British Vs. American Brylcreem Smackdown: A Comparative Review

By | 2018-02-07T10:05:47+00:00 Sep 2nd, 2014|Categories: Male Grooming: Hair, Shaving & More|Tags: , , , |18 Comments

Both packages on Leather

Elders will tell you about its greasiness, the fragrance and its overall generous usage by gentlemen of the past. Like Old Spice aftershave and Bay Rum, Brylcreem is just one of those personal grooming artifacts that’s synonymous with a bygone era.

Nevertheless, with “Mad Men” haircuts and attire making a comeback, this old product is starting to fill up drug store shelves again. However, these aforementioned shelves look different on both sides of the proverbial pond.

In Britain, we have the big red pots with a lion crest. In the United States, the product resembles a tube of toothpaste.

What is this madness? Are they the same product but with different packaging? If not, which is better? These are questions that even the wonders of the internet were unable to answer for me and so I was compelled to open an investigation.

A Little Brylcreem History

Brylcreem was conceived as a pomade in 1928 by County Chemicals in Birmingham, England. An emulsion of water and mineral oil stabilised with beeswax, it replicated the effect of hair cream that was only sold to barbers, whilst incorporating the resemblance of brillantine.

Men flocked to Brylcreem in droves to recreate the iconic glossy hold that would become the fashion for decades. During the Second World War, members of the RAF were known as Brylcreem Boys for their overindulgence in hair cream and the 1950s witnessed Brylcreem become the most dominant product in men’s hair grooming.

In Britain, Brylcreem advertising campaigns often incorporated contemporary sports stars as their heralded “Brylcreem Boys,” such as Cricketer Denis Compton throughout the late Forties and early Fifties. In the United States, it was advertised on television accompanied by the catchy jingle “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya!” When the dry look became popular in the Seventies, the tagline was changed from “They’ll love to run their fingers through your hair” to “They’ll love the natural look it gives your hair.”

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Denis Compton 1954 Brylcreem Cricket Advertising Campaign Poster“Brylcreem Boy” Cricketer Denis Compton in a 1954 magazine ad.

Unfortunately, Brylcreem’s success began to wane in the following half of the twentieth century. Much like the once-compulsory wearing of hats, The Beatles and other popular music of the Sixties would have a significant impact on men’s fashion with their longer, unkempt hairstyles. The pomade fell out of fashion, accordingly.

An excellent 1965 American Brylcreem Commercial featuring the iconic jingle.

Brylcreem At The Dawn Of The 21st Century

The brand was sold from owner to owner like a hot potato throughout the following decades, causing the name to eventually split across borders. It wouldn’t be until 1997 that Brylcreem began to witness a slight resurgence when a young up-and-coming David Beckham was dubbed Britain’s new “Brylcreem Boy” and a new range of different styling products was introduced.

However, it wasn’t until recent years, with the introduction of popular television shows such as AMC’s Mad Men and vintage-scene revivalist movements creeping into the mainstream, that Brylcreem saw a true renaissance. Today, there are a multitude of hairstyles from different periods such as pompadours and the classic shine that are being appropriated by young men around the world.

Today, Combe Incorporated markets Brylcreem in the US, whilst Unilever administers the rest of the world. Although the products carry the same name and fulfil the same function, there are a variety of key differences. Unfortunately, records on the history of Brylcreem is somewhat limited through mainstream sources. Moreover, both Combe and Unilever were reluctant to provide any supplementary information on the product when contacted. Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that both are excellent products worthy of review.

Ultimate Brylcreem Review

Appearance

The bright red Brylcreem pot with the lion crest is an iconic artefact from 1960s Britain, so much so that it hasn’t changed since. However, despite being of a similar heritage, the American Brylcreem tube has undergone a redesign since the Combe takeover: a modernised font and removal of the crown logo. Although both pot and tube were originally available in both countries, it appears only one has survived in each. In either case, the products have retained a sense of nostalgia that legitimises the products as pedigrees of gentlemen’s hairdressing.

