Hair. It can make an outfit. It can break it. You can be wearing the most exquisite dinner jacket, but if your hair doesn’t match up, you’ll look disheveled.
In today’s world, men are beginning to realize that they can no longer just throw a hat on or let their hair flow free. Today, most men understand that their hair is an accessory that can define who they are. I interviewed five of North America’s top celebrity stylists in an effort to provide you with a better understanding of how to maintain your hair and to learn where to find the best hair products for men.
Six Rules For Healthy Hair
While each stylist came with their own personality, for the most part they were in agreement that men need to follow six rules when it comes to their hair.
1. Long or short – keep your hair in check. Get it trimmed up every two weeks.
2. Hair Product is important, so use it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but the drug store brands are usually high in alcohol and silicones and can damage your hair long term.
3. Forget what your parents told you and stop washing it everyday. You’re drying out the natural oils in your hair. Instead, wash and condition your hair once every three days. Your follicles will thank you for it.
4. Less is more – products have come a long way since the mid nineties and a dime size of gel, pomade or wax should be more than enough to get the style you’re looking for. Unless of course you enjoy looking like you just stepped off the set of Jersey Shore.
5. Find a stylist, not a hairdresser. Some may argue they’re one in the same but they’re not. No one is suggesting you need to spend $1000 on a haircut, but don’t spend $10 either. Stay away from the bargain bin slice shop and stick with the salon. The fact is that fish is fish, but you wouldn’t buy sushi from a vending machine would you?
6. Know your hair and know what you want done with it. Don’t shoot for the stars with big dreams you can’t land. The fact remains that a stylist can make your hair look like anything you want – but the real question is, can you replicate it at home? Know where your cowlicks are, how your hair falls and if it gets frizzy or curly on a hot summer day. Work with your hair and pick styles that compliment its natural flow. A haircut should fit like a bathing suit. If you weigh 300lbs maybe stay away from the thong mankini. When you walk into a salon bring pictures. Don’t assume the stylist wants to spend 30 minutes trying to understand your mental picture of what you want your hair to look like. It’s okay to bring in a photograph of George Clooney. In fact, it’s actually appreciated. This way the stylist knows exactly what you want and can work with you to achieve the goal so you walk away happier than Pharrell on Oprah.
What is Hair?
Before we take a closer look at the best hair products, let’s focus on hair. Not to get too technical, but hair is a filamentous biomaterial primarily composed of protein, most of which is keratin that grows from follicles found in your dermis. It’s one of the more defining characteristics of a “mammal” and the human body is actually covered in these follicles which produce both very thin hair, called vellus hair, and thick or coarse hair called “terminal” hair. Where the human fascination with hair comes into play is where it applies to hair removal and styling. These vary of course based on geographical location, culture and historical periods, but more than any other physical characteristic, hair is used in modern times to indicate who that person is and what they stand for. For instance, hair can be highly indicative of a persons personal beliefs, gender, often sexual orientation and social position. It can reflect their religion, their position in the workforce and even their age. In fact, it’s been said by many that a hair style is more important than the clothing you wear or the shoes you walk in, and in recent studies, women across most first world countries have said that one of the first things they notice about a man is his hair, over and above his shoes, his clothing, his smile and even his eyes.
For the true gentleman, hair is a very important characteristic and in most cases, is properly cared for the same as any other accessory we wear in public. I myself spend more time on my hair than most women I know and my side of the bathroom is packed full with three times as many products in comparison to my wife, our son and our daughter combined.
From pomades, to waxes, gels to creams. I have oils and lotions, conditioners and shampoos. Currently in stock, I have twelve different products that I use strictly for styling depending on what I want my hair to look like each day.
Hair Tips from the Pros
Marilisa, the artistic director at Marc Anthony, was on break from shooting Dancing with the Stars, when she sat down with me to discuss some of the top tips she gives her male clients. Well known as a celebrity stylist in Europe as well as North America, Marilisa has been a driving force behind the hair hitting red carpets at the Academy Awards, the Grammys and the Emmys. She has a strong celebrity portfolio, including Fergie, Tilda Swinton, Eva Longoria, Yoko Ono, Emily Mortimer, Keanu Reeves, Terrence Howard and Chris Martin of the band Cold Play.
From the set of Dancing with the Stars in Los Angeles, Marilisa chatted with me in detail about her love of classic mens styles.
“It’s a bit of a cliche but I think most of the mistakes are made by just regular guys”, says Marilisa. “The kind of shaggy long hair, which looks so good when it’s done right, is not about just walking out of the shower and leaving the house. Put in a bit of effort” she stresses.
The fact is that your hair doesn’t have to look contrived. “You can have messy, sexy long hair”, adds Marilisa, but she makes sure to point out that the foundation behind it needs to be a good cut, with equally good product.
