If you’re like us and don’t play about your look, then you’ve probably established a hair care routine that centers around feeding your scalp the proper nutrition. Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, you’re less likely to stray. But amidst the vast sea of hair products to use, one you shouldn’t overlook or underestimate is hair tonic. It’s our personal go-to for moisture. And while it’s considered an old-school hair product for men, SPY is here to tell you how employing the best hair tonic can lead to fuller, healthier hair.
The best hair tonics are having a resurgence in the grooming space with a shift back to traditional barbering. As a source of pure hydration, more men are reverting back to using a hair tonic because they’re designed to help stimulate blood circulation to the hair follicles, prevent hair loss, and promote growth. If using one regularly, it’ll add natural shine while providing a light hold that allows you to style your hair. Beyond that, hair tonic can also serve as a remedy to fight dandruff, reduce split ends, and generally repair damaged hair.
But today, dacades after its last popularity boom, what is the best hair tonic? Well, it all depends on your individual hair type and what hairstyle you desire to sport. Whether you’re rocking a taper fade, spiky-do, or ivy league cut, hair tonic has plenty of benefits for your hair in the long run. To eliminate the hard part, we’ve tested some of the most popular tonics and serums, both old and new, to help you achieve the results you want.
What is Hair Tonic v. Hair Serum?
First, we need to answer this question. What is a hair tonic? Furthermore, is that the same thing as a hair serum?
Hair tonic is considered a styling tool in barbering but, essentially, conditions the hair and scalp. Oftentimes, tonics are formulated with blended oils and natural ingredients to boost hair health and add gloss and sheen to drab, lifeless hair. From control and manageability to hydration and revitalization, hair tonic makes your hair look and feel its best.
On the other hand, hair serum is traditionally a silicone-based styling product designed to coat the hair’s surface. Some formulas for hair serums aim to reduce frizz, add shine, straighten your hair and even protect against damage. Many new serums we’re seeing today are taking the chemical thing into consideration, which is great, but it’s still hard to beat the tonics that our dads used to use.
How to Use Hair Tonic
Applying the best hair tonic is relatively simple. Depending on the bottle, whether it has a nozzle, pump, or small opening, dab a few drops of hair tonic onto your palm and warm it up by rubbing your hands together.
For the best results, use your fingers to massage the tonic evenly through your hair to help stimulate circulation while allowing the product to absorb into the hair shaft and scalp. Hair tonics can be used multiple times throughout the day without having to rinse out any prior application. We recommend applying as needed.
The Best Hair Tonic At A Glance
- 14 fl. oz.
- Founded in 1923
- Mineral Oil
Jeris Hair Tonic (with oil) is one of the oldest hair tonic brands on the market, invented in 1923 and now manufactured under Clubman Pinaud. Produced in its classic long-neck bottle and famous green color, this hair tonic elicits a fresh and light fragrance and is often regarded as the best-smelling hair tonic. In addition to managing your hair and preventing baldness, the product has the added benefit of working as an aftershave.
Before the modernized pomades and hair serums made it on the scene, we were avid consumers of Jeris. Using this hair tonic brings a true sense of nostalgia because it’s been keeping our editors’ hair healthy looking, nourished, and well-groomed for years without leaving a greasy texture. In performance alone, Jeris took the lead in our testing. But the kicker here is experiencing the cooling sensation after you massage it into your scalp, which boasts the familiar menthol and eucalyptus scent that isn’t too overbearing.
- Dual action performance for hair and beard
- Kills germs
- Helps with hair loss
- Not vegan
- 1.7 oz.
- Avocado Seed Oil + Argan Oil
Scotch Porter is a black-founded and black-owned company that creates some of the highest-quality men’s grooming products with black men in mind. Having said that, the Smooth & Shine Hair Serum is a must-grab haircare item for black men or anybody with coarse or curly hair. It’s a vegan-formulated product designed to help detangle, hydrate, and smoothen, which is, at times, very much needed. Key ingredients include avocado seed oil and argan oil, which are high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
This hair serum’s ability to strengthen the hair shaft and provide shine is incredible. After shampooing and conditioning, we applied the product and didn’t experience any frizziness. In fact, our hair was laid down like a brick. However, our editors urge you to thoroughly massage the serum into your hair to avoid having a watery-like consistency all over your hands, although, that’s not an entirely bad thing. The herbaceous scent with notes of bergamot, cardamom, and lavender was pretty pleasant.
We’ve been continuously impressed with Scotch Porter products, including their beard wash and beard balm, which ranked amongst our favorites.
- Vegan formula
- Permitted to go in your travel luggage
- Super oily
- 6.0 oz.
- Aloe vera
Kiehl’s is a dependable brand and a personal favorite of SPY because you can expect every product to contain premium ingredients, omit all the bad stuff, and work wonders for your needs. The same characteristics apply to their strengthening and hydrating hair oil-in cream. Formulated without parabens, this leave-in treatment uses olive fruit oil and avocado oil (a natural source of amino acid proteins, vitamins A, D, E, and potassium) to thicken and volumize hair while adding strength and hydration.
Talk about fortifying hair. This oil-in-cream combo is a game changer and all about building your hair back up from dryness. When using this product from Kiehl’s, we could literally feel our hair fibers being penetrated with hydration power that would never have us feeling dull again. We can’t rule out whether it’s tested on animals, which isn’t great, but we can confirm you get a bang for your buck and walk away with a glossy finish. But we’d like it better if we could confirm it were a cruelty-free product.