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UK Brylcreem Red Pot

In terms of practicality, the British Brylcreem’s pot makes for a robust and stable container, whereas the American tube easily tips over. However, whilst the pot isn’t a practical travelling companion, the American tube slips into any small bag without much inconvenience.

Another benefit to the tube is the cleanliness and control in delivering the product into your palm, which allows you to take only the right amount without contaminating the rest. Moreover, the pot can attract dust and loose hairs when opened, as well as causing the product to expire sooner than if it were in a tube.

Brylcreem US Tube New Design Logo

Composition & Shine

The American Brylcreem is a loose almost aqueous cream with traces of an oily residue. Conversely, the British Brylcreem has a thicker creamy texture that reacts like soft butter when manipulated between the fingers. It also contains little grease and feels cleaner in the hands and scalp.

Although both provide an excellent sheen, the aforementioned oily residue in the American Brylcreem delivers a far deeper long-lasting shine. However, the oil can leave deposits on material, hats and even bare hands whilst the British variant is relatively clean to touch.

Brylcreem Products Close-UpAmerican Brylcreem (Left) and British Brylcreem (Right). Note the oil at the base of the American version whilst the British product retains its form.

Hold & Longevity

It should be noted that, although Brylcreem styles and nourishes the hair and provides an excellent shine, it tends to require some attention throughout the day.

Brylcreem will not provide the same hold as pomades, which can be advantageous for more sensitive scalps and roots. Although the UK variant has an overall stronger hold, it has a tendency to dull quicker than its American counterpart. Consequently, the British Brylcreem may be more likely to require topping up during the day, whilst the American variant is potent enough to be simply combed back to life.

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Brylcreem Results Appearance US UKThe difference between a little dab of American (left) and British (right) Brylcreem in the hair.

Due to the UK Brylcreem coming in a pot, topping up can be an impractical affair. However, many aficionadi of the product have recommended Vitalis Hair Tonic to be an excellent accompaniment for restyling, which is also deliciously laced with a classic Barbershop smell. Regardless, it goes without saying that a pocket comb is an essential accessory when using Brylcreem.

Fragrance & Conditioning

Although the Brylcreem fragrance is synonymous with the era, the two variations are surprisingly unalike. Whilst the US Brylcreem has a bold, citrusy scent, the British version is sugary sweet. Although both are quite pleasant, the American version has a more compelling fragrance than its British counterpart.

Both Brylcreems claim the ability to condition hair, whilst the British variant goes so far as to boast that their product is enriched with protein. Although the benefits of the added protein seem rather obscure, both products appear to have a remarkable nourishing effect.

Brylcreem 1940s advert World War 2 Soldier“The purest most beneficial tonic hair dressing you can buy.”

When washed out, the hair is left with a full and healthy feeling. However, if the product is left in for more than a day, it can have an adverse effect by causing a build-up of grease, which is especially prevalent in the American variation. Nevertheless, as long as the hair is regularly washed, Brylcreem is generally a healthy compliment to a personal grooming routine.

Pricing & Value For Money

As their availability varies from country to country, it’s difficult to properly assess their value for money from a particular location. For instance, the British Brylcreem is much cheaper in the UK whilst the case is the opposite in the USA.

Nevertheless, Amazon.com stocks both in large quantities at fair prices. The best deal can be found when purchasing three tubes of USA Brylcreem, which provides you with over 15 Oz (445 ml) for just over $16.

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Meanwhile, a 250 ml (8.45 Oz) tub of the UK Brylcreem can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $6.34. As you can see, the price difference is minor even if the UK variant is just a touch cheaper by volume.

Final Assessment Of The Two Brylcreems

Both incarnations of Brylcreem are a testament to a bygone era. Although they vary on minor points, they are of equal quality and each have their unique benefits. Whilst the American version provides a rich shine, British Brylcreem is more malleable and will retain a slightly stronger hold. Whilst it’s true that the American Brylcreem has an alluring zesty fragrance and a richer shine, British Brylcreem’s versatile and greaseless composition has its own strengths.