When it comes to communicating with a stylist, every single expert I interviewed said that bringing a picture in with you is the one of the best ways to communicate. “I just had a client come in with a picture of Ashton Kutcher”, says Marilisa. “That’s all it takes”.
Amanda Shackleton, a celebrity stylist with clients that include Javier Bardem, Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Hunnam, Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett and Ricky Martin, echoed that sentiment.
“Communication is a big thing but most men don’t know the terminology and so it’s completely off” she says. “They think they’re describing it but they’re actually describing something completely different.”
Experts agreed that one of the best ways to find a good stylist is when you see someone on the street with a great style, stop and ask who did it and go there. Also if you’re looking for a specific cut, ask the stylist if they’ve done it before because not all stylists train in the same cuts – especially the retro cuts.
“Super cheap salons are usually only trained for a standard buzz cut. Nothing more”, says Shackleton. “They’re trying to get you in and out. Find someone who will take the time to talk with you.”
How often should we be going to get hair cuts?
One thing that four of the five stylists agreed on was that all good stylists should offer you a free trim two weeks later.
“What I do especially with guys with shorter cuts is I make them come back in two weeks and there’s no charge”, says Marilisa. “Sometimes they come in and it’s like we’ve hit this spot on and it’s gonna last and sometimes I’m like wow its already really thick around the ear so I’ll tweak it when he’s in there.”
Ways to maintain a haircut.
The best tip is to aim for a cut that works. As Marilisa says, “if your hair is super curly and you want a specific cut it’s you that has to commit not me. I can make it look however you want it to when you leave but that’s not a guarantee that you can do it.”
Just because a style looks good on someone else, doesn’t mean it will work well for you without some serious commitment. If you’re going against the natural hair then you have to realize you may have to blow it out or use a flat iron or a wave iron.
In addition, you might have to buy two products instead of one and spend a fair bit of time styling your hair each day. The further away from your natural hair that you’re moving the more you have to commit to it.
When it comes to maintaining the quality of the cut it’s important to forget what your mama told you and stop washing your hair everyday.
“I don’t like it when people wash hair everyday”, says Shackleton. “Hair is so much easier to work with and looks better after the second day – and it’s so much healthier.”
All the experts agreed that daily washing and conditioning strips the natural oils from your hair which it relies on to stay healthy and beautiful.
“Hair should not be squeaky clean”, says Paul Wilson, the Artistic Director at American Crew. “We recommend to try and work a lighter shampoo regimen in. We are challenging every guy to experiment with that. If you really want to shampoo every day, try just using a conditioner instead as it will function as a scalp toner to clean the hair and remove product and sweat, but it doesn’t strip that layer of natural oils”.
The next question on my list was about styling products. What I wanted to know was whether the styling products sold in drugstores really compared to the salon brands that can cost upwards of $100.
McPomades vs. Salon Products
“I’m selling you a cure for your insecurities”, says Marilisa, the celebrity stylist who also serves as the Artistic Director for Marc Anthony. “You have to play in the field you can afford. My advice is if it works, use it and then every once in awhile get yourself a better shampoo and conditioner or a treatment every six weeks to re-moisturize.”
Kailey Gousseau, a third-generation stylist, former model and educator for the world renowned Farouk doesn’t agree.
“I believe you pay for what you get”, says Gousseau. “All those lower end products like Dippity Doo have so much silicone in them which is the worst thing you can put on your hair”.
According to Gousseau, the only water based silicone is Dimethicone and if you put a non-water silicone in your hair, it will melt under heat like a sheet of plastic.
Paul Wilson agreed about the quality of the ingredients but did admit that less expensive ‘McPomades’ can achieve the same styling results.
“There is a quality control issue. Professional brands are meant to be distributed in professional salons”, says Wilson. “Brands professionally developed are going to be of a higher quality, but when it comes to performance there’s good and bad everywhere. You can find a product at the drug store that does what it’s supposed to do but I would suspect the quality of that product and the ingredients in it are subpar.”
Gousseau and Wilson both warn customers about buying salon products at non-salon stores. As it turns out, even the products sold at stores like Walmart cannot be guaranteed to meet the brands quality control requirements, and as Gousseau puts it, often they’re watered down.
So What are the Best Hair Products For Men?
I asked each stylist for their recommendations and I also put in a few suggestions of my own in no particular order.
