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There’s a posse of power players that can shape and enhance curls, but some stylers, like gel, stand out. “Gel will help define the hair, but it’s really for hold and to seal in all the moisture and product you have applied before it,” says Orlando-based stylist Emely Leison. Sure, finding the right formulation is key, but all curly girls can use gel, she says. “It just depends on the gel type and how you’re using it.”
She recommends a clean formula free of alcohol, which can cause dryness—remember that dry hair equals frizz, which is what we’re trying to fight here. And look for a gel that does not contain sulfates, silicones, and parabens. “All of that will create a cast and weigh down hair,” she explains. Instead, a light-hold formula is suitable for most wavy and curly hair textures.
As curly girls know, nailing your desired look is as much about the product as how you put it on. Leison recommends applying gel to wet hair as a last step (as she says, think of it as the Parmesan cheese on your pasta), keeping it two inches from the roots so you have some lift and movement. And don’t glob it on—that can cause spotty buildup throughout. “The best way to apply gel is by taking sections, making sure you evenly distribute product,” adds Pattern Hair ambassador Mideyah Parker. Before you start scrunching, check out our roundup of the best gels for curly hair.
Rizos Curls Light Hold Gel
This does-it-all formula helps give curls a lasting shape while keeping the texture soft and flexible. It’s chock-full of natural strand nourishers like aloe vera (hydrating and shine-enhancing), thyme (soothing and anti-inflammatory), and rosemary (strengthening). Plus, it’s water-based and alcohol-free. “When you go with a natural, clean brand [like this one], you’re not going to get that flakiness,” says Leison.
Pattern Beauty Curl Gel
“This curl gel is great for people who love to put a cream and then a gel in their hair,” says Parker. The medium-hold formula has a creamy consistency and hair-healthy ingredients like aloe vera, coconut oil, and cacay oil. As far as application goes, Parker likes to scrunch it into curls for a more natural free-falling texture. If some curls need an extra zhush, she’ll take smaller sections and finger coil them along the way.
Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
Heading on a beachy vacation? This high-hold gel will be a formidable force in the fight against humidity. It has the brand’s signature anti-frizz climate control technology, which creates a shield on strands to keep humidity out. Gel with extra hold like this one is also great for slicked-back styles or if you are hoping to create a wet look.
Innersense Organic Beauty I Create Hold Gel
The secret ingredient in this pick is honey, a humectant known to add luster to hair as it seals in moisture, which is a must-have for those bouncin’-and-behavin’ curls. Said one happy reviewer, "This gel is wonderful! It's the perfect hold for my type 3 curls and leaves my hair looking shiny! It's thick, so a little goes a long way, especially if you have thin hair. I definitely recommend!"
Hydro Style Flexi Jelly
If you want to turn up the volume a bit on your curls, this is your gel. Why? It has a medium hold but a lightweight texture to define curls and bring on the bonus of a little body. It also has hyaluronic acid, a popular skincare ingredient delivering a hefty dose of hydration.
It’s always great when you can stroll into the supermarket or drugstore and find quality haircare at an affordable price. This gel has hair-healthy ingredients like sugar beet root, vegetable glycerin, and wheat protein. It's specially formulated to define and hold your curl pattern even on humid days. You can even use it to get those edges laid. All that, and it’s under $8.
Coco Creme Curl Shaping Cream Gel
If you like the hydration that cream gives you and the hold of a gel, then this formula will give you the best of both worlds. Ideal for very parched curls, it’s made with softening butters (mango seed and murumuru seed) and oils (coconut and castor) to impart long-lasting hydration and definition.
Defining Spray Gel
For some people, how a product is applied is just as important as what it’ll do. If you’re not a fan of reaching into tubs or squirting gel into palms, this spray formula lets you apply gel directly onto hair (just be sure to rake it through so it’s evenly distributed). It has an extra hold that’ll help clump curls together without crunchiness.
Pequi Medium-Hold Styling Hair Gel
Yes, this gel is good for all hair types and textures, but the lightweight, medium-hold clean formula makes it a nice choice to scrunch or rake into damp wavy hair. The star ingredient is oil from the Brazilian fruit pequi, which is full of vitamins and minerals to nourish and strengthen strands. One reviewer said it made her waves defined, soft, manageable, and less frizzy. Can’t beat that!
Uncle Funky's Daughter Curly Magic Curl Simulator
This pick is our Editor's Choice because it not only offers a firm hold but also helps fight shrinkage and elongate curls. Whether you are into wash-and-gos or twist-outs or starting or starting, the shine-enhancing, aloe-based formula will knock out frizz and help you achieve your style goals.
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