It’s the new guy on the block, but hair clay is soon going to be the hair product of choice for many men. It offers hold, volume, and a matte finish. When you’ve been jealous of the natural good style of celebs that clearly don’t have any product in their hair, you’ve actually been coveting their little tub of hair clay. It creates perfectly messy styles with ease… and did we mention the volume?
Is it really clay?
Yes, it really is clay. Well, most products are made with actual clay - usually bentonite, kaolin, or a combination of the two. But, there are a few that make the most of ground wax ingredients. These behave like clay, but don’t offer the benefits of working with an ingredient like bentonite which is derived from volcanic ash. Bentonite swells with water, making your hair appear fuller when it binds to the hair shaft. And, it does this without drying your hair or scalp.
What kind of hold do hair clays offer?
As with many men’s styling products, hair clays offer a range of holds. There are those that provide a high hold similar to strong pomades and approaching gels.
But, it’s more common to find hair clays that have a medium hold - it’s enough to get your hair into place, but guys in windy cities won’t find it holds up throughout the day.
And, there are also a few clays that are so light that you may need to use a hairspray to keep your do in place. These clays are more often used as a pre-styler that thickens your hair while adding a fair amount of texture. Good, right?
What kind of shine do hair clays offer?
You’re not going to find any discussion regarding the finish of styling clays - they’re totally matte. No, really. If you want to make it look like there is nothing in your hair whatsoever, this is the product to turn to. That said, you can add a little water into the mix when applying it to your hair for a slight shine, but if you end up with a serious sheen, there’s something wrong with the product.
What types of styles benefit from hair clays?
If you want a slick, sleek look, you’re in the wrong place. You would never use a hair clay for a formal style. For a start, it doesn’t have the shine you would want. More importantly, it adds volume to your hair as the clay attaches to the hair shaft and expands. You will get volume whether you want it or not. Even guys with thinning hair will agree that makes it difficult to work into a suitable style for a traditional black tie event. (May we suggest a wax for these types of styles?)
But, hair clay is a champion when it comes to everyday, messy styles. If you want to make it look like you’re naturally blessed with amazing hair, you need this product. We’re serious about the volume it adds - and it usually does it without weighing down your hair, which makes it an appropriate choice for guys with long or thick hair.
In general, you would reach for your clay when you want a messy bed head style or a brush-up style. It doesn’t do bad with low pompadours (though you may not find the level of hold or shine you want - at least not one that lasts throughout the day). Waxes are better for serious pompadours if that’s what you want.
Guys with slightly longer hair will achieve amazing shaggy styles with a hair clay. They’re not bad at controlling the frizz, which makes it a great choice for men that fight that battle every day.
You’ve definitely seen hair clays at work on Daniel Radcliffe in recent days (and perhaps his informal style should define the clay ideal), but it’s also a George Clooney sort of a look and we’ve seen Colin Farrell make the most of hair clays as well. Basically - the go-to when you want to appear approachable and carefree.
What types of hair can make the most of hair clay?
There are a lot of men that really will benefit from working with a hair clay. Though it dries to a matte finish, it’s really not a drying product (which is more or less opposite of hair gel).
- Straight hair. What can’t you use? No really. Of course, it’s more a matter of whether you have thin or thick hair and whether you wear it short or long. But, if you were desperate to make the most of hair clay, you probably can. The clay will add some texture and volume to your do without making it look as though you have any product in it.
- Wavy hair. There are those that say you should pass the hair clay by - simply because waves and curls tend to look their healthiest when they have a sheen to them. The matte finish of clay isn’t going to give you that - but it generally looks fantastic on guys pursuing the bed head look with medium-length waves.
- Short hair. Go to town with hair clay. Okay - don’t add too much; that never looks good, even with a matt finish product. But, short to medium hair styles can usually make the most of hair clay’s natural finish with the good lift it provides.
- Thick hair. We’re going to place a little caveat here - if your hair is really, really thick, please stay away from clay as you’ll get clown-sized dos when the product binds to your hair. But, if you’re more likely to say, “Well, my hair isn’t thin,” then you’ve come to the right place. Double that if your hair often appears a little too greasy when applying a pomade or wax.
- Thin hair. For the most part, hair clay will work for you - as it adds volume and it’s generally lightweight enough that it won’t weigh your hair down. But, if you find it starts making your hair appear flat and lifeless, you may want to move towards a gel.
- Damaged hair. If you’ve already done a number on your hair, but you don’t want to shave it off or leave it flat, a clay is your best bet. Don’t expect an extreme style, but you won’t be doing any further damage either.
What types of hair may not find a hair clay works for them?
Take the below with a grain of salt; because it can be quite moisturizing, most men should experiment with clay before moving onto products that can actually damage hair.
- Kinky hair. You don’t need any help adding volume as your tight curls do it for you. And, you’ve probably noticed that your hair appears a little on the dry side naturally - so you don’t want the matte finish you’ll get from a clay. If you really need the hold, opt for a pomade, but a styling cream is likely to be your best bet.
- Curly hair. Again, you probably don’t need the texture and volume that hair clay offers and you do want some shine. Pomade is likely to be your best bet. If you really want to try a clay, you can…but you really need to be aware of the volume you’ll get. That said, it’s not bad at keeping frizzies under control.
