How, What, Why: The Ins and Outs of Using Styling Gel

Be it the light and smooth feel of Auntie Jackie's or the thick and sticky molasses that is Eco-Styler; hair styling gel has long been our best friend.

Between protecting our hair from pesky flyaways, never failing to lay our edges, and fighting off-dry and undefined curls, styling gel for hair truly does it all!

However, how much do you know about the use and composition of styling gel? What is really in those fruity-smelling puddings that we apply by the glob to our hair? And how often should we run the substance over our tresses?

Well, have no fear, for this article is here! In this piece, we will be answering all the questions you may have pondered but never had answered when it comes to your beloved hair gel. Let's start with a quick science lesson on the chemical make-up of one of your most-used hair products.

What is Styling Gel?

Styling gels are most often used for holding your hair in place—be it for a slicked-back low pony or spruced up high puff. Depending on the type of hold you are looking for, gels come in various strengths.

Edge controls made by brands like Argan Oil and Olive Oil are examples of stronghold gels that are extremely dense.

Five styling gels that you never heard of!

These types of gels, given then sturdy hold on your hair, are amazing for laying down stubborn edges. On the other hand, gels made by companies such as Eco Styler, DevaCurl, and Cantu lean more toward medium-hold products. These can be great tools to achieve a variety of specific hairstyles, like wet-looks, waves, slick-back dos, and twist-outs.

Ultimately, styling gels are used to add shine, texture, and grip to your tresses. But don't mousses, spritz, and styling creams do the same thing? While all these products are great for adding extra body and definition to your hair, the main difference between all of them is rooted in their consistencies.

Mousse, for instance, is a light-hold substance that foams and dries quickly when applied to your locs. On the other hand, Styling creams tend to have a more moderate thickness, though they add lightweight moisture to your hair. And finally, gels are the thickest of the three. Again, they can be used on wet, damp, or dry hair to add definition and hold to your locs for extended periods.

Style Factor Edge Booster Strong Hold Styling Gel


The Science Behind Styling Gel

Styling gel is primarily composed of:

  • Styling polymers
  • Thickeners
  • Solubilizers
  • Stabilizers
  • Neutralizers
  • Preservatives
  • Humectants
  • Adjustment agents

Try saying that ten times fast. The styling polymers in hair gel make up the product's foundation, with vinyl monomers such as PVP (Polyvinyl Pyrrolidone) or VP (Vinyl Pyrrolidone) acting as the leading ingredients.

These chemicals allow your styling gel to hold while also water-soluble enough to be washed out of your hair.

Given its rather dense appearance, the next most crucial ingredient in styling gel for your hair is the one that makes up the basis of the thickening system: Carbomer. Carbomer is an acrylic polymer that, when put into water, is acidic.

When mixed with neutralizing agents such as TEA (Triethylamine) or AMP (Aminomethyl Propanol), this polymer initiates the cross-linking of ingredients required to cause the substance to swell and transform into a jelly-like mass.

Though they can appear as condensed solids when at rest, styling gels happen to be mainly liquid. While they may seem thick in their containers, the liquids within gels allow them to be applied evenly to your hair with relative ease.

As this hair product is applied, the polymers within it seep into the surface of your hair to cause nearby stands to clump and curl together as well as stay put for extended amounts of time.

Though the composition of hair styling gels involves lots of chemicals, you can also learn how to make styling gel at home using these DIY tips.

Pattern's stronghold styling gel

Pros of Using Styling Gel

Between your daily use of the product and the details listed above, using styling gel in your hair can have an array of benefits.

Now it is time for the best part! Let's delve into the top five advantages of using styling gel for your hair.

The Styling gel Defines Your Natural Curl Pattern

Whether your hair type is wavy, curly, coily, or kinky, styling gels help to emphasize the curl pattern(s) your mama gave ya.

The polymers within the product cause your hair to clump and curl the way it naturally should, defining your hair texture in the process.

As a result, styling gel tends to be a key component in many naturals' wash-and-go routines. However, it should be mentioned that this product does not discriminate. It can expose both the bouncy curls and damaged ends of your hair. However, using styling gel is a great way to assess the damage to your hair.

The Gel Easily Revitalizes Old Hairstyles

Styling gels are great for touching up older styles to add a new and fresh look to them.

Styling gels are typically infused with healthy oils that keep your hair shiny throughout your use of the product, making your hair retain glamour for days to come.

Generally, all you need to do is reapply a tad bit more gel along with some water to revitalize your curls for the day.

ECOCO Styler Professional Styling Gel, Olive Oil, Max Hold 10, 16 Oz (Pack of 2)


Provides Hold for Hairstyles

With its thick consistency and amazing clumping abilities, styling gels are everyone's go-to for executing stylish new dos.

Since they provide great hold, styling gels are commonly used for coily braids and twist-outs, sleek pulled-back hairstyles, and laying-down edges.

Many professional hairstylists depend on hair gels to complete intricate designs for their clients. Tentatively, the stronger the hold of a styling gel, the longer the cast created by the gel will hold your hair in place.

Smooths Frizz

Styling gel protects your hair against hot and humid temperatures by holding it in place throughout the sweat-inducing heat. This prevents your hair from falling subject to excess frizz, which may make your hairstyle appear much older than it may be.

This product is also amazing for taming flyaways and stubborn pieces of hair from sticking up, giving your hair a clean and sleek look at all times.

The Styling Gel Stretches Out Natural Hair

Using styling gel can reduce shrinkage and naturally stretch out your hair. One way to stretch your hair with styling gel is to apply it generously and finger-detangle your locs for a curly and glossy feeling.

