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Water-Based Pomades: A Complete Guide And How To Use

January 18, 2021
Water-Based Pomades: A Complete Guide And How To Use

Choosing between hair products is honestly less complicated and technical than people make it out to be. Understand some basic principles and you’ll be fine. 

Learning what water-based pomades are all about is a great way to get to grips with some of these principles. 

You’re about to learn everything you need to know. 

What they are, how to identify them, who they’re best for, how to use them, and more. 

Although they’re pretty versatile as far as hair products go, they definitely aren’t for everyone. After this, you should have a much better idea of whether or not they’re for you and your specific hair. 

Let’s get to it. 

What Is A Water-Based Pomade? 

A water-based pomade is a water-soluble styling product where the core ingredient is water. They have a gel-like consistency and are typically expected to provide shine and the ability to slick the hair. In addition, they generally dry hard and wash out easily. 

They are often compared with hair gels because of their texture, easy emulsification, and stiffening effect. 

example of the uppercut deluxe pomade on the palm
One of my water-based pomades – Uppercut Deluxe. Notice the gel-like consistency and smooth emulsification.

They’re a good option for men who are drawn towards classic, vintage, rockabilly hairstyles such as slick-backs and pompadours but don’t want to deal with the hassle of oil-based pomades. 

How To Tell If A Pomade Is Water-Based? 

You can tell that a pomade is water-based if the first ingredient is listed as “aqua”, “water”, or “eau”. 

As the first ingredient listed is usually the core, it’s a pretty safe bet that the pomade is water-based. 

ingredients for water based pomades

There is then usually a list of other compounds, often including glycerin which helps to absorb water. 

There may be wax ingredients listed as well, such as beeswax or lanolin. However, these are not the core ingredients and will be listed lower down. They help to give the product a smooth consistency and also reduce moisture loss. 

Compare this with oil-based pomades where the first ingredient will usually be petroleum, petrolatum, beeswax, paraffin, or a different oily substance. 

The Pros And Cons Of Water Based Pomades

The main benefits of water-based pomades are the strong hold they usually provide, the ability to wash them out easily, as well as their easy emulsification and smooth distribution. 

Let’s dig into those a little deeper, before discussing their disadvantages as well. As you’ll quickly realize, there’s quite a lot of overlap between the pros and cons. 

A pro for one man may actually be a con for another. 

water based pomade infographic


Here are the main reasons why a lot of men are drawn towards water-based pomades.

1. They Produce A Strong Hold

Although different water-based pomades will achieve different levels of hold, in general, you can expect a medium-to-heavy hold from them. 

The reason for this is that they dry hard. Once they’re applied, you can expect your style to go stiff after a pretty short period of time. 

This is often why they’re compared to typical hair gels.

As I’ll soon explain, there are plenty of men who don’t like this effect. 

But there are others who like the fact that they can rely on their style to stay in place for prolonged periods of time thanks to this hardening effect. 

2. They Easily Wash Out

This is a big one. 

One of the main problems people have with oil-based pomades is that they’re difficult to wash out. You really won’t be able to without a shampoo wash (or multiple shampoo washes). 

Thanks to water-based pomades being water-soluble, washing it out is actually a piece of cake. 

You can easily wash it out and sleep with a product-free head of hair each and every night. Plus, you should usually be able to do it without the need for any shampoo. 

For men who don’t want any build-up of product in their hair, this is ideal. 

Having said this, there are men who do like the build-up of oil-based products in their hair because it means they have to use less of it over time. 

Each to their own. 

3. They’re Easy To Apply 

As soon as you scoop out a water-based pomade and spread it in between your palms, you’ll notice just how light and smooth it is. 

It really does have a gel-like feel to it and breaks down very easily indeed. You shouldn’t have any bits or chunks left behind. 

This smoothness is obvious as it’s applied to the hair as it distributes through so easily. You’ll have minimal tugging and pulling with just a small amount of resistance. 

Oil-based pomades are more work to apply. They take longer to emulsify and break down and you’ll have more resistance as you work it through. You may even need some heat to help you out. 

So, for men looking for a quick and easy application, water-based would be the way to go. 

4. They’re Shiny And Slick

For men who love classic, glossy, and slicked hairstyles but also love the ease and convenience that a basic gel would give, water-based pomades are a great option. 