- Hyaluronic acid
- Maximum hydration
- A little goes a long way, saving you $
- If you have an affinity for fragrance, this product is unscented
- Not cruelty-free
- 12.5 oz.
Clubman Pinaud is the most senior of each hair tonic and hair serum we tried and has stood the test of time thanks to its classic conditioning formula that hinders dryness and removes dandruff. This product arrives in a liquid gold color and shines hair to reach its maximum health without excessive oil.
This hair tonic lasts all day and is the perfect remedy to “bedhead” after a night of good (or bad) sleep. Similar to Jeris, Clubman has an energizing cool tingle, a masculine odor, and a strong hold that won’t have your hair out of place. Although this hair tonic cannot go inside your travel luggage, it’s so inexpensive that your bank account won’t take a hit if you grab another bottle at your next destination.
- Great value
- Anti-dandruff benefits
- Mineral Oil
- Not TSA-friendly
- 6.7 fl oz.
- Lemon extract
- Made in US
Fellow Barber Everyday Tonic is an astringent-based formulation with witch hazel, aloe vera, and eucalyptus, that delivers a purifying experience. The product is multifaceted, acting as a light hydrator, a post-shave calmer, and a refresher for both hair and skin. In tandem with the essence of its herbal scent, the Everyday Tonic is housed in a sleek green bottle with a fingertip sprayer.
Although this tonic works, we didn’t find it to be as effective as the other products for the needs of our hair. In fact, it might be better suited to take care of the skin and act as a post-shave barrier that lifts dirt, removes grease, and tightens pores. However, we give the Everyday Tonic bonus points for its fun packaging, gratifying fragrance, and usage of lemon extract, which helps ward off ingrown hairs. In fact, we know others might disagree with this, but we think this is the best-smelling men’s hair tonic.
- Packed with premium ingredients
- Never tested on animals
- 100% natural fragrance
- Not much hydration
- 3.9 oz.
- Rosehip Oil
Pattern makes a line of hair care products created by “Blackish” actress Tracee Ellis Ross. The woman-owned brand caters to people of color with all types of curly hair — from stretchy curls with bounce to tight coils. And yes, that includes our fellas as well. For a genderless look, the unisex products are packaged in white and saffron-colored tubes or bottles featuring bold black graphics. The Jojoba Oil Hair Serum, which we tested among the best hair tonic for men, includes a powerhouse medley of residue-free oils using Safflower Oil, Jojoba Oil, Rosehip Oil, Olive Oil, and Lavender Oil.
Using this hair serum was simple and easy, but didn’t quite knock it out of the park for us. For starters, the bottle is a beauty and has a convenient pump to release the exact amount you need. While the hair serum properly hydrated our scalp, we discovered it to be slightly greasier than desired. The scent wasn’t our favorite of the bunch, but it doesn’t bug your nose throughout the day. If you have a bed full of hair versus yours truly, who has waves, perhaps this is more fitting for you.
- Free of harmful ingredients
- The consistency of the serum felt similar to a lubricant
How We Reviewed the Best Hair Tonic For Men
For weeks, we dedicated our morning routines to using these hair tonic and hair serums in the name of journalistic research. And although we’re struggling to find space to store everything, we’re making great friends with the bearded guys in the neighborhood as we pass these out for others to try themselves.
To determine the best men’s hair tonic and hair serum of them all, we weighed these factors:
Chemicals — what’s NOT in the ingredients? We scored higher for hair tonics that were free of parabens, sulfates, silicones, mineral oils, phthalates, and synthetic colors, among other nasty chemicals.
Animal-friendly — we scored higher for products that were found to be cruelty-free and not tested on animals.
Hydration — extra points were awarded for men’s hair tonics that moisturized and relieved our hair of dryness.
Multi-Purpose — while the main objectives of men’s hair tonics or hair serums are to balance, revitalize and tame the landscape of our hair, we looked to see if the products also served as after shaves, skin refreshers, etc.
Shine v. Oily — we rank products higher that gave our hair the perfect shine over the ones that left us feeling as greasy as Vaseline petroleum jelly.
Why Trust SPY When Choosing the Best Hair Tonic for You
Finding good grooming products is what SPY does best. We spend days scouring the internet and looking through local shops for the best new and familiar brands to see if the reviews are legit. In conveying our results, we don’t hold back and we’re not afraid to be truthful because, at the end of the day, we want to do right by you, the reader.
Other than men’s hair tonics, SPY has reviewed every other vertical in the men’s grooming space. Recently, we reviewed the best minoxidil treatments for men to treat hair loss, the best hair clippers and even the world’s best electric razor, you know, to shave your dome and stuff.
If you’re interested, you can read more about How We Test Products at SPY.
About the Author
SPY E-Commerce Editor, Joseph Cheatham, hails from South Jersey with some roots in West Palm Beach, Florida. A guy who has an affinity for all things fragranced and fashion-related, Joseph enjoys helping others show up as their best selves. Aside from the best hair tonic for men, Joseph has written about the best turtleneck sweaters for men, what men should don during yoga and recently shared how his DTC candle brand came to fruition during the pandemic.