The English word “pomade” is derived from French pommade meaning “ointment“, itself arising from the Latin pomum (fruit, apple) via the Italian pomata or pomo ( meaning “apple”—as the original ointment recipe contained mashed apples). Modern pomades may contain fragrances, but they are usually not particularly fruity.
I recently started to stock Layrite pomade in my store here in Copenhagen. I am not endorsed by the company but have tried many products and these are currently my favoured pomade as they have a good varied selection that covers most of the hair types and styles I see daily. Pomades are not so easy to get hold of here in Denmark and I often find myself explaining them to the gentlemen that come in, so that makes it worthy of a blog post.
The use of pomade can be traced as far back as the 1800s. During that century, the most common item used was bear fat. In the early part of the 20th century, however, other ingredients, such as petroleum jelly, beeswax, and lard replaced the bear fat. Pomade is noted for its scent and also a slick shiny look that was extremely popular back at the turn of last century. Think Rudolph Valentino, Cary Grant, Elvis and Johnny Cash. The latter was well known for using Crown Royal pomade to get his pomp going. My own grandfather was a Brylcreem boy. This was a nickname given to RAF pilots during the second world war because of the slick style of their hair.
Most of us also remember that Dapper Dan Man[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hni4OIJXG4&w=420&h=315]
Pomade has come back into fashion over the last few years. Shows like Mad Men have brought a certain style back into vogue and a lot of gents want to achieve that look using the classic, authentic products, but they are not only for old-fashioned hair styles. Pomade has changed over the years and there are many different brands out there. Which one to choose is not an easy question to answer but a few basic facts might help.
The two most popular kinds of Pomade available are:
Wax/Petroleum based pomade. These are the old style products, it’s still possible to buy some brands that have been around since the 1920’s. These pomades don’t wash out well and anyone having ever tried classics like Dax or Black ’n’ White will attest to this. Memories of sticky pillow cases and acne spring to mind at the mention of either of those products. To remove oil based pomade requires a specific shampoo, washing your hair with olive oil or scrubbing your hair until there are not even any natural oils left in your scalp, not good. The benefits though, is that they do not dry out so the hair is less rigid to run your hands or comb through and a re-style can be achieved they also give a really good shine. Nowadays there are some that only use natural ingredients rather than petroleum and are said to be good for the hair.
Water based pomade gets a lot of stick in the “Pomade World” for being more like a gel that dries out. I have found them to be great and the benefit of being able to rinse out at the end of the day far out weighs any drying out or stiffness. Rinsing out the pomade means less hair washing and less stripping of the natural oils produced in the scalp. I like that the product sets a little harder too. Once I have styled my hair I prefer it stays that way, plus I have found that if I need a little re-style on a night out it’s possible to reshape my hair with wet hands at least once, maybe twice. They do tend to be made with less natural ingredients though so if you are really worried about unpronounceable ingredients, be aware.
The holding strength of pomade varies too. There are soft hold and extra hold versions of almost every pomade brand. This is another area where I feel there is a big difference between Wax/Petro pomade and water based. The water based pomades are lighter maybe due to them drying slightly and therefore work better for getting volume and lift. The Oil/petro products are heavy so tend to make the hair sit flatter on the head. Some brands also carry extra strength products, these are usually look like putty or clay but can be great.
Levels of shine differ too. I have noticed that the Wax/Petro pomade tends to have more shine than the water based. This is good if you want the slick look but not so good for achieving other styles plus it tends to look greasy after a day or two as the product can’t be washed out easily and there can be build up in the scalp. Some brands even have extra shine versions available.
There are so many options, some products will work better than others depending on you. Best way to find out what works is to get on in there and try some. Here are some other links for further reading…
Some health benefits of pomade in this article.
The Pomp. This young man has lots of product reviews and information about pomade on his site with a lot of videos.