalp-hair impaired.

Lotion is great when you have a smooth dome. It keeps your skin healthy and colored. It helps you avoid flakey, dandruff-like stuff. It shows that you still care about your scalp even though it’s not furry.

Some guys swap lotions for scalp waxes. It’s really the same effect, but the waxes produce more of a shine. If you really want to show off the shape of your head, wax is the way to go.

Regardless, keep that skin moisturized. No one is impressed by an ashy bald head.


Pomade is immensely popular, and if you want to have top-tier hair, you need to know about it. It’s designed to provide high shine with medium hold. If that sounds familiar, it’s because pomade is like mousse on steroids. It’s the stuff that greasers relied on once upon a time.

It’s a thick cream, but it deserves its own place on the list because it is used so much. It’s at its best with straight hair at medium looks, and the idea is to give you strict control over shape and texture with a glossy finish.


Hair spray is a classic for a reason. It’s the final step in the styling process (and not necessary for all styling). The key to using hair spray is to never start with it. Hair spray locks things in their place, but its texture leaves a lot to be desired. 

For best use, you want to do all of your texturing and styling, and then freeze it with a touch of hair spray. It works best for long hair, so if you’re a long-haired rock god, keep hairspray in your arsenal.

man with hairspray


We mentioned wax for bald domes earlier, but there are also hair styling waxes. These are all about shape and not texture. You might use wax with wavy hair to get that sexy messy look. You can do a lot with wax, but it’s not universal since it doesn’t really work with fine or long hair. It’s at its best in short hair.

When wax doesn’t quite fit the mold (haha), you can look into other pastes (check the label) for more versatility that will suit your specific hair type.

That’s your list of common hair styling products. There are countless others that you can look into, but they get into niche territory. Happy styling!



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