A high-quality curl defining gel can completely transform the look and feel of your curls. In this post I’ll spotlight the best hair gel for curly hair and the complementary products and styling techniques that will leave your curly locks looking shinier and more defined than ever.
Ringlets, coils, waves, or kinky locks—no matter your curl pattern, a lineup of high-quality curly hair products is essential for keeping your curls looking healthy and defined. If there’s one curly hair hero product I consider an absolute must, it’s curl defining gel. When made with nourishing, ultra-hydrating ingredients, the best hair gel for curly hair will completely change your hair care routine. Luckily, your search for the best gel for curly hair ends here.
In this post I’ll break down what makes the best curl gel and how to properly use it with other hair care products, tools, and techniques to achieve your softest, bounciest, shiniest curls yet.
What is Curl Defining Gel?
If you have curly hair, you may have heard of curl defining gel. This game-changing hair product is essential for all types of curly hair: from wavy to tightly coiled, kinky to ringlets, and everything in between. Curl defining gel is a water-based formula typically applied to damp or wet hair to help manage curly hair, provide all-day hold, and keep your style in place. The best curl gels on the market will soak your strands in intense hydration, calm frizz, define your curls, and boost bounce and shine.
Applying hair gel for curls is typically the last step in styling curly hair. Below are more reasons you’ll want to try hair gel for curls.
The Benefits of Using Curl Gel
- Creates beautiful bounce and shine
- Adds hold and helps maintain styles longer
- Hydrates your strands and locks in moisture
- Defines curls while smoothing frizz and flyaways
- Helps curls to clump together for more body and volume
- Prevents curls from falling flat throughout the day
- Protects the integrity of your curls by forming a cast (hardened layer) around curl clumps
- Provides long-lasting control for all curl patterns
- The best curl gels are packed with nourishing ingredients that promote hair health and shield against damage from heat and humidity
Is Curl Gel Same as Regular Hair Gel?
There are quite a few differences between regular hair gel and hair gel for curls. Most hair gels are formulated with alcohol, a drying ingredient that can be damaging for curly hair that is prone to dryness. On the other hand, curl gels are designed specifically for curly hair, packed with ingredients that nourish and hydrate curly hair patterns and textures while offering the right amount of hold, definition, and shine.
Curl Cream vs. Curl Gel
Curl creams and curl gels are both used for styling curly hair types, but there are key differences between the two. Curl creams like Curl Crush™ Defining Cream tend to be oil-based (or a combination of oil and water), and typically feel more nourishing and hydrating than gels. Cream products wrap curly hair with a softer hold and definition that doesn’t always create a cast. Hair gels for curly hair focus on styling and finishing, but can also contain hydrating ingredients. Hair gel for curls provides a stronger hold, and a sleek, shinier finish that eliminates frizz.
- Provides a soft, light hold
- Deeply nourishes and hydrates hair thanks to natural oils and/or butters
- Defines, conditions, and softens curls
- Reduces frizz and flyaways
- Minimizes and prevents tangles
- Primarily used for styling
- Provides maximum hold
- Not as moisturizing as creams, but often still contain hydrating ingredients
- Defines curls while boosting bounce, body, and shine
- Eliminates frizz and flyaways for a sleek and smooth finish
Another product you may have heard of is curl mousse. Curl mousse differs from curl creams or gels in that it is used to achieve more volume, primarily at the roots. Curl mousses are often airy and lightweight and help manage frizz in humid climates.
How to Find the Best Gel for Curly Hair
When searching for the best hair gel for curly hair, always check the ingredients list first. Make sure the product you choose does not contain drying alcohol, silicones, or mineral oil that can cause buildup, dryness, and weigh hair down. The most effective hair gels for curls are packed with moisturizing, heat protective ingredients, like my personal favorite: Curl Crush™ Defining Gel.
Curl Crush™ Defining Gel deeply hydrates your waves, curls, and coils while delivering touchable medium hold and shine. Blended with SymHair® Thermo - a unique ingredient blend of Polyporus mushroom, hyaluronic acid, and fructose - this nourishing gel forms a film of the hair’s surface to shield against heat damage and frizz-inducing humidity.
This multitasking curl defining gel works for all curly hair types and especially well for those with hair types 2A-2C, 3A-3C, and 4A-4C. And the best part? It’s made from 99.8% natural ingredients and does not contain sulfates, silicones, drying alcohols, parabens, and mineral oil. Curly Girl Method approved!
