Because of its usually low price point, most guys start with gel. But, it’s not the right product for everyone, as it provides more hold and shine than many styles demand. In addition, it really is very drying - which you should seriously consider before making a gel style your go-to look of choice. But, when it’s good, it’s oh so good.
What kind of hold do hair gels offer?
Typically, gels offer about as high a hold as you can get. And, it’s true, you probably won’t find a product that can offer as much as a gel can. But, we want to add a little caveat here; not all gels offer as much hold as others. There are some lighter and medium-hold gels on the market and we totally appreciate them for certain styles on certain hair types.
As you would expect, the highest holds provide stiffer styles; you shouldn’t expect your hair to budge under blustering winds. Guys with thick hair can find some success with super strong formulations, though not everyone with this hair type experiences success with hair gel.
Not everyone needs such extreme levels of hold. Lighter gels are way more appropriate for guys with longer waves - and it’s even better for men with thin hair as it’s not going to collapse your style.
On the other hand, there are some hair gels that go above and beyond. If you have never managed to get or keep your hair under control, we suggest turning this way before you resort to shaving it all off.
What should you know about the hair gel compromise?
That strong hold sounds good for some guys. But, it’s not always everything it’s cracked up to be. You should know now that you’ll need to make some compromises when you opt for a gel rather than a pomade, wax, or clay.
The biggest, most important thing you should realize is that most gels are brimming with alcohol. (There are a few alcohol-free formulas, but we’re not sure we love them as much as the others. They don’t offer the same hold generally which means that a high-shine pomade would likely be a better choice.)
All that alcohol is going to damage your hair. Sure, using it every now and again isn’t going to leave you with noticeable results. But, if you use gel to style your hair every day, you will pay the price. You can counteract the damage (to some extent) with a good conditioner. If that’s not something you have in your shower, you shouldn’t buy a hair gel without getting a great conditioner too.
When you use gel regularly, you will find it becoming brittle as the alcohol strips the moisture from your hair. This, in turn, is likely to make your hair a little unmanageable without using product. And, you may also find your scalp becoming itchy, which will prompt you to give your head a good scratch - and you don’t want to do this; you’ll experience tell-tale gel flakes when you do. Nobody wants that.
What kind of shine do hair gels offer?
You’ll search for ages to find a gel that doesn’t impart high shine on your hair. It will be obvious that you have product in your hair. If that’s not your style, we will quickly direct you to a hair clay or perhaps some mousse.
What types of styles benefit from hair gels?
Gels create strong, slick styles. But, that doesn’t mean you need to look like you’re an extra on Mad Men the whole day. You’ll certainly get the wet look, but diverse styles benefit from hair gel styling. Think mohawks and spiky dos alongside those 80s power office looks. (Michael Douglas in Wall Street pretty much nails it.)
But, you can also achieve messier styles with gel. For bed head looks, you’ll need a lighter hold and longer hair, but you should be able to reach a style that Robert Pattinson and Orlando Bloom (or at least their stylist) would approve of.
Gel can add plenty of volume, but it won’t do much in the way of adding texture or making your hair appear fuller. But, you will have an all-day hold that you don’t need to mess with.
What types of hair can make the most of hair gels?
Hair gels offer benefits that outweigh the drawbacks for certain hair types.
- Straight hair. You shouldn’t have any problem using gels as long as you’re after a slick wet look. But, you will want to avoid running a comb through your hair as the product dries, otherwise, those flakes will be ever so noticeable. Keep in mind that you won’t get fullness with gel - even though you’ll get volume. You may want to pair it with another product if you need more texture.
- Wavy hair. You may love the way gel looks in your hair, but we urge you to use it sparingly - not as your everyday look. Most gels are ridiculously drying, and you shouldn’t expect your hair to play the way you like it after using gel continuously. And, we’d suggest it only for wavy hair that’s on the longer side.
- Short hair. Hair gel was made for you. Use it any way you like. But, we’d like to remind you that you’ll want a good conditioner so you don’t permanently dry your locks.
- Thin hair. A small amount of hair gel will do a world of good for you. But… only a little, and only a lightweight, light-medium hold. However, gel isn’t going to add a lot of texture, if you need that, we’d suggest a mousse with some hairspray instead. Then again, if your hair is flat and needs some help standing, gel is a strong option.
- Thick hair. You’ll see men with thick hair also fall under the “not going to love it” category. If your thick hair is unruly, you may find that nothing holds it as well as gel. And, you may also want to stay away from products that make your thick hair appear even thicker, making gel one of the few choices for you.
What types of hair may not find a hair gel works for them?
There are some guys that should just turn away now. However, this list isn’t completely black and white. You may find yourself to be the odd one that still loves gel despite the drawbacks.
- Wiry hair. Please avoid gels if you can at all manage it. Sure, a little Halloween action for a wild do won’t hurt, but hair gel will make your hair totally dry and unmanageable. Don’t think it can get worse than it is at the moment? Just wait and see.