Although matte and low shine hairstyles are very popular at the moment, there are still a lot of men who are drawn towards that vintage ‘50s “greaser” aesthetic. 

Men back then would definitely have used a traditional oil-based hair product to get that slicked, shiny appearance. But men nowadays have a more convenient and lower maintenance option – water-based pomades. 


Here are some of the main reasons men give for disliking water-based pomades and opting for oil-based pomades or a completely different type of product altogether. 

1. You Can’t Restyle

This is thanks to the hardening effect. 

Although it’s stiff hold was listed as an advantage earlier, the same effect would lead some men to shy away from it. 

Many men dislike the fact that once their hair is set there’s very little they can do with it. Although the hold you’ll get from water-based pomades is strong, you can definitely expect some loss of shape as the day goes on. 

This is something you’d expect from any hair product. 

But due to the stiff hold, you won’t be able to restyle it during the day without softening it up with some water first. 

Oil-based pomades, on the other hand, don’t dry stiff. You could easily whip out a comb during the day and restyle it as you please. 

2. You’ll Lose Some Shine 

Don’t get me wrong – the shine you can get from a quality water-based pomade can be impressive. 

But you can never expect it to be as shiny as the shiniest oil-based pomades, as you can get very shiny with these indeed. 

In addition, during the course of the day, you’ll notice that you’ll lose shine quicker than you would with an oil-based pomade. 

3. It Isn’t Rain-Resistant

This may sound obvious, but as it’s water-soluble, you can expect your hairstyle to flop flat once exposed to the rain. 

Remember, the pros and cons are quite interlinked when it comes to water-based pomades (and hair products in general). 

It may wash out easily in the shower, but you can expect the same due to rainwater, potentially in the middle of the day when it’s least convenient. 

4. Cheaper Products Can Flake And Crunch

The hold you get with the cheaper water-based pomades can be a little uncomfortable to the touch. 

It can sometimes feel crunchy and very unnatural, a lot like what you’d expect from a cheap and poor quality hair gel. 

In addition, cheaper water-based pomades can flake as well. 

It’s not something to worry about too much – just make a point to not go for the most budget option you can find. 

There are some good-quality yet affordable products like Cool Grease Blue Pomade (Amazon Link) that are water-based but don’t dry up too crunchy or flaky.  

Water-Based Pomades: Hair Types

As I mentioned earlier, they aren’t for everyone. Doing a general “review” of hair products or a specific type of hair product isn’t usually helpful. 

A product may work fantastically well for one man’s hair and terribly for another. The same goes for water-based pomades. 

I’ve split hair types into three categories: thickness, length, and straightness. Let’s talk through who these products would be better suited to. 

Thick Vs Thin Hair

Water-based pomades work best for men with medium-thickness to thick hair. Men with thin or fine hair may find that water-based pomades are too shiny and reveal too much of the scalp. 

Thin hair will naturally clump together once bound by a water-based pomade and this will make the hair look even thinner. 

These men would be better suited to clays or creams that give a more subtle shine or even a matte finish. 

There may be thin-haired men that are still keen to get the shine and definition that a water-based pomade can achieve. 

Using a thickening pre-styler (eg. a mousse or tonic) beforehand should help to add some fullness. This is often what I do because if I don’t, my hair is just too fine to make it work. 

Men with thick hair have the benefit of using shinier products like this. The thicker the hair, the stronger the necessary hold, however. 

Long Vs Short Hair

Water-based pomades can be used on both long and short hair, but are better suited to medium-length or long hair that’s capable of being slicked back or to the side. 

This really goes hand-in-hand with the fact that pomades are better suited to these glossy styles. 

Remember, the longer the hair, the stronger the hold the water-based pomade will need to have to keep it in place. 

Curly Vs Straight Hair

Water-based pomades can be used on either curly or straight hair. They’re versatile in this respect. 

They can give curls great definition and shine in the same way they would for straight hair. 

Don’t worry too much about the straightness of the hair when deciding whether this is the product for you. Focus your decision on whether your hair is the right thickness and length for the product instead. 

How To Use A Water Based Pomade In 6 Steps

Here’s a simple, step-by-step routine you can use to style a classic, slicked hairstyle that pomades are known for. 

Example of a slicked back hairstyle
From Shutterstock

1. Wash And Pre-Style

Applying the product to clean hair is often more effective because it’s easier to distribute the product through. 