How to Use Hair Gel for Curls
If you have curly hair (and there’s a good chance you do if you’ve read this far!), a high-quality curl defining gel will be an amazing tool in your haircare arsenal. Once you’ve found the best hair gel for curly hair, there are a few tried-and-true tips to follow to leave your curly locks looking their best. Here is my step-by-step guide on how to use hair gel for curls:
Step 1: Wash Your Curls
Wash and condition your hair with products that are specifically formulated for curly hair types, like Curl Crush™ Shampoo and Curl Crush™ Conditioner. Co-washing with a deeply nourishing co-wash formula is also a great option for curly girls as it removes buildup and helps lock in moisture without weighing down your curls.
Step 2: Plop Your Hair
Use a gentle hair towel made from bamboo, satin, or microfiber to squeeze out extra moisture from your hair.
Step 3: Apply the Gel
Smooth a dime-size amount of curl defining gel onto your hair from roots to ends. Use the “praying hands” technique and keep your hands flat instead of raking them through your hair to help the gel form a layer around your curls and keep them defined.
Step 4: Dry Your Curls
Let your hair air dry or dry it with a hair dryer using a diffuser attachment.
Step 5: Scrunch out the Crunch
Once completely dry, gently scrunch your hair to break the gel cast. Doing this will make your hair feel soft to the touch while maintaining a flexible hold and keeping frizz at bay.
Pro tip: swap your cotton bedding for silk or bamboo sheets. When you slip off to slumberland every night, you’ll sleep well knowing your curls are protected from snagging, pulling, and frizz.
Why Does Curl Gel Make Hair Crunchy and Hard?
Even the very best gel for curly hair will leave your strands feeling “crunchy”. This is called “cast” and it is completely intentional! Cast is a protective, hardened layer of gel that wraps around your curls to create voluminous clumps. Curl defining gels will always leave a cast on your hair once it dries, as this helps your curls hold their shape while maintaining a soft and more natural finish.
If you need help with breaking up your gel cast, rub a few drops of a hydrating hair oil like Moisture Hero™ Hair Oil in your palms and gently scrunch out the cast. The hair oil will help soften your stands and boost shine as you scrunch.
More Helpful Tips for Curly Hair
You’ve found the best curl gel, learned about gel cast, and mastered the art of the praying hands technique and gentle scrunch, but there are a few other pro tips you can follow to keep your curls and coils looking their absolute best:
- Follow the Curly Girl Method and avoid products (especially shampoos) with sulfates, parabens, and silicones.
- Use a low-poo (low lather) shampoo or co-wash like Curl Crush™ Co-Wash.
- Restore dry or limp curls with an intensive, deep-conditioning hair mask specifically formulated for curly hair, such as Curl Crush™ Hair Mask.
- Use a gentle bamboo hair towel to plop your hair. This heatless drying technique gives your curls a break from diffusers.
- If your hair is feeling dry and parched, use a leave-in conditioner like Split Fix™ Leave-In Conditioner or a curl cream before gel to boost hydration.
- If you want to define your curls in between wash days, use the Curl Crush™ Fine Mist Spray Bottle first to hydrate and refresh your curls before applying your curl gel.
- Warm a few drops of hair oil between your palms and gently scrunch through your curls to break up the gel cast.
- Use a curly hair-approved brush like the Bamboo Defining Brush. This game-changing brush features removable rows of smooth, anti-static pins that help you form your curls without causing your strands to snap or frizzy flyaways.
- Let your hair air dry or use a diffuser attachment with your hair dryer.
- Sleep on a silky bamboo pillowcase to prevent frizz or breakage.
Although some people find that curly hair can be challenging to style and manage, it really doesn’t have to be difficult! As you now know, using the right products can make all the difference, and once you add a hair gel for curls to your product lineup, I guarantee there’s no going back!
Products tailored for your hairTake test
To sum it all up, curl defining gel is a must-have product for achieving defined, bouncy, and healthy curls. Unlike regular hair gel, curl gel is specially formulated with nourishing ingredients that hydrate and protect curly hair, without causing dryness or frizz.
In this article you learned that when choosing a hair gel for curls, you should avoid products that contain drying alcohol, silicones, or mineral oil that can cause buildup and weigh hair down. Instead, go for curly hair specific gels that are formulated with hydrating, good-for-you ingredients that promote hair growth and shield against damage from heat and humidity.
One of my favorite pro tips is using a combination of curl cream and curl gel to create a softer hold and more defined curls. With the right products and techniques, you can achieve beautiful and healthy tendrils that will leave you feeling more confident in your curls than ever before. So, take the time to find the best curl gel for your curl pattern, master the styling techniques, and embrace your natural, beautiful curls!