- Curly hair. You probably don’t want to tempt yourself with a gel style because those lovely curls are way too precious to mess with the drying effects associated with this product.
- Long hair. If you don’t care about the condition of your hair, go for it. After all, you’ll need a high hold gel to create an extreme mohawk. But, unless that’s your style, you’re going to find most gels provide too strong a hold for you. And, if you opt for a lighter hold, you’re just drying the ends. Ouch.
- Thick hair. Okay, it’s a little counterintuitive, we know, but some guys with thick hair can’t get gel to work for them. The strong hold is likely to appeal to you, and we get it. But, gel may add too much weight and you may find the final look a little too greasy. Some guys find it works well and some don’t; which is why we have it in both categories.
- Dry hair. If your hair is already dry and damaged, please stay away from gel for the sake of your stylist if nothing else. The alcohol is way too drying for you and eventually, your only choice will be the razor.
What sort of texture should you expect from a hair gel?
Most hair gel has that strange gel appearance it gets its name from. But, there are spray gels and a few hybrids offer something that’s a little harder - like a wax but creamier. Generally speaking, however, the name speaks for itself.
What’s the deal with hybrid hair gels?
There aren’t many of these out there, but we’re big fans of Imperial Barber’s Gel Pomade. We think the combination is superb, but it’s one of the few.
How much hair gel do you need?
Compared to waxes and pomades, you’ll use a lot more gel to style your hair. But, don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with a sloppy mess. Instead of the fingernail scratching you would use for wax, you’ll need about a nickel-sized dollop. Some guys, especially those with extreme styles or longer hair, might use as much as a quarter-sized blob - but never start with this much (especially if you’ve just had a haircut).
And, before you panic about the cost, remember that most gels sell for significantly less than other styling products.
Does hair gel work best with dry, damp, or wet hair?
Gel is usually applied to wet hair, but we’re not talking about dripping wet hair. Please don’t make that mistake. You should be working with clean and towel-dried hair. The damper it is, the easier it will be to spread and style. Most men aren’t going to enjoy applying hair gel to dry hair, though it can help the odd spike or two, though you may need to pull out the hair dryer to finish your styling process.
How is hair gel applied?
Just because you will probably use more gel than other products, be sure to start with a small amount. (You’ll thank yourself for the caution later.) Although it’s quite malleable, it’s best to work it between your palms as you would with harder products; it will make the gel much easier to distribute throughout your hair. (And, warmth activates the hold.)
Work gel through your hair, almost as if you were washing it - working from roots to ends. Many find that an up and down motion works best for them.
If you’re after a spiky look, you probably won’t need to pull out a comb - your fingers will get the job done. Just work your hair into the pieces you want.
However, slick styles definitely require a comb once the gel is evenly distributed throughout the hair. And, you will need to work rather quickly; gel dries faster than you would think.
Once everything is in place, get out the hair dryer and finish off the job to ensure the hold stays all day.
There are a few exceptions to these general rules. For a start, guys with curlier hair may find it easier to scrunch the gel into place - if they decide to use it at all. And, if you’re looking for some height, don’t save the hair dryer for last; hold hair where you want it with your comb while setting it with the dryer.
If you happen to notice something is out of place when your hair is dry, keep in mind that you’ll need to re-wet your hair in order to work with it.
Is it difficult to wash out hair gels?
Um yes, it can be difficult to get gel out of your hair unless you’ve found a formula that has a little more water in it. That said, it shouldn’t take you half a day to scrub it out unless you went totally 70s punk. You probably will find gel doesn’t require that much of a change from other products.
But we have to reiterate how important conditioner is when you use gels. The alcohol is so drying that you will need to do anything you can to retain the moisture in your hair. Please take this seriously and get yourself a moisturizing shampoo as well.
What counts in a hair gel? When should you turn away?
Remember, gel is a compromise simply because of the alcohol used to make it. But, you should expect a fair amount of positives to go with the flakes. Yes, flakes.
- Hold. Yeah, you should expect to get a lot of hold with a gel. That doesn’t mean that all gels have a lot of hold. But… if you don’t need that much, you probably should go another direction!
- Duration. All day and all night. No really, gel is designed to make you look like Ace Ventura until you wash your hair - we suggest not leaving gel on for consecutive days as you’ll get too many flakes.
- Reshapeable. Don’t expect to reshape your hair throughout the day. If you really, really must, you’ll need to add some water to make it happen. If you can reshuffle your hair into place, you probably aren’t working with a gel at all.
- Greasiness. Gels aren’t greasy; they’re drying. But, they will make your hair appear wet. Some guys with oilier scalps won’t be happy with the final finish.
- Flakes. Of all the styling products for men, you’re most likely to get flakes using a hair gel. If you’re already prone to dandruff, move along. For everyone else, do yourself a favor and stop touching your hair.
- Washability. Some gels are easier than others. Generally speaking though, gels are on the more difficult side of the washing spectrum, but they’re not at the extreme.