Murray’s Superior Hair Dressing Pomade:
You may recall that I said to stick with the more expensive products, but there’s an exception to every rule. For literally $3-4, you can order a tin of this ridiculously fantastic pomade. It’s been around since 1926 and hasn’t changed since its birth. We published a separate Pomade Guide here, so check it out and bear in mind that some people get horrible pomade acne, so definitely read it before you try our pomade. Sold in a vintage orange tin from the same barbershop that created it, the pomade is revered by stylists worldwide who praise it for its versatility and ability to create any style. Numerous celebrities worship this pomade and it has an ability to add texture, shine and lift while holding the hair in place all day. To use the product effectively, you’ll need to warm the wax in order for it to be pliable. You can warm it by rubbing your palm together or under the heat of a hair dryer, but I prefer to simply put a small dollop in a heat proof shave bowl and let it sit in a sink filled with hot water. It will take some practice to get used to but in the end you’ll love it. The negatives are that it is very, very sticky and thick (similar to beeswax) and will need to be shampooed out at night or you’ll find it all over your pillow the next morning. Because it was originally formulated to stay in the hair, getting it out can be extremely difficult. You’ll want to use a strong clarifying shampoo or liquid dishwashing soap and really work it into dry hair. Then, once it’s worked in, slowly add small amounts of water to build foam and continue the process before rinsing. Some stylists even recommend washing it out with Coca-Cola or using a hair dryer and a fine tooth comb to melt the wax and pull it out. In addition, some people find that it can cause acne on the forehead or even a rash. For those who do get acne, Amanda Shackleton suggests using some rice paper on your forehead during the application, or combining a mixture of half water, half rubbing alcohol with a few drops of an essential oil in a spray bottle. Spray your forehead before and after to keep the acne under control. There are also lighter variants sold now as well for those who don’t like the heavy texture the original pomade is known for.
Acne Pomade & Thick Hair Alternative – göt2b Spiking Gel
Gentleman’s Gazette founder Sven Raphael Schneider, tried Pomade for a while until he realized he suffered from Pomade Acne. However, he has very thick, stubborn hair and so he was looking for an alternative product that allowed him to create a nice look with a part that would keep his hair in place. After experimenting for over 6 months, it turned out that the water soluble spiking glue gel from göt2b was the only gel strong enough to keep his hair in place. Interestingly, other göt2b products did not work for him at all. He has been using the gel in the yellow tube for over three years, and his hair looks great. It’s priced around $6-8 in the U.S. in most drug stores but since it is a product by Henkel it should be available around the globe.
This is another standard in my house and truth, be told, one of my favorite products. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of Murray’s pomade and will actually condition your hair as it sits in it. It was initially developed in 1928 and is known for that classic sleek look that’s been recently emulated by the cast of MadMen and Boardwalk Empire. The pomade is an emulsion of water and mineral oil that’s stabilized with beeswax. It feels like lotion or a light cream and with a small amount, will provide you with a light hold that is pliable all day long, or with larger amounts will result in a high shine with a medium to strong hold. It’s extremely versatile and is easily washed out without any sweat or tears. Long hair or short, it’s well worth trying – and it’s very inexpensive.
Marc Anthony Mousse and Hairspray
Marc Anthony is a Canadian company and while they don’t make products for “men”, their lineup can be used by any gender. What I really like about the mousse is that it’s not like those old sticky and flaky mousses your mom used to use. It’s very light, provides a nice medium hold and isn’t overly sticky. The same is what attracts me to the hairspray. It’s not sticky, nor does it flake, but it provides a really great shine and finishes the style almost like lemon juice on apples. That’s really what I use it for is just finishing. On a windy day, I attribute the spray to what holds down my hair. Shampoo about $7, Hairspray with Argan Oil $21.
Dove Men+Care Aqua Impact Shampoo
One of the other stylists I interviewed was Jason Schneidman, who is knowns as “The Men’s Groomer” on Los Angeles’ famous street Rodeo Drive. In addition to being the Dove Men+Care expert, Jason regularly grooms Hollywood’s best coiffed men, with regular clients including Hugh Jackman, Rob Lowe, Bruno Mars, Jonah Hill, and more. He’s worked at almost every televised award show as well as attending the Super Bowl as Bruno Mars’ stylist for the half time show.
While we mostly discussed Dove products, he did send me a bottle of this shampoo to try. While it’s not a styling product, it was evident how well it moisturized and my hairs luster was visible. I even tested it by quite literally smearing product all over my hair. One wash and it was all gone without much effort at all. Priced at around $5 per bottle.
Other products to try
malin+goetz sage styling cream
Baxter of California
Rewind by Redken
CHI Man Groom and Hold Finishing Spray
It seemed that each stylist could have gone on for days with tips, tricks and red flags to watch for when it comes to mens hair. In the end, what it really comes down to is finding a stylist you trust, determining what product you like and being sure to choose a cut and style that works with your hair and face shape.
What are the best hair products for men in your opinion?
Special thank you to Amanda Shackleton, Marilisa, Jason Schneidman, Paul Wilson and Kailey Gousseau.
Numerous products and services provided by Marc Anthony, Dove Men+Care and Kailey Gousseau. Only the products that proved superlative were recommended in this article.