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The 9 Best Hair Gels for Waves and Curls—Minus the Crunch

Definition plus moisture? Sign us up.

By: Hannah Baxter

Back me up, fellow wavy and curly haired ladies—finding a product with the perfect balance of hold and definition, that also doesn’t weigh down your delicate texture, is tough. I know that I test at least three new products a month with varying degrees of success. But following a recent trip back home to visit my mom, and realizing I had left my current rotation of styling picks at my Brooklyn apartment (thank you, 7:00 AM flight), I decided to revisit the product I used in high school: hair gel.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I had zero idea of how to use a gel properly when I was a teenager—this was before I spoke to professional hairstylists on a near-weekly basis—so I approached my post-shower application cautiously. Following a dime-sized amount (using the prayer-hands method and a slow air dry), lo and behold, my 2b and 2c waves looked extra bouncy and shockingly defined. Had I been missing out with my preferred (and heavier) creams over the past eight years? Or was it simply my mother’s well water (instead of the hard NYC water) that had my hair looking so fresh? Most likely a combination of the two, but the result was noteworthy enough that I have decided to give hair gels, despite their reputation as a potentially crunchy mess, another shot.

Check out a few of my current favorites.

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For Looser Waves

Marc Anthony Curl Defining Lotion

$8

The gel that started it all! This silk- and vitamin E–enriched lotion (although I find that term misleading, as it is more of a gel consistency) packs a huge punch for such an accessible price tag. Use a dime-sized amount on shoulder-length hair—level up or down depending on length and thickness—when it’s still damp from the shower. Either air-dry or use a diffuser for perfectly defined, silky waves.

Buy

Bounce Curl Light Creme Gel

$18

If you’re still not totally on board with swapping your curl cream for a gel, this product is a great gateway as it’s 80 percent gel and 20 percent cream. It also contains black seed oil for extra hydration and provides a weightless hold for soft, defined waves that will have strangers gawking in no time.

Buy

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Jessicurl Spiralicious Styling Gel

$17

2a through 2c wavy girls, this one’s for you. The gel provides soft definition without stretching out your texture, with zero flaking or drying on fine hair. Just apply with either the prayer-hand technique or rake through the gel with your fingers on soaking wet hair, then air-dry or use a diffuser for touchably soft waves.

Buy

For Medium-Body Curls

Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel

$75

Humidity is no match for this climate-control gel, even in humidity-heavy locations. This formula seals in moisture (a constant struggle for textured hair) without weighing you down, while a UV filter also protects against environmental damage. And if you’re ever afraid of running out of hair products, you can snag this in a whopping 33-ounce bottle.

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Matrix Biolage Styling Curl Defining Elixir

$18

Not too heavy, not too light, just the perfect medium-hold gel for 2c and  3a curls. You’ll have absolutely no stiffness with this formula either, just shiny, healthy curls courtesy of the added blue agave nectar. It’s also free of parabens, mineral oils, and alcohol.

Buy

Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk Frizz Control Sculpting Gel

$8

There’s zero of the dreaded crunch happening with this frizz-control gel, and you’ll still get that definition that makes gels a secret weapon for textured hair. The hold is flexible enough that your hair still feels touchable, but the effects won’t wear off by the end of the day.

Buy

For Drier, Tighter Curls

The Doux Big Poppa Defining Gel

$13

This gel is appropriate for all curl types and textures, but is especially suited for type 3 and 4 hair. Whether you’re looking for the perfect addition to your wash-and-go routine or to seal in moisture and add definition to your twist-out, this frizz-fighting formula has got you covered.

Buy

Bumble and bumble Curl Anti-humidity Gel-oil

$30

Still want the extra definition of a gel without sacrificing much-needed moisture? This cult-favorite formula has added Brazilian oils to hydrate parched strands while adding a little more weight for tighter spirals. The summer heat and humidity is no match for this formula.

Buy

Wonder Curl Get Set Hair Jelly Defining Gel

$15

If you love how fabulous your curls look when they’re wet and post-conditioner, this vitamin B5 gel will help you keep that level of definition without the crunch. Better yet, your hair will feel stronger after application, so your curls look healthier, shinier, and bouncier than ever.

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