Don Draper Brylcreem Boy Hair

Although at a push, I will personally be more likely to reach for the American product, I tend to alternate between the two throughout the week. Objectively, there is no superior product beyond personal preference and due to their low cost and accessibility thanks to the internet, both can be obtained for the same value.

Brylcreem
Reviewed by Charles-Philippe Bowles, on .
"A tough choice to make. Despite tough competition from its British counterpart, the American brylcreem tubes offers the best in hold, shine and portability."
Rating: 4.0 ★★★★

About the Author:

Charles-Philippe is a Franco-Briton who in forgetting where he parked his time machine, settled down somewhere between Paris and Champagne during the early 21st Century. A Brie connoisseur and wine enthusiast with a penchant for all things vintage, you can find him loitering on Instagram when he isn’t writing for Bespoke Unit.

18 Comments

  1. Ben October 19, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Hi Charles

    Great article. I actually did a comparison myself recently of the 2 and found both products to be in interesting. I would argue that the American is closer to the very first Brylcreem as it still contains Beeswax, where the English has changed for some reason. It could be good for either the US or English to resurrect the jars from the earlier periods.

    Ben

    • Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t find much out about the original brylcreem so that’s really interesting. Was this a comparison in your own time or did you write an article? If so, I’d love to read it.

      I’ll be honest that I took the easy way out in my conclusions, but I do prefer the shine and fragrance of the American one. It’s just a devil to find in Europe unless you buy online and cough up for shipping fees!

      Agreed, it’s a shame when products try to modernise to still be hip; it would be great to see the products embrace their iconic image again.

      Kind regards,

      Charles-Philippe

  2. Dan January 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Hi Charles-Phillippe.

    Great article. I have worn Bryclcreem for 55+ years. But, after buying two red pots recently, well, it’s just not Brylcreem. It does not smell like Brylcreeem, and there is no mention of beeswax in the ingredients list. In fact, comparing it to an old pot, it’s quite different. Do you know what’s happened? I’m saddened. I notice that the product has been taken over by another company. I want my old Brylcreem.

    Dan

    • Hi Dan,

      Thank you for the kind words. It’s really good to hear from someone who’s experienced with Brylcreem. Being a young’un, I can only compare the products as they exist today and from what I’ve read. It’s a shame to hear that Bcylreem has changed so much over the years. In fact, I’m a bit saddened to learn it!

      Unfortunately, the British Brylcreem that came in the red pots has been passed from company to company since the 1970s. The current owner today is Unilever but when I contacted, they practically refused to tell me anything about its changes and feigned ignorance when pressed. Sadly, we’ll probably never know whatever actually happened to the original stuff.

      Nevertheless, I’d actually recommend that you try the American Brylcreem out as it’s closer to their original product from what I gather. As I recall, it still contains beeswax too. I’d be also very interested to hear what you think when trying it out and if you could compare it to the original red pots from the UK. You can find reasonably priced bottles from sale on Amazon.co.uk for import from the USA.

      All the best,

      Charles-Philippe

  3. Frank Wagner October 1, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    i have used the US version of brylcreem for about sixty years. Recently i bought a tube – same outer packaging, but a different appearance of the tube itself. What a disappointment1 The cheap French perfume aroma is gone, and the (apparently) new formulation is terrible. It causes a persistent, aggravating itchiness on my scalp, to the point where I was driven to wash it out of my hair. I can not use this stuff. Has anyone else had this problem? If so, is there any way we can petition the manufacturer to return to the original formulation?

  4. Tom June 19, 2016 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    I’ve used Brylcreme for about 70 years. It’s great stuff.

  5. Old BIll June 19, 2016 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    I first used Brylcreem in 1936; 80 years by my reckoning. The first jar is still going strong although it’s lost its fragrance somewhat.

    • Paul Anthony July 13, 2016 at 2:13 pm - Reply

      Let’s hope it goes on for another 80 years!

