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What is hair tonic and how to use it?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Hair tonic is a liquid hair styling product that is applied to the hair to improve its appearance. Especially popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s before waxes and gels reached the market, today tonics are making their way back into the mainstream.

Hairstyling tonics are lightweight and easy to apply products that help to style hair. Often used by barbers to make cutting and styling easier, there are many reasons for every man to include a dash of hair tonic in their hair styling routine.

Used by themselves, hair tonics will add texture, volume and a light hold, as well as adding shine, reducing frizz, and taming flyaways. In addition, hair tonics are used to protect hair when blowdrying, lubricate hair and/or to break down existing products when styling or cutting, and also as a base product for creating more advanced hairstyles like the pompadour or quiff.

Barber using hairdryer to dry and style hair

Ingredients and benefits of hair tonics

Choosing the best hair tonic for you will depend on your individual hair type and what hairstyle you want. As a guide, here are some common ingredients found in hair tonics and the benefits you can expect:

  • Mineral oils - help to condition and moisturize the hair and scalp.

  • Vitamins - for example, Vitamins A, B, and E are beneficial for the hair and scalp, and help to promote healthy hair growth.

  • Herbs - tea tree oil, lavender oil, and rosemary oil have been shown to be beneficial for the hair and scalp.

  • Alcohol - helps to remove excess oils and debris from the hair and scalp, and also helps to condition the hair.

Styling your hair with hair tonic

Hair tonics will have limited hold by themselves, making them best suited for adding texture and hold to fine and medium thickness hair. This is where an oil-free tonic such as Reuzel Hair Tonic with low hold and shine works best. Or for a bit more hold, our barbers recommend adding a spritz of sea salt spray to your daily routine.

For thicker hair, a tonic alone may not be strong enough to maintain a style throughout the day. In this case, a pomade might work better. The best results come when you use both - start with a hair tonic for healthy-looking frizz-free hair, and then layer a pomade to extra shape and control.

The best barbers, like the team at Peaky Barbers, will be able to talk you through your styling goals and suggest the best product for your needs.

How to use hair styling tonics?

Hair tonic is usually applied to dry hair before styling. It can be applied to the entire head or just to the areas that need taming. Start by shaking the tonic well and then pour a small amount into your hand. Rub your hands together and then distribute the tonic evenly through your hair. You may need to use more or less depending on your hair type. Once the tonic is in your hair, style as usual.

Alternatively, you can also spray or glide a little tonic after you’ve styled your hair to add extra shine.

Hair tonics can be used on hair multiple times a day without needing to wash out the prior application, making changing styles or restyling in the middle of the day a breeze. Simply reactivate the tonic with water or additional tonic, then re-comb and restyle. It couldn’t be easier!

A haircut styled using surf tonic to give it extra volume, then styled with a hair mud

Need more help with hair tonics and other hair styling products? Check out our latest hairstyling tips from the team at Peaky Barbers.

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