It’ll detangle the hair and prepare it for a smooth application. 

You can choose to rinse it with water alone, as any residual water-based pomade will easily wash out. Or, you could choose to shampoo it for a more thorough cleanse. 

Once you’ve done this, towel-dry it. 

At this point, you can choose to add some pre-styler if you wish to. It isn’t essential, however. 

It’s especially helpful if you’ve got thin or fine hair as a thickening tonic or mousse can add fullness at this point. Remember, pomades can make thin hair look even thinner and so thickening it up beforehand would be a good idea. 

Smoothening pre-stylers can also reduce frizz and straighten out the hair a little. This is often preferred when going for glossy and slicked hairstyles. 

2. Dry As Required

At this point, you can choose to blow-dry if you wish to. Blow-drying can add fullness and volume, particularly if done while using a tool like a curling brush. 

It’s a great way to use some gentle pressure to start moving the hair in the direction you’ll eventually want to slick it into using the pomade. 

Alternatively, you may prefer to leave the hair damp. Applying the water-based pomade to damp hair will give you a shinier finish while applying it to dry hair will give you a less shiny finish. 

It’s down to personal preference. 

But don’t apply it to soaking wet hair – the water will dissolve the water-soluble product. In addition, the weight of the water will prevent the hair from holding in place. 

3. Apply The Water-Based Pomade

Start with a fingertip-sized amount and begin working it into your hair. 

You’ll notice that the water-based pomade scoops out incredibly easily (like a gel) and emulsifies (breaks down) quickly as you spread it in between the palms. It really won’t take long at all. 

You’ll want to initially apply it in the opposite direction you’ll eventually slick it into. 

Let’s assume you’ll eventually slick it directly back – a popular choice for pomades. 

Start applying the pomade in a forwards direction, as this will ensure an even distribution at the end. 

Using your fingers to do this is fine. 

4. Sweep It In Your Desired Direction

Again, let’s assume you’re slicking the hair back. Remember, the same concepts apply for side-slicked styles as well. For the sake of this tutorial, we’re assuming a slicked-back style. 

Start sweeping the hair backwards. If you find that you’d like some more shine and definition, scoop up another fingertip-sized amount of product. 

When sweeping it backwards, you can choose to use your fingers for a less defined look. If you’d like a more classic, neat, and tidy slick-back, use a comb. 

The evenly-spaced teeth of a comb will create even comb lines from front-to-back. 

So, use either your fingers or a comb with one hand to slick it back, with the palm of your other hand following it through to apply pressure. 

5. Contour And Define

Now that the bulk of the work is done, you can add some volume and contouring if you wish to. 

For example, using the comb you can lift the hair at the front to create a small pomp. A blow-dryer could also be used to add more volume at the front here. 

You can also use the comb to add definition to the side parting – this is also very popular with slicked hairstyles and does give it a classic rockabilly aesthetic. 

Again, a blow-dryer with a concentrator nozzle attached can define the side parting further by flattening the hair on either side of it. 

6. Flatten The Sides

Finally, flatten the sides. It can be easy to forget the sides, as most of the attention is focused on the hair on top. 

You can choose to use more of the water-based pomade at this point as well if you’d prefer. 

Use your palms to flatten any flyaways and stray hairs at the sides. 

How To Wash Out A Water Based Pomade

Washing out a water-based pomade is done by simply rinsing the hair with lukewarm water, with or without shampoo. The relative lack of waxy ingredients reduces the need for shampoo to fully remove the pomade. 

The ease with which they can be washed out is one of the main benefits of water-based pomades. 

However, some will be easier to wash out than others. It really depends on just how much wax is included as an ingredient. 

Remember, although water is the main ingredient, water-based pomades will often include substances like lanolin wax and beeswax. The ease with which they wash out will often depend on just how much of these ingredients are included. 

The more of it that’s included, the more likely it is that you may need to use some shampoo to fully remove the pomade. 

Water-Based Pomades: Comparisons

There are certain other types of hair products that are often compared to it, and it can be difficult to fully appreciate the differences. 

Let’s talk through a few of them to really clear up any confusion. 

Water-Based Pomade Vs Gel

Water-based pomades are generally less drying than hair gels and are less likely to cause flaking and crunch. 

These two products are very frequently compared, with some even going as far as calling water-based pomades “glorified hair gels”. 

