The Pros and Cons of Gels for Natural Hair

While we all love getting the most definition out of our natural hair styles, it can sometimes be difficult to find a product that provides lasting hold. This is why many naturals often turn to gels in order to capture his or her natural texture and pattern. But like the saying goes, too much of one thing can be a bad thing. Here are both the pros and cons of gels for natural hair, along with some of the best picks on the market:

pros and cons of hair gels

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1) Captures your natural curl pattern 

Whether you have curly, coily, or kinky strands, gels help to enhance what is already there. They help to preserve your natural curl pattern in its full form and are really useful for wash and go’s. Applying gels is also another way to assess any damage you may have – looser curl patterns, straight end pieces, etc.

2) Longer lasting styles 

Gels help to preserve your styles for longer, either throughout the day or week. For warmer weather, strong hold gels may provide more benefit for naturals who want to keep their natural curl pattern defined with less frizz throughout the humid temperatures. These styling products are additionally often times infused with certain oils that produce a lasting shine as well.

3) Easy to refresh 

Another reason many naturals prefer to use gels for their hair is because they make styles easy to refresh. Typically, all you have to do is re-spritz with water, apply a leave-in and a tiny bit more gel and you’re good to go.

4) Great for sleek / pulled back styles 

the pros and cons of gels for natural hair
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Of course, gels are good for sleeking down the hair for pulled back styles and / or laid edges. Many hairstylists use them for creating intricate designs with the hair strands and gel. The gel cast helps to hold the hair in place for longer.


1) They often contain alcohols

Many brands include alcohols in their hair gels for a variety of reasons. Some use alcohols as preservatives to keep the product consistency intact for longer. There are different kinds of alcohols added to gels, and not all of them are necessarily bad. The ones you want to avoid frequently contain “prop” in the name. A common and damaging example being Isopropyl alcohol. The alcohols that aren’t bad for the hair are fatty alcohols (Ex. Cetearyl alcohol, found in many natural hair products).

2) Gels can be very drying

Because of the alcohols and other formulated ingredients, gels tend to be very drying for natural hair. Alcohols have a faster evaporation rate naturally, causing the same effect on the hair strands. This sometimes results in stiff, crunchy feeling hair. So, it is best to avoid gels with alcohols in them. To deter the drying effect of gels, you can apply a leave-in conditioner before applying your gel, and then an oil afterwards to seal.

pros and cons of gels for natural hair
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3) Many gels contain other damaging ingredients

Aside from alcohols, gels may contain other damaging ingredients for the hair. You may notice many gels have “No Phthalates, No Parabens, No Petroleum” on the labeling. These ingredients may pop up in some of your other natural hair products as well. Over time they have been found to do more harm than good for the hair.

Phthalates for example are typically listed under “fragrances” (however not all products containing fragrances are necessarily phthalates, some use natural extracts for scent) for gels and other hair products, as they haven’t been officially required to be listed as an ingredient by the FDA. Prolonged use has been found to produce negative health effects, including hormonal interactions, and the trigger of other health symptoms.

Check out our list of other natural hair product ingredients to avoid here:

4) Can cause buildup

Since gels form a cast that helps to capture and hold the curl pattern, this can cause faster product build-up. You may notice flaking after a few days that may not have been there initially. The gel cast hardens and dries out, resulting in flakes and other buildup after use.

5) Doesn’t provide moisture

Most styling products are made just for that, and don’t provide as many moisturizing benefits. Since gels typically consist of ingredients like alcohols that can be drying to the hair,  it is important that you are providing your hair with additional sources of moisture – leave-in conditioners, etc.

Now to the good news…

While there are certain cons to using gels for natural hair, there are some brands and products that manage to find an inter-medium, defining natural hair with natural ingredients. Some good ingredients to look for in gels are aloe vera, shea butter, natural oils, and other natural extracts. Here are some of our favorite natural hair gels: 

  • DIY Flaxseed Gel

    •  You have probably heard of or seen this DIY natural hair gel. It is an economical and healthy alternative, free of chemicals. The flaxseeds form a gelatinous consistency that seeps through when heated in boiling water. You can even reuse the leftover flaxseeds for another batch. The benefits of making your own gel like this one, is that there are no chemicals involved. Flaxseeds also provide their own perks for hair like the promotion of hair growth with the help of omega fatty acids, and the prevention of certain scalp conditions.

pros and cons of gels for natural hair

  • Alikay Naturals Aloe Berry Styling Gel 

    • The Alikay Naturals brand features all natural and organic ingredients in their products. The Aloe Berry Styling Gel comes with a sweet, luscious scent and a smooth creamy application. Another feature we like about this styling gel is that it includes naturally moisturizing oils like avocado oil and coconut oil, two of the few oils that can penetrate the hair shaft. You get defined curls, coils, or kinks without a loss of moisture and softness.

  • Kinky Curly Curling Custard

    • The gelatinous consistency of the Kinky Curly Curling Custard is different from other styling products, but it really gets the job done. We have found that this curling custard holds well against the humidity in warmer temperatures. Additionally, this product helps to reduce shrinkage and elongate your natural curl pattern. The aloe vera ingredient helps to smooth the hair cuticle – for maximized results apply their Kinky-Curly Knot Today leave in beforehand!

  • Mielle Organics Honey & Ginger Styling Gel

    • The smell of this natural hair gel is a distinctive yet lush one. It’s a long-lasting gel that works great for refreshing styles. You can use it for wash and go’s, but it also helps to tame frizz and sleek back tied-up hair styles. To add, there is a softer hold with this gel, so the result is more voluminous hair.

  • The Mane Choice Ancient Egyptian 24 Karat Twist Gel

    • Great for twist / braid-outs, this hair gel contains a combination of natural ingredients, including vitamins A-D that work to promote good hair health. The gel itself looks just like gold, and the shine transfers to your hair strands creating defined and shiny styles. This natural hair gel is also formulated to prevent split ends, and contains omega fatty acids that help to thicken the hair. 



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