Hair Clay, Pomade, or Paste: What’s the Difference?

Learn the difference between a hair clay, pomade and paste - and when to use which.

With such a huge number of men’s styling options available, being faced with shelf after shelf of hair products can be an overwhelming experience. Whether you’re an experimental gent or a one-brand man, choosing the right styling product can be confusing. If you’re not sure of the difference between hair clay, pomade and paste, we’re here to help.

hair clay styles
Hair clay, pomade or paste: what’s the difference? Credit:

Hair Clay

Somewhat of a newcomer on the men’s styling products scene, hair clays are so-called because they all have one ingredient in common: clay. Bentonite – a natural substance produced from the weathering of volcanic ash – is one of the most popular forms used in hair clay formulas today.

This is what helps boost body and thickness, giving your hair more volume without weighing it down. The consistency of clay can range from creamy to very thick.

Good for: Hairstyles that require more texture and volume. Certain styling clays, like the VO5 Extreme Style Matt Clay, are also ideal for those who want to achieve a messier, perfectly-undone look, with a more matte finish.

It can also give your hairstyle a fairly strong hold that usually lasts throughout the day.

Hairstyles you can achieve with hair clay: Messy or textured tops, curly quiffs, and dishevelled medium-length hairstyles.

Tip: Probably the only product in the styling category to boast added benefits aside from styling, hair clay is rich in minerals and has been said to have natural healing properties.

Clays have a tendency to draw out dirt and other impurities from the hair without stripping it of its natural oils, which is why it’s often been the choice for men with sensitive skin or scalp.

pomade hair styles vs hair clay
Men’s styling products: Hair pomade. Credit:


As one of the longest-standing styling products, it’s surprising to hear the term pomade is still being used so interchangeably, causing confusion among consumers. Pomades are a waxy substance or, more precisely, an ointment, which can be broken down into 2 main types: oil-based and water-based.

“True” old school-style pomades were most commonly formulated using fatty ingredients and grease (like petroleum) to produce shine and hold, making them hard to wash out with normal shampoo. The more modern – and increasingly popular – versions of pomade, however, are water-based, which means they can easily be shampooed away.

Good for: With both medium to high shine options readily available on the market, pomades such as the TIGI Bed Head Slick Trick Pomade are ideal for gents looking to achieve a sleeker, neater hairstyle.

Unlike hair gel, pomades do not leave your strands hard and crunchy, but they do, however, offer a fairly strong hold that’s still pliable.

Hairstyles you can achieve with pomade: Pompadours, quiffs, ducktails, slick-backs, and comb-overs.

hair paste hair clay styles
Men’s styling products: Hair paste. Credit:

Hair Paste

Usually thicker in consistency than pomades and clay, hair paste is one of the most versatile styling products out of the lot. It’s also water-based, so can easily be washed out with regular shampoo. Different types of pastes can vary in consistency, but in their thicker forms, some warming is required prior to application.

Working the paste gently between your fingers can help soften and loosen up the texture, allowing for easy and even distribution on the hair. Once applied, the paste will cool down again and re-thicken, giving your hairstyle a matte finish and a rather remarkable hold.

Good for: As one of the most flexible styling products in terms of usage and results, hair pastes – depending on specific types – generally suit most hair lengths, thicknesses and styles. We currently love the Lynx Messy Look Flexible Paste, that can help create the illusion of volume to thinning or fine locks.

But whether you’re after a slicker, more dapper short hairstyle, or a longer, messier, and more textured look, there’s bound to be a paste out there that’ll answer to your exact needs.

Hairstyles you can achieve with hair paste: Softer pastes are especially effective for creating casually dishevelled looks and touchable styles. Stronger hold pastes are better for those who want to fix their hair in place all day.


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