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You know those days when you wake up and your hair actually looks good? You know what I’m talking about: Those mornings when your bedhead is just the right mix of artfully disheveled, perfectly piecey and, dare I say, pretty damn fly. When that happens, you almost don’t want to get in the shower for fear of ruining it—and you know that once you mess it up, that look is hard to get back.
Unless you have the right styling product, that is. The right product can recreate that look after you shower and actually keep your hair in place until you wake up the following morning. Sure, you could try to do it with your trusty pomade or styling cream, but neither are going to give you the matte, natural, textured effect that makes bedhead so good. What you need to reach for in those moments is hair clay.
Hair clay is exactly what it sounds like—usually a dry, thick clay that’s a little stiff to the touch. Rub it in your hands and work it through your hair and it creates texture, definition, and, yes, even volume, in your hair. It also usually has more hold than, say, a styling cream, which means that the style you use it to create can last for hours (some formulas also contain beeswax to help your hair stay even longer). And best-in-class hair clay formulas leave a natural, matte finish to you hair, which helps bring out the texture. Think of it as casual pomade—not for classic, slicked-back looks, but for those days when you want to loosen up a little bit.
The downside of hair clay is that since it’s mattifying, sometimes it can leave your hair feeling a little dry or rough. That's a godsend if your hair gets oily quick, but not so great if you have dry or curly hair. Luckily, we live in a time where we’re not stuck with just one type of hair clay. Hundreds of varieties exist and it’s possible to find versions that are more hydrating, less matte, have less hold, and are easier to apply. Which type you use depends on your hair type and what look you’re going for, but whatever it is, it’s out there. Start with this list of the best.
Hair Styling Clay
Want a super strong hold that can (probably) withstand high winds? Reach for this clay, which also includes a little bit of beeswax to keep your style locked.
If you want to avoid any shine whatsoever in your hair, this extra matte clay is exactly what you’re looking for. There’s also a very strong hold, but it’s still reworkable.
The essential oils in this clay give it a great natural smell, sure, but also help keep it from feeling too dry after you style your hair with it (even with the matte finish).
Night Rider Matte Paste
A little goes a long way with this firm hold paste, but even with the tiniest amount, you can create supreme texture and definition that won’t deflate within hours.
Not all clays are entirely matte. This one—despite the name—has a little bit of shine, so you get the texture and control of a clay without your hair potentially looking dry.
Glacial Hair Clay Pomade
We love this hair clay so much, we awarded it the Best Hair Clay in our 2023 Grooming Awards. Half-clay, half-pomade, it stays all day, looks natural, and doesn't leave behind a residue—just a fresh, pine-y scent.
Brews Clay Pomade
This lightweight option gives you everything you want in a clay (strong hold, matte finish, perfect texture), but it won’t weigh down fine hair.
Badlands Dry Shampoo Paste
If you're up for a hair-styling hybrid, this hair paste has the benefits of dry shampoo, so you get the texturizing effects of a hair clay in the form of a more hydrating, cleansing, lighter weight cream.
Kaolin and bentonite clays in this formula help soak up oil for a natural, matte look; the tiny bit of beeswax is what gives it the hold you want. All in all, this hair clay is a winner.
This clay is a solid option for a great, traditional clay, but the cool, cologne-worthy scent is why it’s a winner in our book.
Quicksand Hair Styling Clay
Use this classic hair clay when you want to make sure your style isn’t going anywhere. The super-high hold keeps your hair locked all day long.
Matte Finish Balm
This smooth, creamy clay is ideal for controlling frizz and creating texture, but you can actually run your fingers through your hair once you’re done styling. The interesting rosewood scent is like a fancy cologne, but leaves just a trace.
Why yes, you can use clay on curly hair! This version has a little more oil to keep curly and wavy hair looking smooth and healthy while still delivering the hold and texture you want from a clay.
This creamy clay has the texturizing ability of thicker options, but smooths into your hair easily like a pomade and has a lighter hold for a natural look.
Rough Luxury Soft Molding Paste
If you’re new to hair clay, try this soft, claylike paste first. It’s perfect for creating texture (like a clay) but has reworkable hold, which means you can revamp your style after a long day without adding more product.
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