From spikes and pompadours to soft waves and curls, hairstyles require products that can shape and sculpt hair just so. For decades, hair gel has been the go-to for hold and shine. But hair gel isn’t the only option. Today there are more alternatives than ever for styling hair and keeping it in place without stiffness or flaking.
Hairspray, waxes, creams, pomades, and natural options like aloe vera gel and flaxseed oil all make the list of hair gel alternatives. Each has their advantages. Hairspray offers strong hold with shine. Hair wax provides control with texture. Creams and pomades range in hold and finish while nourishing hair. And natural options add moisture and light hold without chemicals. Ultimately, the choice depends on your hair type and desired look. Curly locks may benefit from creams or waxes for definition without crunch. Fine hair could use a light pomade or natural alternative for weightless hold. Coarse or thick hair may require a stronger wax or spray.
While hair gel substitutes abound, some can have drawbacks like difficulty washing out or lack of all-day endurance. Hair gel and other styling products also run the risk of damaging hair over time due to drying ingredients, chemicals, and overuse. But used properly, alternatives like aloe and flaxseed oil can provide a healthier option for shine and hold. The range of hair gel alternatives offers solutions for every hair type and look without many of the risks, so you can style hair your way.
The Limitations of Hair Gel
Before jumping into the alternatives, let’s quickly go over some of the biggest drawbacks of typical hair gel:
- Flaking and residue – Traditional hair gels form a hard film that can leave unsightly white flakes behind. This leads to a buildup that requires frequent washing to remove.
- Crunchiness – The strong polymers in hair gel give an ultra-stiff hold that can feel crunchy and brittle, especially on fine or thin hair.
- Lack of reworkability – Once hair gel sets, you’re pretty much stuck with that style until your next shampoo. It’s difficult or impossible to restyle without starting over.
- Potential damage over time – Some harsh chemicals and high alcohol content in gels can dry out hair and cause breakage with daily use.
For many, it’s time to say goodbye to these hair gel headaches and switch to something that better suits their style and hair health. Let’s look at the alternatives…
Traditional Gel Replacements
Light and airy hair mousse is the perfect substitute for those seeking volume with softness. The foam formula provides excellent hold while leaving hair touchable, never crunchy or stiff. Because mousse is so lightweight, it’s an especially great choice for fine or thin hair that tends to be weighed down by thicker products.
- Weightless hold and body
- Soft, touchable finish
- Defines curls and waves
- Easy to distribute and reapply
- Can have drying alcohol content
- Hold may not last all day
When you need a hairstyle to stand up to humidity, wind, and all the elements, dependable hairspray is your best bet. Hairspray contains strong polymers that act like a shield to lock strands in place for hours. You can find options ranging from flexible to extra-strong hold. Just avoid heavy, frequent spraying, which can lead to buildup over time.
- Strong, humidity-resistant hold
- Adds shine and manageability
- Many finish types (flexible, strong, etc.)
- Available in travel sizes
- Can feel stiff or crunchy if overused
- Requires caution spraying near face
- Can flake if layered too heavily
For touchable texture with a pliable hold, hair wax fits the bill. It allows you to mold and shape styles while providing control. Hair wax also leaves an understated matte finish for a natural, non-greasy look. It’s great for short to medium styles that need a boost of molding capability beyond gel.
- Light to medium pliable hold
- Natural matte finish
- Good for straight, wavy, or curly hair
- Easy to apply and re-style throughout the day
- Can build up on hair if not washed regularly
- May not offer enough hold for some hairstyles
Smoothing flyaways, frizz, and unruly strands is a breeze with hair cream. Hair cream hydrates hair while gently shaping styles and enhancing shine. Look for creams with natural oils and butters to nourish hair and improve manageability. Hair cream is suitable for most hair types and styles.
- Frizz control and added shine
- Soft, flexible hold
- Hydrates and conditions hair
- Helps repair split ends over time
- May need reapplication for longer hold
- Can look greasy if overapplied
Step back in time with a modern pomade for sleek, polished hairstyles. Pomade combs smoothly through hair and offers a medium hold with atouch of shine. It’s ideal for mimicking retro hairstyles like pompadours and side parts. The grease-free formula washes out easily at the end of the day.
- Medium hold and shine
- Smooths and tames hair
- Allows for restyling throughout the day
- Versatile finish options (matte to high shine)
- Can temporarily darken blonde or light hair
- Not designed for heavy hold needs
Natural Gel Alternatives
If you’re looking to forgo synthetic ingredients, there are many excellent natural hair gel alternatives that get the job done. Let’s go over some of the top options.
Aloe Vera Gel
Made from the succulent aloe vera plant, aloe vera gel has been used for centuries to hydrate and nourish skin and hair. The clear gel provides a flexible hold for hairstyling. It’s free of chemicals and alcohol, making it a healthier choice. It works best for light styling needs on short to medium hair.
- Light, hydrating hold
- Reduces dandruff and scalp itching
- Soothes and conditions hair
- Natural curl enhancer
- Hold may not last all day
- Can feel sticky or tacky if too much is used
By boiling and straining flaxseeds, you can create an all-natural, ultra-moisturizing gel. The mucilage in flaxseeds gives the gel its styling capability. While the hold is light, flaxseed gel leaves hair smooth and frizz-free. It also helps improve hair’s strength and shine over time.
