A Brief History of Hair Gel for Men

Eunice Lucero | 26 November 2017

Because necessity is the mother of invention (and effective hair products).

Men and women have been adorning their heads for centuries, and it only makes sense that hair products, such as hair gel for men, also go way back. Purported to have been around since Egyptian times, the first-generation hair gels were allegedly made out of fat and tree resin—certainly a far cry from the products we know and enjoy today.

The Invention of the First Modern Hair Gel for Men

history of hair gel for men
A sleek, shiny, sculpted look was the norm in the late 1920s. Photo credit: indigitalimages.com

The late 1920s saw the invention of one of the first-known pomades for men, which was invented by the English. It had a base made of mineral oil and beeswax, and imparted an undisputed sheen (and hold) onto hair when applied and combed through. Prior to this invention and that of modern hair gel for men, they resorted to using things such as oils and petroleum jelly to groom their manes.

The pomade gained rapid popularity in England and Europe and quickly crossed over to the American market. Its ability to keep men’s hair in place while also providing a shiny finish ushered the “wet look” trend of subsequent eras. In the 1960s, when longer, unoiled hair for men became in vogue, pomades took on a more natural finish.

The 1960s: A Revolution for Hair Gel for Men

 

Hair gel for men took a turn towards a different formulation during the Swinging Sixties. Whether due to the longer, drier hair trends that became the norm at the time, or that the market was due for more options—women were target consumers at this point as well—products that were less greasy and more malleable permeated the market. In the 1960s, a modern hair gel was invented that had diethyl phthalate (abbreviation: DEP) as its main ingredient. It was also stretchy, and, as it evolved throughout the ’80s and ’90s, offered more variations in terms of hold and control.

history of hair gel african american
Hair gels now come in a wide variety of variants for different hair types, including natural-textured hair. Photo credit: indigitalimages.com

Hair Gel for Men Today

Nowadays, hair gels most commonly come in numbered variants, as a way to educate consumers on their hold level. They typically have a thick, viscous consistency with positively-charged polymers that help it bind—and subsequently mold—to the negatively-charged amino acids in keratin, the protein that hair is made of. Formulations for hair gel for men are now widely varied, and depending on your desired end result, hold and finish, whether you’re a punk rocker sporting an extreme mohawk or simply love a natural-looking bedhead, may be customized and even cocktailed for a totally unique look.

Ed’s note: A few of our favorite formulas of hair gel for men have a slightly matte consistency (that sexy, out-of-bed rumple!) that we see in products like AXE Urban Messy Look: Matte Hold Gel and Bed Head for Men by TIGI Power Play. For a classic, sculpted finish, we love the look and feel of Dove Men+Care Control Gel.

AXE MESSY LOOK: MATTE GEL
BED HEAD FOR MEN BY TIGI POWER PLAY FIRM FINISH GEL
DOVE MEN+CARE CONTROL GEL

Want more hair insight and inspiration? Check out our easy tutorial on how to blow-dry hair, the guy’s way.