As a kid, you maybe saw a can of Royal Crown or Murray’s sitting in Grandpa’s medicine cabinet. It looked like a big tub of Crisco or Vaseline—nothing like the bright, colorful gel you were already using to keep your hairs in place. Maybe eventually you tried a little grease, only to get a stern talking to and five cycles of shampooing.
If so, you wouldn’t be the only man to have an off-putting early experience with the sometimes slick, sometimes sticky stuff known as pomade. I recall being 19 years old, dipping my toe into hardcore punk’s famous Rockabilly Retirement Plan and spending half an hour in the shower trying to get a fistful of Royal Crown out of my hair, screaming at whomever walked into the dorm’s common bathroom.
Now that I’m a grown, well-dressed, incredibly handsome and super modest man about town, I couldn’t live without the stuff. And when a friend or friend’s husband needs the quick and dirty on pomade, they usually call me, warming my vain little heart in the process. So here’s the why, how and what of pomade.
The first rule of Grease Club is: It’s never coming out. Get used to it. It’s part of your hair now. The upside is, you can use it sparingly. A can of Murray’s is often humorously referred to as “a lifetime supply of Murray’s.”
Why Would I Use Pomade?
First of all, because your grandfather did. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you. And despite what you might have heard, pomade is one of the best things you can put in your hair. No, it’s not going to make your hair fall out. Yes, it is going to make you look handsome and sexy.
I spent what seemed like forever (a.k.a. two weeks) trying out a bunch of different pomades. There might be more, but so far as I know, there are four basic types:
Petroleum: Colloquially known as “grease,” this is the oldest of old schools. You are sort of sticking Vaseline in your hair, but that’s actually pretty good for its health.
Water: This stuff is all the rage, but it’s kind of terrible for your hair, stripping all the natural oils out. Don’t believe me? Grease up your hair, then get in the shower and throw on some water-based pomade. The grease is gone.
Clay: Clay is a nice alternative for guys who don’t want to grease up, but don’t like the water-based stuff. Decent hold, but not a lot of shine. Depending on your preferences, low shine might be a feature. For me it’s a bug.
Wax: Stiff and hard to work with, but your most healthy option. Gives great hold and shine.
How Do I Use Pomade?
Virtually every guy I know who hates pomade hates it for one reason: They grabbed a handful, stuck it in the front of their hair and couldn’t get it out for a month.
The first rule of Grease Club is: It’s never coming out. Get used to it. It’s part of your hair now. The upside is, you can use it sparingly. And the biggest mistake guys make is sticking it up front: You need to work it in starting at the back until your hair is greased up. Then you use whatever’s left on your hands to hit the front.
The key takeaways: Stop sticking it on front first and don’t use too much. A can of Murray’s is often humorously referred to as “a lifetime supply of Murray’s.”
Note: I didn’t actually review Murray’s, so now’s the time to tell you that if you want to use a thicker, heavier pomade like Murray’s or Dax, you want to either take your girlfriend’s hairdryer to it or stick it on the electric range on low for a couple minutes. Seriously. That’s why these things come in metal cans.
Slick Nick: The author testing what turned out to be his new favorite pomade…
So What Are My Options?
I used nine different pomades. Some were good. Some were not. And much to my surprise, I ended up switching from one brand to another at the end of it. Every day, I tried a new pomade after a lather, rinse and repeat to make sure I got yesterday’s stuff out. I took pictures at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., comparing them to each other to check out the hold. Here’s the basic scoop.
American Crew Pomade: I’m not generally a fan of water-based pomade, and this was my least favorite. High shine, but virtually no hold. Smell is pretty generic drugstore men’s hair care. I also used their forming paste that week, which was a lot better but, alas, not pomade. (Editor’s note: The editor of this story swears by American Crew Pomade, but he’s not really into the concrete hold style. Different strokes for different folks.)
Baxter-Finley Clay Pomade: An old standby of mine, Baxter-Finley Clay Pomade doesn’t offer much in the way of shine, but it does offer a lot of hold. The earthy clay smell is pretty nice. My main issue is that the shine doesn’t last as long as the hold.
Grant’s Golden Brand Pomade Medium Blend: This stuff ain’t cheap. Nearly twenty bucks a jar. But hey, it’s got a nice floral yet masculine smell and hold for days. Of all the water-based pomades, my hair hated this the least.
Murray’s Super Light: This was my daily driver before the challenge. It’s a slicker, lighter version of Murray’s that goes on easy and gives high shine. I’d still recommend it, but I found something I like more…
Bona Fide: This is a super hip water-based pomade made right here in Southern California. It probably smells and holds the best of any water-based I’ve ever used. My hair didn’t hate it too much, either.
High Life: I’m not really a fan of this. At first I thought it was just too heavy for my hair, but then I compared it to another similar-weight pomade. The coconut smell is a little too sweet for me, the hold isn’t great and there’s not a lot of shine. On the upside, your hair will love it.
Royal Crown Hair Dressing: This here is my new go-to. It’s slick, has a great weight, shines like a brand spanking new Roosevelt dime and holds all day. The chemical-cum-floral smell isn’t my favorite, but that’s what I wear cologne for.
Nu Nile: I’ve heard that this wasn’t a Murray’s brand originally, that they bought it off someone else. It’s a little sticky, so it’s better suited for guys with really coarse hair. Smells like Murray’s, more or less. Good hold.
Bees Knees High Sheen: I probably wouldn’t use this again, mostly because it’s hard to get going, but it’s probably the healthiest thing you can put in your hair: beeswax and lanolin. It’s definitely felt the most “natural” of anything I used.
So which pomade is best for you? It depends on your hair and taste preferences. The good news is that the most grandpa-type pomades start at around three bucks a jar. Head on down to Wal-Greens, grab a fistful and get started on a pomade challenge of your own…