Using styling gel to assist you with your twist and braid-outs is also a great way to stretch your hair, lock in moisture, and define your curls.

Cons of Using Styling Gel

While the benefits of using styling gel in your hair are plentiful, all good things have pitfalls. With that being said, let's go over the top five cons of using styling gel for your hair.

Some Styling Gels contain alcohol

Styling gels tend to contain alcohol for various reasons, mainly to act as preservatives that keep the product's consistency intact for longer. However, not all alcohol within hair gels is harmful, such as Cetearyl alcohol and other fatty alcohols found within several products for natural hair.

The alcohols in styling gels and other goods you want to avoid typically have the word "prop" in them. An example of harmful alcohol includes Isopropyl alcohol.

Other Damaging Ingredients in styling gels

Besides alcohol, styling gel can contain many other toxic ingredients like:

  • sulfates
  • silicones
  • parabens

While used in many shampoos to remove product buildup, sulfates essentially strip the hair of all its natural oils. If found in your styling gel, this can lead to excessive dryness and even breakage if not remedied right away.

Similarly, chemicals like silicones can cause your hair to succumb to dullness and brittleness due to product building up on your tresses. And lastly, though many labels deem their products "Phthalate, Paraben, and Petroleum Free," these chemicals can still be found in many styling gels.

Parabens are synthetic chemicals that can lead to several health risks, such as cancerous tumors and an unhealthy endocrine system.

Styling Gel Can Dry Out Natural Hair

The harmful alcohol and other chemicals often found in styling gels tend to reduce moisture in the hair. Alcohol, for instance, has a naturally fast evaporation rate. This can cause styling gels to leave the hair bare of moisture and more susceptible to damage due to the lack of protection against the elements it can provide.

Other chemicals within the product can cause wear and tear on your hair if styling gel is overused.

Gels Can Cause Product Buildup

Ever wonder where those white flakes that seem to randomly pop up in your hair come from? Chances are they are a product of old styling gel hardening in your hair.

Styling gels create a cast of sorts that holds and captures your natural hair pattern(s), which allows the gel to define your curls. However, when this cast hardens and dries, it can cause excess flaking and product buildup within the hair, giving your hair a more flakey feel and look.

To avoid such product buildup, it is best to only use styling gel a few days throughout the week. Make sure to wash it out of your hair within three to seven days after extensive use of the product.

Gels do Not Provide as Much Moisture as Other Hair Products

Styling gels are primarily manufactured to do just that: style your hair. With that being said, they do not tend to contain many hydrating ingredients aside from humectants.

The alcohols within most of them cause the hair to become dry and sometimes even brittle if left in for too long. As such, it is best to use styling hair gels in combination with more moisturizing products such as leave-in conditioners, curl creams, and hair milk.

Our Favorite Styling Gels

While many promising styling gels are sitting on the beauty supply shelves, we have decided to narrow the list down to the top five for wavy, curly, coily, and kinky hair.

Eco styling gel

Eco styling gel is made by Ecoco and is one of the most popular styling gels used by hair professionals.

It was one of the first hair styling gels on the market with no alcohol in its ingredients. The eco styling gel comes in a wide selection that includes more than twelve products.

Ideal for all hair types, Eco Styler's Moroccan Argan Oil Gel is fantastic for maximizing the softness, shine, and manageability of even the most resistant hair types. This product is a medium-hold gel that defines curls without causing excessive product buildup as well.

How much is eco styling gel?

The Eco styling gel costs between $3 and $20 depending on the ingredients and the size. The brand offers a wide variety of products such as:

  • Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel
  • Eco Style Styling Gel, Olive Oil
  • Eco Style Gold – Olive Oil, Shea Butter, and Black Castor & Flaxseed Oil Gel
  • Eco Styler Krystal Styling Gel

ECOCO Styler Professional Styling Gel, Olive Oil, Max Hold 10, 16 Oz (Pack of 2)


Style factor edge booster gel

Style factor is another competitor of the Ecoco brand. The Style factor edge booster gel comes with a lot of scent options and package sizes. It provides maximum hold and shape of wet or dry hair.

This gel holds with no messy buildup. For women with 4C type of hair, the style factor edge booster gel is a good alternative to using eco-styler. Apply a light amount to your hair, and it holds well with a sleek look.

Style Factor Edge Booster Strong Hold Styling Gel


DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel

DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel is useful for defining the hair of those of us with multiple curl patterns. Try using this product for all your sleek looks if you have a dryer hair type.

DevaCurl Ultra Defining Hair Gel, 32 Fl Oz


Mielle Organics Honey & Ginger Styling Gel

A little of this medium-hold styling gel truly goes a long way! Great for adding softness and freeing your hair from excessive product buildup, Mielle Organics Honey & Ginger Styling Gel is a great choice for that specific hairdo with even the most impervious type of hair.

Mielle Organics Styling Gel Honey & Ginger


Carol's Daughter Pracaxi Nextar Style Control Gel

More than just a heavenly springtime scent, this styling gel provides curl definition by combining Pracaxi oil, native to Brazil, with other growth additives like castor oil. This product is also great for taming frizzy flyaways of the sleekest of hairstyles.

Carol's Daughter Pracaxi Nectar Style Control Gel


Raw Curls Medium Hold Gel

Raw Curls Medium Hold Gel is perfect for when you need some extra hold on those muggy summer days for your more fine or wavy hair. It adds significant volume and definition to your curls, all while not weighing them down, even if you may put too much of the product in your hair.

This styling gel is composed of organic ingredients and free of harmful chemicals such as parabens, sulfate, synthetic preservatives, and alcohol.

Raw Curls Medium Hold Gel