Should I really be using curly hair gel to style my hair?

gel for curly hair

Raise your hand if you ever thought you’d be putting gel on your curly hair?! I can hear a giant ‘no’. That was definitely me. Now I’m a true convert.

I’m going to share the secret to gel, how to apply it and some product recommendations including my absolute favourite gel that I use for curl definition ❤️.

my favourite gel for curl definition

In the past I was all for curl creams, serums, I had a mousse on the go..but gel? No way. I knew what gel was for – for keeping short hair in place so that it WOULD NOT BUDGE. Making it crunchy and hard to the touch at the same time.

Yet gel has become an indispensable part of my curly regime. It takes trust in the product but gel really is a game-changer for curly hair.

Gel came to the forefront of the curly game when it was recommended by Lorraine Massey in her Curly Girl’s Handbook. Curly hair gel is the no.1 styling product that she recommends when using The Curly Girl Method.

You know how your hair always looks great when it is wet and then frizzes and goes out of shape as it dries? This is where gel comes in!

Here’s why you should be using gel on curly hair

When you apply gel to wet hair, it forms a cast around your curl strands.

As your hair dries and the gel dries, this cast hardens. This is that crispy hair feeling that we hate, but wait, it’s about to get so much better! Once our hair is fully dry you then REMOVE THIS CAST.

This is the crucial step. The cast has held your curls in place as they have dried, retaining their shape and pattern. Once you remove the cast, you are left with your natural curl pattern, just as it was when it was wet AND it helps to prevent frizz forming in the process!

Great, right? I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

How Do You Apply The Curly Hair Gel?

  • Gel should be applied onto wet hair, as soon as possible once you are out of the shower.
  • Apply the gel to your curl clumps in a scrunching motion. The size of your curl clumps will vary depending on your hair. This is usually done with your hair hanging forwards. Push your hair up towards your scalp as you scrunch the product in. This helps to encourage curl pattern.
  • Make sure to cover all of your hair in a good coating of gel. I find that I need quite a lot of gel to do this. It will depend on the length and thickness of your hair but don’t be afraid to use more. It is better to have a strong cast than to waste gel by creating one that does nothing.
  • Once you have applied it, move your hair around so that it falls into its natural position. 
  • Depending on how frizzy your hair is, you may want to add a small amount of gel to your hair’s canopy (the top of your head) to eliminate surface ‘halo’ frizz.
  • Now either leave your hair to air dry or diffuse.
  • Diffusing is best done while your hair is still completely wet and before the cast forms. Diffuse gently on a low heat and use the same scrunching action as when you applied the gel. Move your hair upwards towards your scalp. You will feel the gel cast begin to form.
gel cast on curly hair
You can almost see the crunch! The solid cast is forming
  • Once the cast has formed be careful not to disturb it. Wait until your hair is completely dry before you scrunch it out. Removing the cast too early can result in frizz and less defined curls. 
  • When you are ready gently move your hair around and scrunch upwards again with your hands. You will feel your hair getting softer as you do this. You are releasing your curls from the gel cast. Move your hair around at the roots too to ensure that all the cast is removed. 
Removing the cast. Ready…go!
  • If you do experience a lot of frizz it can be beneficial to use a few drops of a light oil or serum on your hands as you scrunch the cast away. This will help to seal the hair’s cuticle, reduce frizz and retain moisture. Argan oil is perfect for this. It is light but able to penetrate the hair’s cuticle. Read my post on the benefits of argan oil.

The process of removing the cast is often referred to as SOTC – Scrunch Out The Crunch

The added bonus?

Not only will gel hold your curl definition as it dries, but it also helps your hair to retain moisture. This is the second reason why the gel should be applied to wet hair – it forms a seal around your curls – keeping moisture in! 

Gel FAQs

Will the cast flake as it is removed?

No, a good gel will form a cast which just disappears as you scrunch it out. No need to hoover afterwards and no gel cast dandruff!

Will I still be able to feel the product in my hair?

You shouldn’t feel any product in your hair once you have removed the gel cast. Your curls should feel soft and bouncy. If the gel has a strong fragrance you will most likely still be able to smell it once the cast has been removed.

