There’s no beating around the bush. Pomades, waxes, and gels are helpful for styling that classic, vintage slicked-back look. But are they essential? Not necessarily. You’re about to learn how to slick back your hair without using gel or other styling products.
Don’t get me wrong – it isn’t as easy.
The beauty of high-shine pomades and gels is that their shine and hold often does a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
In addition, that shine often goes hand-in-hand with that 50’s greaser aesthetic people look to achieve with slicked-back styles.
But there are plenty of men out there who would rather not slather that goo onto their hair every morning. In other words, they prefer to go natural.
Before I give you a step-by-step routine to slick back your hair with no product, it’s important to understand the key points behind how it’s done.
Let’s get to it.
4 Things You Need To Slick Back Hair Without Gel Or Product
These principles are going to underpin the tutorial later on. It’s what you need in order to do it – the logic behind the process.
This is probably the most important point. In order to slick back your hair and have it stay that way for prolonged periods of time, you’ll need hair that’s long enough to do it.
In general, you’ll need your hair to be at least 3.5 to 4 inches long to slick it back. Even if you were using product, trying to slick back hair shorter than this will always cause problems.
Pull your forelock (hair above the forehead) straight down and see what point it reaches. Although this will vary from one man to another, it should usually reach at least a third of the way down the nose.
The most accurate way to measure it would be to simply grab a ruler and be precise about it. If you don’t think it’s long enough, give it more time before you try it.
You’ll find that with the right training, your hair will become easier to shape the way you want to.
So, if you’re aiming for a slicked-back style but don’t want to use any gel, start training it.
One way of doing so would be to use caps, headbands, or bandanas to keep the hair gently pulled back whenever you’re able to. For example, even when you’re just lounging around the house.
You don’t want to do this for hours on end, as prolonged traction on the hair can cause some to get pulled out.
But for 15 minutes here or there, it’s worth doing. It’ll make it easier to slick the hair back when you’re styling because it’s more used to lying in that direction. In addition, it’ll be more likely to stay that way after styling.
When you’re not using product to slick back your hair, you’ll want to take advantage of other tools that may be at your disposal.
Heat will help. Blow-drying the hair or even using a flat iron will keep the hair flatter and straighter, making it more responsive and easier to work and push back.
It’s best to use heat-protective spray whenever using any form of heat near your hair and also using medium-heat settings instead of high heat.
You’ll often find that when you’re not using a styling product with hold, the hair may stay back for a short while before flopping forward or to the sides.
It just doesn’t have enough strength to stay in place.
So, it’s even more important to apply pressure to the hair when styling in order to keep it slicked back for longer.
This pressure can come in different forms.
One would be the air from the blow-dryer itself. Use it to your advantage and blow-dry straight back.
Another form would be from a brush or comb. Using one to push the hair back while blow-drying is a good way to combine these two forms of pressure.
How To Slick Back Hair Without Gel Or Product
Now that you’ve learned the logic behind the process, let’s go through a simple routine you can use to tie it all together.
1. Grow And Train
This is what you’ll need to do before you go forward with the rest. You’ll want to grow the hair so that it’s long enough to slick back.
Aim for around 4 inches of length.
Start training it. Brush it or comb it back regularly, while occasionally using a cap, hairnet, bandana, or headband to secure it in place in this position.
Just 15 minutes or so at a time. Nothing excessive and don’t pull it back too hard. Be gentle.
If your hair isn’t long enough yet – don’t rush into trying to slick it back. You’ll be wasting your time. While you’re waiting for that magical day when it is long enough, you can try a side-slicked style instead.
2. Wash The Hair
When your hair gets to a point where it’s long enough to slick back comfortably, you’ll want to wash it before starting the styling process.
Clean hair is more responsive and easier to shape. Greasy and oily hair is weighed down and usually tangled; it’s less likely to stay the way you want it to.
In addition, washing the hair before you slick it back is a good opportunity to get it moist. After towel-drying, your hair will be wet enough to slick back, but not so wet that it’s weighed down.
You can choose to shampoo and condition the hair if you wish to. But doing so too often can lead to drying the hair out too much. Having some natural oil in your hair is useful for slicking back the hair.
Figure out how greasy your hair gets and decide how often you need to shampoo your hair to maintain this balance.
So, wash the hair (with or without conditioner) and towel-dry it until it’s damp.
3. Add Some Pre-Styler
I know – I promised a no-product method. Trust me, this isn’t an essential step. However, it sure does help.
Adding some pre-styler after you’ve washed it and before styling will make the hair a lot more responsive and easier to slick back.
It isn’t a “product” in the same way that gels, pomades, waxes, and clays are, but strictly speaking you could argue that it was.
If you aren’t a fan, move onto the next step.
But if you’re willing to use it, apply some pre-styler at this point. The type you use really depends on what you’re looking to do, which often depends on the type and texture of your hair.
For example, if you’ve got frizzy hair, you could go for a smoothing pre-styler that’ll make it easier to manage. If you’ve got thin or fine hair, you could add volume with a thickening tonic pre-styler.
Apply it to your hair and use your fingers or a comb to work it into your hair from root-to-tip. Really get in there.
Use this opportunity to start slicking it back; you could even use your comb or brush to do so.
Whether or not you chose to use a pre-styler, this is the point where you blow-dry your hair backward.
It’s the pressure you’ll need to keep it in place.
Set it to a medium-heat setting and start blow-drying straight back while combing or brushing.
What you choose to use to brush or comb backward is up to you. If you prefer to use your fingers, go for it. Finger-combing is a good way to add some texture and for a messier or more tousled look.
You could choose to use a brush, like a vent brush, or a comb. It’s worth experimenting with both to see which one you prefer.
5. Wear A Hairnet, Hairband, Or Cap
This isn’t essential. You may find that the previous steps are enough to keep your hair in place. But since we’re not using any product here, you may find that your slicked-back hair starts to lose its form after an hour or so.
If you’re finding that this is the case, after you’ve blow-dried and brushed/combed it back, keep it in place with a cap, hairband, or hairnet for around 15 minutes or so.
Just like you do when you’re casually training the hair to stay back.
This should keep it in place for even longer periods of time after you’ve styled it.
What If You Can’t Slick It Back Without Product?
Unfortunately, there will be some men who simply can’t slick their hair back without product. It does partly depend on factors that may be out of your control, like texture and thickness.
If this is the case, you may need to resort to using some styling product to get the job done.
You may not be a fan of gel due to its stiff hold and occasional flaking, but there are other products you could use to get the job done that you may not have considered before.
Styling cream is one option. It gives you a natural finish and a pliable, low-medium hold. It’s not shiny like a pomade and it’s not stiff like a gel.
It’s a great option for men who want their hair to look like there isn’t much product in it, even though there may be.
If you’re looking for a stronger hold than this, but still want a matte-to-natural finish, clay may be a better option.
It may not be the classic product used for slicked-back hair, as pomades are definitely more common for this style.
However, it does get the job done and will keep your hair slicked back for longer periods of time.
The point of all of this is that there are many styling products available to you. Pomades, waxes, gels, clays, creams, pastes, putties, and more.
There’s a good chance that one of them may do exactly what you want it to. It’s just about experimenting and finding it.
There you have it. As you can see, it’s possible, but not easy.
Try out the routine and see whether you’re one of those men who find it easy to slick back their hair naturally, or whether you may need to resort to using some product.
Just remember that if you do need to use one, there are plenty of styling products to choose from.
Experiment and enjoy.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.