- Light hold and frizz control
- Improves hair’s moisture and hydration
- Strengthens and protects hair
- Simple DIY gel recipe with no chemicals
- Requires making it yourself
- Only provides light styling hold
Believe it or not, honey makes for a wonderful styling aid. Its humectant properties help hair retain moisture while providing flexibility and sheen. To use it, dilute pure honey with a bit of water and smooth through damp hair. For added hold, you can follow up with a spritz of hairspray.
- Leaves hair smooth and silky
- Enhances shine
- Soft, movable hold
- Anti-frizz abilities
- Sticky texture requires washing out
- Hold may not last all day
Similar to Jello dessert, plain gelatin powder can transform into a hair styling gel when prepared properly. Simply mix gelatin powder with water and glycerin or aloe vera juice. The result is an affordable, all-natural gel substitute with shine and medium hold.
- Medium hold
- Adds shine and bounce
- Inexpensive alternative
- Safe for color-treated hair
- Takes some trial and error
- Can feel drying if too much glycerin is used
Comparison Table of Traditional Hair Gel Replacements
|Product||Hold Level||Finish||Hair Types||Pros||Cons|
|Mousse||Light to medium||Touchable, flexible||Thin, fine, curly||Weightless hold, soft finish, defines curls||Alcohol content can dry hair, hold doesn’t last all day|
|Hairspray||Medium to strong||Shiny, stiff||All hair types||Humidity resistance, versatile hold strength, adds shine||Can feel crunchy if overused, requires caution around face|
|Hair Wax||Light to medium||Matte, textured||Straight, wavy, curly||Touchable hold, moldable, matte finish||Can build up on hair, may not have enough hold|
|Hair Cream||Light||Smooth, supple||All hair types||Frizz control, shine enhancement, hydration||May need reapplication for hold, can look greasy|
|Pomade||Light to medium||Low to high shine||Straight, wavy||Smooth control, versatility, restylable||Can temporarily darken light hair, not for high hold needs|
How to Choose the Right Gel Alternative
With all these options, how do you pick the ideal hair gel alternative for your needs? Here are some tips:
- Consider your hair type/texture – Does your hair tend toward oily, dry, thick, curly, etc.? This will help narrow suitable products.
- Identify your styling goals – Do you need flexible hold or stronger control? What about shine – glossy or matte? Establish needs.
- Experiment with different formulas – Don’t be afraid to try out mousses, waxes, pomades to see what works best.
- Use a combination of products – Layer a pomade for shape then finish with hairspray for long-lasting hold.
- Go natural if possible – Try aloe, honey, or flaxseed recipes to avoid synthetic chemicals.
With some consideration and experimentation, you’ll soon find the right alternative or set of products that give your hairdo exactly what it needs.
Application Tips for Gel Alternatives
Once you’ve selected your new gel alternative(s), make sure you use and apply them properly for best results:
- Follow instructions – Don’t use more than directed, which can lead to residue buildup.
- Evenly distribute – Apply from roots to end for consistent styling.
- Use on damp, not soaking hair – Very wet hair dilutes product; merely damp locks allow better absorption.
- Start with small amounts – Build up hold as needed. Too much at once can make hair stiff or greasy.
- Set your style – Direct and sweep hair into its proper shape and form before finishing with spray or pomade.
- Finger style for texture – Use your fingers to add volume or pull out pieces post-styling.
- Finish with heat tools if needed – Gently heat style any unruly sections at low temperatures as a final step.
Maintaining Hair Health
While ditching hair gel for more nourishing or natural alternatives can benefit your hair’s health and quality over time, you still need to practice proper hair care for optimal results:
- Shampoo less often – Shampooing daily can dry out hair and scalp. Aim for every other day or twice a week if possible.
- Use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo and conditioner – Stay away from harsh sulfates and alcohols that can cause damage.
- Air dry when you can – Limit use of hot styling tools that can lead to brittle, frizzy hair.
- Get occasional trims – Trim split ends before they travel up the hair shaft and cause breakage.
- Mask weekly – Replenish moisture and nutrients lost throughout the week with a hydrating hair mask.
By ditching traditional hair gel for more hair-friendly alternatives and keeping up a healthy hair care routine, you can achieve stylish, shiny locks and turn away frizz, dryness, and damage for good.
Which gel alternative is best for curly hair?
Hair creams and mousses work well for curly hair. The soft, flexible hold helps define curls without crispy stiffness. Pomades can also enhance natural curl pattern.
How do I get hair wax out of my hair?
Use a clarifying shampoo and scrub the scalp gently with fingertips to dissolve wax residue. Follow with a hydrating conditioner. Repeat if needed.
Can I layer gel alternatives like mousse and pomade?
Yes, layering products can give you combined benefits. Apply mousse first for hold then use pomade for shine/control. Experiment to see what works for your hair.
Are these gel alternatives okay for men’s styling needs?
Absolutely, these alternatives work great for men. Pomades and waxes offer control for short styles. Mousse adds volume, and spray keeps things in place.
Which gel replacements are least damaging for hair?
Natural options like aloe and flaxseed gel nourish hair the most. For traditional products, creams and lighter hold mousses are gentler than heavy sprays or waxes.
How long does it take for hair to recover from daily gel use?
It can take weeks to months for hair to regain moisture and strength after frequent gel use. Deep condition regularly and use gentle products until it feels healthy.
Can I reuse jars of hair cream or pomade?
It’s not recommended. Bacteria accumulates even with cleaning. Purchase high-quality products in smaller amounts or use clean applicators.
It’s time to break out of your hair rut and give these gel alternatives a try – your hair will thank you! Have any questions about using or applying these styling products? Let me know in the comments.