- Long hair. If you’re rocking a super long look - especially if your hair is stick straight, hair clay isn’t for you. Your hair will probably look too dry and you’re unlikely to need the typically strong hold that you’ll find with this product.
What sort of texture should you expect from a hair clay?
There are some hair clays that are almost as hard as wax - a little like the modeling clay you played with as a child. But, there is a lot of variation and thick pastes are perhaps a little more normal. And, yes, there are some that are creamier.
Generally speaking, clays are a little stickier than pomades, but it won’t stick to your hands or create little globs in your hair (as long as you apply it appropriately); you shouldn’t see any residue on your hair or scalp.
What’s the deal with hybrid hair clays?
Hair clays are still a new entrant in men’s styling products. As such, you’re probably not going to find that many hybrids on the market yet. But, when blended with pomades, you get a little more shine and a little more hold while still getting all the volume you want from a clay.
And, there are some hair clays that aren’t actually made with bentonite or kaolin which many would say disqualify them from being actual clays - forcing them into a pseudo-clay category. But, when it behaves like a clay - and provides that matte finish while increasing volume, we’re happy enough to keep them in the clay category.
How much hair clay do you need?
You don’t need much at all. Most men are going to get the look they want with a pea or dime-sized amount of product. A little does go a long way and you don’t want to end up with super poofy hair. (Okay, if you want super poofy hair, and we’re not judging, we would suggest an actual volumizer - they exist.)
As with any styling product, it’s much easier to add a little more if you need it to complete your look than it is to claw it out of your hair.
Does hair clay work best with dry, damp, or wet hair?
Damp hair is usually the best starting point. We’re talking towel-dried so there’s still a little moisture to help you spread the product through your hair. But, you can work with hair that’s nearly dry if you add a little water to the product in your hand when applying it.
We’d advise you to stay away from totally wet or totally dry hair because you’ll end up with zero hold or nasty clumps in your hair. Whether you work with clean hair or you add a little more product to yesterday’s clay style, you’re alright. But, don’t try to layer clay on top of another product you used yesterday; you’ll get no benefit from it - if you can work it into a style at all.
How is hair clay applied?
If you’ve worked with pomade before, you shouldn’t experience any difficulty working with clay. As with most product, it’s more about the quantity and patience you exercise than there being an actual trick to it. Plus, clay works the way you would expect it to, which makes it rather intuitive to use.
Take the tiny amount indicated and rub between your palms and fingers to heat it. If you prefer, you can add a smattering of water to your hands before mixing it together. This will take away some of the matte finish - though you shouldn’t expect the results to be shiny. Depending on the composition of the product, it may slightly reduce the hold, however - which helps achieve the messy, natural style you’re after with this product.
Work until it’s evenly distributed and there aren’t any chunky bits. (If you start with clumps, you will end with clumps.) Work product through your hair from roots to tips, trying to disperse it evenly. Then, all you need to do is push it into the style you prefer.
If you want a side part, grab your comb instead of using your fingers. But, you may need to use your palms to push flyaways into place. The same goes for pompadours.
Remember that finishing or styling with a hair dryer will increase the volume you get using a clay - and it will increase the hold slightly.
For guys that love the volume clay provides but want a stronger hold or a shine, use clay as a pre-style product, smoothing over a pomade or spraying with hairspray when you’re happy with the style.
Is it difficult to wash out hair clay?
Nope. Not at all. Indeed, we think you’ll appreciate how effortless it is to get hair clay off your hands and out of your hair.
And, one of the nice things about hair clay is that it doesn’t damage your hair. As long as you’ve chosen a product with bentonite or kaolin clay, the natural ingredients will actually provide your hair with some vitamins and minerals. And, because it doesn’t strip the natural oils, you can actually leave it in for a few days. If you’re anti-shampoo, you can get by with a conditioner only - though the number of days you can go between washes reduces the damage shampoos do.
What counts in a hair clay? When should you turn away?
We’re not going to lie about the price of most clays. And, typically, the better products are going to cost more. Luckily, you don’t need that much product, so you can expect a small tub to last for some time.
- Hold. You’ll usually get a medium hold, though it does range from low to high, depending on the product you choose. Generally speaking, your hair won’t be able to withstand a day in a hat or strong winds.
- Duration. Hair clay holds for anywhere between 16 and 24 hours, though typically on the shorter end. But, because it’s non-damaging, you can apply a little more if you find you need it.
- Reshapeable. Yes. It’s a little like a pomade in that respect. You can certainly rework your hair throughout the day or after the gym. Remember, it’s best for messy styles.
- Greasiness. The product itself isn’t greasy at all. But, the clay does draw out the natural oils (as well as impurities). If your hair is naturally on the oily side, we suggest looking for a product that doesn’t include bentonite, kaolin, or another clay. Try one that isn’t a true clay, though it behaves like one.
- Flakes. None. Hair clays bind to the hair shaft rather than sitting on top of it, so you shouldn’t experience the snowfall you would get from a gel.
- Smell. Most hair clays have a natural, earthy aroma. You wouldn’t really expect anything less from something called clay, would you?
- Washability. It’s super easy to get clays out of your hair - and you shouldn’t need to wash it every day either. That’s a bonus for those early mornings, isn’t it?