  6. Cream Ed June 19, 2016 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    My grandmother gave me my first jar of Brylcreem when I was 3 years old. I’m now 93 so that makes 90 years of daily use now. I don’t know how I’d survive without it to be honest.

    • Paul Anthony July 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm - Reply

      Get ’em while their young! Wish I had any hair left at 30, let alone 93 bravo sir.

  7. John G September 13, 2016 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    I have both at home, the American does shine better but unlike this review, I find the British smells a bit nicer. Overall, I think the American is better.

    • Paul Anthony September 20, 2016 at 10:48 am - Reply

      Thanks for your insight John!

  8. Mark Williams November 30, 2017 at 9:36 am - Reply

    I have my own mystery concerning Brylcreem purchased in the US. I found this website while looking for an explanation as to why my local store has carried two different types of Brylcreem in the past, but NOT the two different products described in this discussion. I have discovered a THIRD type of Brylcreem. This means there are two completely different types of “cream” that are packaged almost identically to each other here in the USA, both labeled “Brylcreem” and both distributed by “Combe”. The first tubes I purchased did not have the word “original” on the cardboard box or the tube. The ones that were different had the word “original” on the box and the tube. The cream in these tubes was not the normal “white” color, but rather a “yellow” colored cream that was noticeably more oily. I much prefer the Brylcreem that is yellow in color. I have now used up the two tubes of the yellow type of cream and upon returning to the same store I can only find the Brylcreem that is white in color. What is this other Brylcreem that I stumbled upon that is yellow in color and noticeably more oily? I would love someone to help me with this mystery. I would also like to find out where I can purchase the Brylcreem that is yellow in color. Any ideas?

    • Charles-Philippe December 1, 2017 at 2:18 am - Reply

      Hi Mark! A true mystery indeed and thanks for sharing it with us! Is one tube more modern and the other with “Original” written on it still retaining the old-school logo and text? If so, I’d hazard a guess that the first tubes you got were like the ones in this review (I suppose you could compare with the photos). The second “Original” tubes are likely older formulations if they use that wording. Combe does own the Bryclreem label in the USA but living in Europe, I’m not overly familiar with their other activities and whether they’ve begun licencing it. That said, I’d be interested to hear more of what you discovery!

  9. Peter Gardiner December 12, 2017 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Many thanks for your review. I have a red jar of the product but am considering purchasing a single tube for traveling.
    Would you think that they would be somewhat similar in ingredients and not ruin the original look by Brylcreem?

    • Charles-Philippe December 12, 2017 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      Hi Peter! I don’t think that the USA variant ruins the look but that depends in what you’re looking for. As it’s slightly oilier, you’ll get a better sheen and a slightly stronger hold. However, it doesn’t have that flowing finish that you can get from the red pots. Either way, I’d ask you to definitely give it a try and let us know how it turns out!

  10. Josh February 23, 2018 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    Hey Chuck, I enjoyed your comparison of both products. I’ve been using Brylcreem (American) for about 5-6 years. I love the stuff. In addition to entering the world of pomades and Groom and Clean, classic hair products are a fun way to relieve a bygone era, where men dressed like men, and well, I think you get my train of thought.
    I love brylcreem, the smell, the way it styles my hair.
    I haven’t tried the British version, which I am going to have to remedy.
    Its interesting that you mentioned the British RAF brylcream boys, as my real initial introduction to this classic hairstyle was the American 8th airforce, especially as portrayed in the movie Memphis Belle.
    I have always had the utmost respect for those who flew and fought over Europe. I’ve grown to appreciate their music, styles, movies etc.
    Good stuff either all around.

    • Charles-Philippe February 26, 2018 at 2:23 am - Reply

      Hi Josh! Thanks for your message and glad to read that you enjoyed the article! I’ve never tried Groom & Clean but now that I live in France, I’m more-or-less obliged to use Pento, which I don’t like as much. However, it’s interesting the relationship between Brylcreem and both the American and British airforces!

      All the best,

      CP

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