The reason for this is that they have several features in common; shine, an easy application, a stiff hold, and an easy washout. 

But in general, you can expect a more “mature-looking” hold with water-based pomades than with gels. 

The shine is more nuanced, the hold is less crunchy, and you’re less likely to get flaking. 

Don’t get me wrong – if you compare a poor-quality water-based pomade with a high-quality gel, you’ll most likely see the opposite. 

But in general, if you compare the average water-based pomade with the average gel, you can expect better quality results with the pomade. 

Water-Based Pomade Vs Wax

Unlike water-based pomades, waxes will provide a hold that doesn’t harden up and can be restyled throughout the day. Waxes are also generally harder to wash out of the hair than water-based pomades. 

Waxes can be quite hard to define in terms of what they are and what they do. In general, however, you can expect them to provide a medium-to-high hold and some shine. 

The main type of men who would go for a wax instead of a water-based pomade would be those who want a softer, more pliable hold. 

Water-Based Pomade Vs Clay

Water-based pomades produce a glossier and more defined finish, while clays will produce a more matte finish and are better for more textured styles. 

These two types of hair product are actually very different. 

Clays often contain ingredients such as bentonite and kaolin which help to give fullness to the hair. 

This together with its matte finish make them an excellent option for men with thin or fine hair. 

Ultimately, if you’re looking for low shine and a medium-to-high hold, go for a clay. If you’d prefer a high shine with a medium-to-high hold, a water-based pomade would probably be better. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s round things up by answering some frequently asked questions on this popular type of hair product. 

What Is An Unorthodox Water-Based Pomade? 

Unorthodox water-based pomades are pomades that have water as their core ingredient but don’t harden up and can be restyled, unlike traditional water-based pomades. 

In a way, they take the best aspects of water-based pomades and oil-based pomades and mix them together. 

They can be easily washed out like a water-based pomade, but can also be restyled like an oil-based pomade. 

Can You Mix An Oil-Based And A Water-Based Pomade?

In general, water-based and oil-based pomades shouldn’t be mixed. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t draw the best features of each and the resulting mixture will be awkward and difficult to apply. 

If you’re looking for a way to get the “best of both worlds”, go for an unorthodox water-based pomade instead. 

Are Water-Based Pomades Bad For Your Hair? 

Water-based pomades usually aren’t bad for the hair as they do often contain moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin, lanolin, and castor oil. 

However, if used excessively they can dry the hair out over time. In addition, the presence of parabens and fragrances can trigger sensitivities. 

It’s always a good idea to do a patch test before applying the product to your hair to ensure you aren’t sensitive to it. 

Can Water-Based Pomades Be Used For Waves? 

Water-based pomades can be used to hold and lay down waves, but oil-based pomades are usually more popular for this purpose because of the extra shine they produce. 

It really depends on what you value when it comes to waves. If you’d rather have a stiffer hold with the ability to easily wash out the product, a water-based pomade would be better. 

If, on the other hand, you’d rather have a slicker and more prominent shine to your waves, an oil-based pomade would be better. 

Are There Different Types Of Water-Based Pomades?

The types of water-based pomades are best categorized into orthodox and unorthodox types. Unorthodox types are better for restyling while still being easy to wash out. 

Other than that, you can expect water-based pomades to all achieve the same effects; shine, slickness, and a medium-to-high hold. 

How Long Do Water Based Pomades Last?

Water-based pomades do expire and will eventually go rancid, but can be expected to last more than a year on average. 

In general, you can expect oil-based pomades to last longer, although they do also expire. 

Another thing to note is that you will usually use up a jar of water-based pomade quicker than you would a jar of oil-based pomade. 

The main reason for this is build-up. 

As I explained, oil-based pomade sticks around in the hair for longer and is harder to wash out. As a result, you’ll find that you’ll need to use less of the pomade as the week goes on, unless you give the hair an especially thorough shampoo rinse. 

In other words, you’ll get more for your money. 

Water-based pomades rinse out easily and you’ll have to use the same amount of product each time. As a result, you’ll most likely get through the jar quicker. 


This guide has hopefully cleared up most of what you wanted to know. 

It’s a fun product to try out and experiment with, considering just how easy it is to rinse out. 

If you aren’t a fan, try out some of the other types of products I mentioned in this article. It’s all about finding the right product for your specific hair type. 

Hopefully, this has gotten you a step closer to finding out.