Found: The Best Hair Gels for Curly Hair
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When it comes to any beauty routine, it’s important to occasionally step back and take stock of the products you have in rotation. For example, is this deep conditioner too heavy for my hair? Is this oil the reason my hair looks greasy? For those with curly hair, another important question to ask yourself may be, is this hair gel right for my texture?
For anyone with waves and curls, you know that hair gels are not a one-size-fits-all kind of product and finding the right one isn’t always easy. After all, there is a lot to consider. But before we dive into the different types of formulas, let’s establish what a hair gel even does. “One benefit of using a gel is more longevity in your style,” explains Quia Querisma, Pureology’s curly hair expert. “The difference between using a gel versus a foam is that it's going to give you a firmer hold.”
While all hair types can technically use a gel in their routine, the role will be slightly different. “Waves, curls, and coils can benefit from a gel to enhance any texture,” says Querisma. “But straight hair not so much unless you wanted to slick it back.” Similarly, celebrity hairstylist Camille Friend notes that depending on the level of hold a formula has, certain gels will pair better with different styles and textures. “If you're doing a snatched ponytail, you might want something stronger, but if you're wearing your curls every day you might want a soft or medium hold,” Friend explains.
Below, both experts detail how to choose the best formula for you, their application tricks, and the formulas they stand by.
How to Choose the Best Curly Hair Gel
Both experts agree that choosing the right formula really comes down to your specific hair goals. Therefore, first steps should include asking yourself what you want out of using a gel. When in doubt, Friend recommends starting with a medium-hold product and going from there. “If you decide you want to go stronger or lower [you can adjust accordingly],“ she says. Beyond choosing your desired hold, Querisma notes that there are a few key ingredients to watch out for as well. “More than anything, you should look for products that are alcohol-free because [the ingredient] dries out the hair,” she says. “If you're looking to enhance texture you should definitely choose something water-based because it’ll help your curls [pop].”
How to Use Hair Gel for Curly Hair
There are a few ways to approach the application process. Friend opts to use a slew of products post-shower. “Start with your shampoo, leave-in conditioner, and a microfiber towel. Really get all the water out of the hair before you begin to cocktail [the products],” she explains. “I personally like to use a curl cream first. Use your hands to work that through [from roots to ends] and follow that [up] with the styling gel. After you apply, don't touch it. Let it set. Once it's dry, you can loosen up your curls [with your fingers].”
While Querisma has a similar tactic, she also has a few tailored tips for every curl type. “For wavy hair and loose curls, I would suggest flipping the hair upside down then applying the gel to your hands and smoothing it through with your hands in a prayer position,” she explains. After brushing the product through [your hair] and scrunching your hair with a towel, her trick is to start diffusing with a blow dryer upside down. This helps add extra volume at the root.
For curly hair, Querisma recommends working in sections. “You want to start with the hair pretty saturated with water. Brush through with your detangler, put the gel in your hand, rake it through, then brush through again to really get the curls to pop up,” she says. If you would prefer to elongate your curls rather than having them spring up, Querisma suggests simply raking the product through with your hands and skipping the brush.
Querisma notes that oftentimes people with tight, curly hair are fighting shrinkage and therefore are chasing ways to lengthen their curls. In this case, she recommends breaking the curls as you apply the product with your hands and allowing the weight of a thicker gel to help stretch out the curl.
See our approved list of products below to help you find the best hair gel to fit your needs.
Best Gel for a Firm Hold
“I really love this for coily hair because of how dense it is. It really helps to stretch curls out,” says Querisma. “You can also dilute it with water to use on wavy hair. The stronger hold helps to keep waves in place.”
Best Medium-Hold Gel
Querisma loves this product for all curly hair types. “Once you rake this product through [your hair], you will get a touchable hold,” she says. “It’s also good to use if you want to slick your hair.”
Best Customizable Gel
“The greatest thing about this product is that it has a 97 percent natural base and [it’s free of] alcohol and parabens,” says Friend, who is part of Prose’s hair advisory board. She trusts the formula to hold up for hours. The style gel is completely customizable to your needs and can be made in soft, medium, or strong holds.
Best Gel for Short Hair
“I really like this formula for short hair,” explains Querisma. For best results, she recommends applying it while your hair is still wet and spreading it in whatever direction you want your curls to go in.
Best Drugstore Gel
This cult classic provides a reliable hold without breaking the bank. “It's the kind of gel that works on everybody's hair,” says Friend.
Best Soft-Hold Gel
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 have strangers gawking in no time.
Best Gel for Humidity
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.
Best Gel for Shine
This gel is not too heavy, not too light, and 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.
Best Flexible-Hold Gel
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.
Best Gel for Tight Curls
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.