How long will it take for the cast to form?

You will feel the cast forming quite quickly – within the first 10 minutes of applying the gel. This is why it is important to make sure your hair is sitting in its natural position before the cast begins to form. Once it has formed you run the risk of breaking the cast too early if you move your hair. You will need to leave the cast until your hair is fully dry – however long this usually takes by air drying or diffusing. If you aren’t sure try carefully sliding a hand to the underneath of your hair near the nape of your neck. You might be able to feel a root area which has not been covered in gel to check whether your hair is fully dry.

My hair dries quickly – can I keep applying the gel?

If you find that parts of your hair have started to dry before you have had a chance to apply your gel, just re-wet them using a spray bottle filled with water. Once the curl clumps are wet again you can apply the gel to them. It is really important to put gel onto wet hair.

Can I layer the gel with other products?

Definitely. You will know which other products suit your hair so you can continue to use them and experiment with a gel on top. The gel should be the last product that you apply to ensure that the cast forms properly. If you have a leave in conditioner, curl priming spray, curl cream or mousse that you like to use, apply these first as usual. Start with the lightest products such as sprays, then move on to creams or mousses and finally apply the gel. Experiment! Everyone’s hair is different. I recommend making a note of exactly which products and techniques you have used as you experiment so that you can refer back to it if the results were a success!

How do I choose a gel?

Great question! There are lots to choose from. Firstly it depends whether you are following the Curly Girl Method. If so then there are certain ingredients to avoid. The ones you would be most likely to find in a gel are silicones, alcohols, parabens and phthalates.
– Silicones repel water and your hair won’t be able to absorb the moisture that it needs
Alcohols – specifically drying alcohols. Gel stays on your hair for a long period and drying alcohols with suck moisture from your hair. read my post
– Parabens are used as preservatives and there is debate over whether they are safe. There is evidence to suggest that they disrupt hormone function and are carcinogenic
– Phthalates are being phased out of products due to health concerns

If you aren’t strictly following the Curly Girl Method it is still worth looking out for some of the ingredients above – particularly the drying alcohols. They might speed up drying time but they will also suck moisture out of your hair.

Gel Recommendations (keep scrolling for my favourite!)

– As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I receive a commission if you buy any of the products below through the links provided. It doesn’t affect the price you pay and helps to run this website. Thank you x

The following gels are Curly Girl Method Approved. This means that they don’t contain any silicones, parabens, phthalates or drying alcohols:

As I Am Curling Jelly Coil and Curl Definer

Lightweight, moisturising gel with natural ingredients such as aloe vera, sugar beet root and vitamin E

Bouclème Curl Defining Gel

A lightweight, deeply moisturising gel to control frizz with no stickiness

Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat and Humidity Gel

Defines waves with flexible hold, fights humidity and protects agains UV and heat

Eco Styler Olive Oil

Firm hold, frizz fighting gel made with moisturising olive oil

A selection to get started. You can check whether any product is curly girl method approved using Curlsbot. Just copy and paste the ingredients list in.

More Acclaimed Gels For Curls:

Not 100% Curly Girl Approved but some of these still have a cult status!

Umberto Giannini Curl Jelly

  • silicone free
  • no drying alcohols
  • pthtalate free

My favourite! I have been using this gel for months now and I absolutely love it for hold, definition and it leaves no trace! It makes my curls feel soft and bouncy ❤️

umberto giannini curl jelly my favourite gel

Bumble and bumble Curl Anti-Humidity Gel Oil 150ml

  • paraben free
  • alcohol free
  • phthalate free

A frizz-fighting product which combines the hold of a gel with the hydration of an oil.

Boots Essentials Curl Creme

This product definitely has a long-standing fan club, offering high definition for curls. It is a bargain at £1.99. It contains harsh alcohols and has a strong fragrance but many swear by it.

  • paraben free
  • phthalate free
  • silicone free

I hope that this is helpful and has made you feel more comfortable with the idea of trying a gel on your curls 😊

I am a true convert! My no.1 piece of advice would be to trust the gel. Believe that once you have removed the cast your curls will be worth it!

Lauren xx

Ingredients correct as of 18.06.20

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