There are a few celebrity trends that we, as mere mortals, willingly admit we’ll never be able to pull off in real life: Kim Kardashian’s clear, plastic, thigh-high boots, Lady Gaga’s bedazzled eyebrow art, and, up until now, Gigi Hadid’s consistent stream of wet-hair looks. But after seeing slicked-back ponytails and wet-look hairstyles at literally every single red carpet this year (what up, Bella Hadid!), we decided to figure out, once and for all, how the hell to get the shiny look on ourselves…without looking like a greasy swamp monster. (The boots and eyebrow art will still be forever untouchable, though. Sorry.)
So we sent a panicked plea to hairstylist and magic maker Kristin Ess, asking how normal human beings can recreate the seemingly untouchable look at home. “How many layers of gel?!” we yelled. “Do we need straight hair? And the hairspray! What about the hairspray!?” Her answer? None of the above. Also, stop yelling. Because as it turns out, we—and most of the beauty world—have been giving the wrong instructions for wet-hair looks for a very long time. Whoops.
“Gel should literally never be used in wet-looking hairstyles,” says Ess. Uh, what? “Everyone will tell you gel is their secret weapon, but it’s a lie!” The trick, she says, is pomade. Good ol’ dude pomade, to be exact. “Layrite is seriously phenomenal. It’s this old-school men’s pomade that slicks hair down beautifully without any flakes or crunch, and it washes out really easily,” says Ess. “I use it on everyone—it’s how I got Lucy Hale’s ponytail to look so sleek at the Billboard Awards.”
Yep, gorgeous. To create Hale’s look—or any slicked-back ponytail, really—Ess dipped a tint brush (“the brush is the only key to this entire look”) into the pomade and, section by section, painted it over the actress’s hair, making sure each strand of hair was totally saturated, so it would lay flat. “And then I don’t have to do anything,” she says. “Like, anything. No hairspray, no shine sprays, nothing. The pomade keeps everything in place until you wash it out; it’s amazing.”
And, swears Ess, wet-hair looks are totally obtainable on curly girls, too: “The cool thing about pomade is that it pretty much straightens out your curls as your comb it in,” she says. “Though if you have super coarse, curly hair, you might want to lightly blow it out first to get that really sleek look.”
Obviously, the slicked-back ponytail is the more wearable look in real life. But, if you want to go all out and pull off Gigi’s Baywatch, I-just-stepped-out-of-the-water look, then we salute you and want to help you. “If I were doing a look like Gigi’s, I would still use pomade, but only on her roots,” says Ess. “So rather than painting over sections of her hair, I’d rub a big dollop of pomade through her roots—exactly like a guy would rub pomade through short hair—until it was evenly coated, and then take a fine-tooth comb and comb her hair back about ten times to distribute the pomade throughout her roots and down to the middle of her head.” Since the hair is straight down, “you still need some movement in it,” notes Ess, who would finish off the look by rubbing a lightweight smoothing serum (we like Living Proof Satin Hair Serum) over the rest of her hair to add shine without the stiffness.
“The whole wet-hair look definitely a bit of a time-consuming process, since it can be difficult to get pomade through women’s hair, but it’s totally doable as long as you take thin sections and use a tint brush,” says Ess. And, sure, it definitely helps to be a kick-ass actress or model with a bunch of cool points already stacked up behind you, but like most beauty experiments, this one can easily be washed away.