Harpers Bazaar June 6, 2024

Harpers Bazaar


The 13 Best Slicked-Back Hair Products for Smooth Buns and Ponytails


Smooth things over with these top expert picks

lmost everyone I know wears a sleek, runway-ready chignon or ponytail these days. Initially, I was hesitant about wearing my hair slicked-back for fear of looking like an egg, but ultimately I was influenced to try it, too. Suffice it to say, the trend has become one of my go-to looks, especially when my hair feels greasy or I don’t have enough time in the day to style it.

As seamless as creating slicked-back hair may seem, there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to styling it. There are many ways to achieve the same look, so it depends on preference and what works best for your hair type. And of course, no hairstyle is complete without the right product.

Experts say some of the most popular staples for slicked-back styles include mousse, wax sticks, hairspray, and a hardworking boar bristle brush. Professional hairstylist Raven Hurtado tells Bazaar that she prefers using mousse for slick hairstyles because you can apply it to dry hair, flattening it for a slicked look. “I also like using a wax stick because it keeps fine hairs locked down. Hairspray is also good because it’s a universal product to keep styles in place,” she notes.

Here, we've rounded up the best slicked-back hair products to perfect your next bun or ponytail. Keep reading for expert-approved favorites from R+Co, Bread Beauty Supply, and more that will even have prima ballerinas eyeing your updo with envy.


Bed Head by Tigi Hair Wax Stick


  • Features a semi-matte finish


  • Subtle lavender scent may be off-putting to some

Taming hair frizz is key for achieving a sleek, slicked-back look, and this wax stick makes it easy. While there are a number of options available to shop, this one from Bed Head by Tigi is my go-to. The stick's beeswax and castor oil formula seamlessly combats humidity and sweat and has a pliable hold that prevents hair from looking greasy.

One satisfied customer writes: "This hair care product works very well and is super easy to use. It has helped keep the flyaway hairs from running rampant. It has helped maintain a smoother hair texture when styled." —Kandace


Nexxus Slick Stick Strong Hold Hair Wax


  • Provides 72 hours of humidity protection


  • Subtle rose scent may be off-putting to some

Here's another frizz-fighting wax stick favorite from Nexxus that's made for the long haul. To get its stronghold benefits, apply it directly to your hair, or use your hands for thorough coverage.

One satisfied customer writes: "The strong hold provided by this hair wax is truly impressive. No more struggling with my front hair falling into my eyes throughout the day. Despite its powerful hold, I love that this wax doesn't leave my hair looking sticky or oily." —Anonymous


Maria Nila Hair Wax Gneiss


  • Hydrating


  • Not ideal for those with oily hair or scalp

Products from Swedish hair care brand Maria Nila have me in a chokehold as of late to style picture-perfect updos. I’m particularly impressed by this pomade from the brand that keeps my hair in place without feeling heavy. Plus, it adds a shine and moisture boost—thanks to a combination of shea butter and olive oil—that my sometimes dry and brittle hair can appreciate. It also has a fragrance of cedar and sandalwood that adds a subtle scent.

One satisfied customer writes: "Gives a nice bit of hold and texture without being too noticeable in dryness or shine." —Petar


Djerf Avenue On the Go Styling Gel


  • Available in scented and fragrance-free formulas


  • Level of hold may not be ideal for all hair types

If you prefer to use gel for a sleek style, celebrity stylist Ursula Stephen suggests starting with damp hair. “Beginning with damp hair allows the product to spread more easily through the hair and prevents you from overusing it,” she explains. This popular pick from influencer and designer Matilda Djerf provides a flexible hold that helps tame flyaways. Since a little goes a long way, you only need a small amount for a seamless hair finish.

One satisfied customer writes: "This gel is perfect for creating a sleek hairdo very quickly. The formula is creamy, soft, and non-sticky, so the gel spreads easily through the hair without leaving a greasy feeling or look. And just like the mist, the scent is so addictive!" —Victoria


La Bonne Brosse N.01 The Universal Hair Care Brush


  • Helps detoxify the scalp
  • Works for all hair types


  • May not be travel-friendly

There are many hair brushes worth adding to your routine for a smooth finish, but professionals say this versatile option from La Bonne Brosse takes the cake. “A boar bristle brush is needed for smoothing and combing back the hair,” Hurtado says of its natural fiber design. Boar brushes help keep your hair shiny and balanced, as they're made to draw oil from your scalp and distribute it to the rest of the hair.


Mason Pearson Popular Bristle and Nylon Brush


  • Stylist-approved
  • Long-lasting


  • Best for medium to thicker hair types

You can't mention boar bristle brushes without including Mason Pearson. This tried-and-true tool is another boar bristle favorite experts, like Guido Palau, swear by. It contains a rubber cushion pad that cradles the scalp as you use it with a sturdy handle that makes brushing your hair through feel like a dream instead of a chore.

