Which is better, hair gel or wax? and what's the difference?

We take a look at the pros and cons of the two hair styling products to help you find out which is the best for you

Hair gel
(Image credit: Getty)

If you’re into grooming, or you just like to make sure your hair is kept slick at all times, you’ll probably already have a good idea of the difference between hair gel and wax. 

For those who don’t, gel differs from wax in that it’s made of water mixed with alcohol and other ingredients to appear wet when applied. Wax, on the other hand, is a natural-based product that’s very pliable and does not dry out like gel does therefore offering a greasier yet more warm, matte finish.

But how do you know which one is better? Well, it all depends on your hairstyle and the desired look you’re going for. Different hairstyles and finishes require a different product. If you apply the wrong product for you, you’ll end up with a bad hair day, no matter how good your haircut is.

If you're looking for product recommendations, then you can check out our guides to the best hair wax, but first, this article will not only explain the difference between gel and wax, but give you an idea of which is the best product for you and where to look first when it comes to experimenting, which should also save you a pretty bob in the process.

Choosing the right product for your desired style

If you’re looking to style your hair with lots of texture while also retaining a good level of control so it doesn’t totally get messed up throughout the day, then opt for a decent wax product. Especially if you have short to medium length hair. 

Working best for more formal styles, wax is not about volume, but more to do with sleekness. Compared to gels, hair wax doesn’t dry out as hard, so the hair can be adjusted without any extra application at any time, staying pliable.

Traditional gel is perhaps better used for those super shiny, wetlook styles which you don’t want to see any movement in whatsoever. However, gel does have a tendency to turn your hair into concrete, which can cause dehydration to the hair over time. 

Which is better for your hair?

According to most hair experts, gels can be bad for your hair over time. They have a tendency to mess with your hair’s moisture levels and reduce the production of sebum. This creates dry, brittle and breakage prone hair and gives rise to problems of itchy and flaky scalp. 

Dr Eid Alhajar of Bizrahmed Centers, a specialist surgeon with a certification in hair transplants from the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine, says: “Hair wax is slightly better for the condition of your hair because, unlike hair gel, it doesn’t dry out and therefore dehydrate the individual hairs and hair follicles. 

“Gel can often include alcohol, to avoid any bacterial growth in the product, which can further dry out strands and follicles. Its greater viscosity also means it sticks to the scalp more, preventing the skin from ‘breathing’ and constricting the hair follicles.”

Alternatively, waxes are championed by experts as being much better for your hair and scalp as they are made mostly of natural products, usually made from ingredients such as beeswax, Japan wax, Candelilla wax, Castor wax, and so on.

Alternatives

These days, men’s hairstyling is not just a battle between gel and wax. We’re seeing an increase in popularity of pomades - a waxy or a water-based substance that has a creamier texture than wax and is used to style hair to offer a shiny and slick appearance. It also gives hair a more matte finish when it dries.

Then, we have clays. Best for those time-honoured short back-and-sides haircuts, styling clays don’t leave hair looking greasy like wax or pomades can, but are able to hold a style in place all day long - like a good big quiff - without looking shiny. A great place to start if you're unsure what type of product will best suit your hairstyle. 

Last but not least, we have salt sprays, which are a different kettle of fish entirely. These are designed for people who want to put some effort into styling their hair without looking like they’ve done anything to it. These work by absorbing the oils in your hair to give improved definition and volume and are best for longer styles, especially with curly or wavy hair or for those wanting to achieve the surfer look.

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Lee Bell
Lee Bell

Lee Bell is a freelance journalist & copywriter specialising in technology, health, grooming and how the latest innovations are shaking up the lifestyle space. From national newspapers to specialist-interest magazines and digital titles, Lee has written for some of the world’s most respected publications during his 11 years as a journalist.