The Best Gel for Curly Hair

Despite misconceptions about gel, having a product that supports the natural shape of your curls is life-changing. If used correctly, gel extends your wash day and defines your curls without causing crunchiness or dryness. The key to using gel for curly hair is layering or “cocktailing” your hair products so you can define your curls without drying them out.

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best gel for curly hair

How to Use Hair Gel For Curly Hair

Whether or not gel is good for curly hair depends on the ingredients in your gel, and how you apply your products. If you use ingredients that are recommended by professionals and you apply your products in the correct order, you won’t need to worry about gel damaging your hair. Factors that affect your hair care routine include:

  • Humidity
  • Curl pattern
  • Porosity

Gel is a styling product that isn’t meant to replace your hair care products, so it’s best to apply it after moisturizers and detangling formulas.

Layering products for your hair is similar to layering skin care products: order matters.

If you only use gel to define your curls and you don’t add any other products to your routine, this likely won’t be enough to keep your curls moisturized.

How to Apply Gel

Try applying your leave in conditioner before you apply your gel:

  1. Apply water and leave in conditioner to your hair
  2. Use a denman brush to define your curls before you apply your gel. (If your curls are already defined, you’ll need less gel and your hair won’t be sticky or weighed down. Applying conditioner first also ensures that your hair care needs were addressed before your styling needs.)

Loraine Massey, the founder of the Curly Girl Method, recommends a botanical gel for curly hair. Although I personally love organic and botanical gels, there are many different clean beauty brands offering formulas with healthy ingredients.

Top Products Quick Guide

  1. Best Organic: Innersense Organic Gel
  2. Best Drug Store Gel: Kinky Curly
  3. Best Hair Jelly: Camille Rose Curl Maker

Where Does Gel Fit Into Your Curly Hair Routine?

Gel should be the last step of your hair care routine. It’s designed to support your hair. Whether or not you apply oil before or after gel will depend on how your hair responds. You’ll need to experiment.

Gel vs Mousse For Curly Hair

Gel creates a cast which can help you in very humid areas to prevent frizz. However, to break the gel cast and give your curls less structure, all you need to do is scrunch your hair.

Mousse defines your hair without creating a cast. However, gel provides a stronger hold than mousse.

Note: Mouse can fit into your curl routine as a way to refresh your curls.

If you’re using both mousse and gel on wet hair it’s better to apply the mousse first for definition. The mousse is a lighter product that will define your hair well, so let the mousse do the heavy lifting and add gel last as needed.

If you’re refreshing your curls on days 3 or 4, then apply mousse for extra definition. Mousse is usually recommended for wavier hair, but any curl pattern can use mousse or gel because there are so many varieties of gel. There are light, medium, and firm hold gels. There are also many different kinds of mousse.

How to Know Which Kind of Gel Your Curly Hair Needs?

With gel, less is more. It’s better to buy the lighter gel if you can use it and only use heavier products if you really need them for curl definition.

Just because a gel is “light” or not very thick, doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. The thicker the product, the more likely it is that it will take longer to dry and you might have some stickiness.

Determining which kind of gel to use for your curly hair will will depend on how much support your hair needs, not necessarily how curly your hair is.

Best Gel For Curly Hair


Innersense I Create Hold

Gel For Curly Hair FAQ

You can keep your hair moisturized and achieve extra curl definition from using gel as long as you layer your products correctly (moisturizers before gel).

Most gels will not cause flakes. Usually, this means you’ve allied too much gel or your leave in conditioner isn’t compatible with the gel formula you chose to apply.

Some gels can make your hair sticky. If you live in high humidity or near the ocean, the humidity in the air can reactivate the product on your curls (especially if you caked on the product). The best gel I’ve found for high humidity situations is the Innersense Gel.

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