One satisfied customer writes: "I waited a long time to purchase this brush. It is expensive for a brush. But it feels wonderful brushing my hair. I was afraid that the bristles would not get through my hair. I have a lot of hair. But they did a good job. If you can swing it, it's nice to have." —HappyChaplain


R+Co Vicious Strong Hold Flexible Hairspray


  • Budget-friendly
  • Great for volume and texture


  • May not be ideal for fragile, damaged hair

Hairspray is a tried-and-true essential for keeping your look in place. For a high-shine finish, Jill Buck, celebrity hairstylist and extension specialist recommends this strong-hold version from R+Co that won't leave behind unsightly flakes.

One satisfied customer writes: "Nice styling and holding spray without the stiffness." —Nan106


Dae Monsoon Moisture Mask


  • Available in travel size
  • Great for dry hair


  • May not be ideal for those with oily hair or scalp

Just like with many other beauty buys, the TikTok algorithm convinced me this moisture mask deserves a spot in my slicked-back rotation. It's an easy way to give hair the wet look treatment without even having to step foot in the shower. Plus, it also happens to be one of the most nourishing masks available, thanks to its combination of nourishing cactus flower extract, cocoa seed butter, and prickly pear seed oil.

One satisfied customer writes: "Great product, my hair holds onto the moisture from this product without feeling greasy or heavy. And my hair has never felt healthier, using three times per week for about three weeks and already have tremendous results!" —Stephanie


Bread Beauty Supply Hair-Foam: Curl Defining Mousse


  • Bond building
  • Great for curly and coily hair


  • Soft to medium hold may not be intensive enough for some

This popular mousse has a nearly perfect rating at Sephora for a reason. Its flexible formula won't leave your hair feeling sticky or crunchy and holds your style in place while taming unmanageable frizz. And since it's extremely lightweight, it also won't weigh hair down.

One satisfied customer writes: "Used for the first time today! Incredibly soft but with a pretty strong hold, wonderfully scented. I’m excited to see how this mousse holds out <3" —paddd


Pattern Edge Tool


  • Versatile
  • Easy to use


  • Some reviewers say brush bristles are too firm

This staple from Pattern is a three-in-one tool, which means you can swirl your baby hairs to perfection and craft the perfect center or side parts. I still cringe looking at photos of myself with a misaligned part, but this handy staple has been game-changing for my updos.

One satisfied customer writes: "Great tool for styling edges and flyaways. Love the sleeve it comes with too." —designsbykellys


Goody Ouchless Elastic Hair Ties (Set of 30)


  • Budget-friendly
  • Hair ties made without metal for minimal snagging


  • [Not ideal for those who prefer using silk scrunchies

It's hard to craft a seamless slicked-back style without a great hair tie. Buck advises using multiple elastics to really secure your look. “First, establish your ponytail or bun where you want, whether it’s high or low, and section only the hair behind your ears," she says. "Your second ponytail will be with the remaining hair in front of your ears." She recommends adding styling products as you go and keeping a few clips on hand for expert sectioning.

One satisfied customer writes: "Love using this brand as they hold up better than any other brand we have tried. My mother and daughter all use this brand and rave that it hasn’t loosened too much or snapped." —lovelymamabear


Slip Wild Leopard Silk Hair Wrap


  • Versatile


  • Must hand wash and line dry

A silk scarf may not be the first thing that comes to mind for a slicked-back bun or ponytail, but it’s Stephens’s secret weapon for minimizing frizz. Its gentle tension helps prevent your look from shifting once your style is complete.

One satisfied customer writes: "Firstly, the quality is top-notch - there are a lot of silk products out there now but this Slip is by far the best, this is heavy, double-thickness silk that is just beautiful. Secondly, it is a good size so far more practical if you are used to wrapping your hair rather than using a turban. And it looks great!" —Loubielou32


Bellami x Andrew Fitzsimons Faux Wrap Ponytail Extension 160g 20" Dark Brown


  • Easy to use
  • 100% human hair
  • Available in two lengths


To give your look some extra pizazz, might we suggest extensions? According to celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons, adding on a faux ponytail is an easy way to take the slick look up a few notches. As for placement, “I add them around where the base of the pony will be, pointing inward, so there is extra hair for a fuller-looking pony effect," Fitzsimons explains. "Then, I use a boar bristle brush to smooth hair into a pony: This distributes the hair evenly throughout." A good rule of thumb is to follow your jawline past your ear and create a ponytail where your hands meet. This alignment should place it slightly above your eye, providing a face-lift effect as a beauty bonus.

One satisfied customer writes: "I had trouble finding thick enough hair extensions to blend with my thick hair. With these I don’t even need all the wefts and hardly have to style it at all it looks that good! They’re so thick and soft and the color is spot on! I’m very happy with these!!!!" —Gina A.

Meet the Experts

Ursula Stephen is a celebrity hairstylist and the owner of The Salon by Ursula Stephen in Brooklyn.
Andrew Fitzsimons is a celebrity hairstylist based in Los Angeles.
Jill Buck is a celebrity hairstylist at Nine Zero One salon in West Hollywood, California.
Raven Hurtado is a professional hair stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.