Best Gels for Curly Hair

Updated November 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

14 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
292 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best gels for curly hair

Last Updated November 2019

Wearing your curly hair natural is not only better for it — saving it from heat-damaging blowouts — but also beautiful. That is, if you have the right product to define those curls and combat frizz.

From loose beach waves to corkscrew curls, there’s a wide spectrum of “curly hair.” If you already rock your curls, we don’t have to tell you that humidity is your archnemesis. Fortunately, many gels these days contain anti-humidity protection to shield temperamental curls from moisture in the air.

Premium gels for curly hair will also smooth frizz, keep your curls locked in place throughout the day, and feel soft to the touch. Gone are the days of crunchy and sticky curls. With the right gel, you no longer have to sacrifice hold for bounce and touchability. While gels are ideal for curly hair that isn’t dry — don’t fret if it is. Many gels also include a conditioning agent to moisturize dry curls.

We’re committed to helping you find a hair gel that’ll work with your curl texture. Check out our top recommendations, or keep reading for a deep dive into all you need to know about gels for curly hair.

Curly hair is defined by an oval-shaped follicle that the hair grows out of from the scalp. Straight hair grows out of a more circular-shaped follicle.

How do gels for curly hair work?

  • Long-lasting hold: Gels for curly hair are designed to hold your curls. Over the course of the day, curls can lose definition and unravel, especially if exposed to humidity. Any gel worth its salt will lock in your natural curl and keep it in place throughout the day — or even for a few days.

  • Fights frizz: When curls lose definition, they tend to frizz. A gel that keeps curls defined will also keep frizz at bay. Often a moisturizing agent, which most curly hair gels contain, will smooth frizz as well. Because curly hair is drier due to its texture, hydrating ingredients are desirable in these gels.

  • For best results: Curly hair gels work best when diffused with a hair dryer or applied to wet or damp hair and allowed to air dry.

Wildly popular no-crunch gel

A hair gel that works on all curl types, from wavy to tightly coiled. It’s outstanding for preventing frizz and providing strong hold with zero crunch or stiffness. Curls look shiny and stay defined throughout the day. Your touchable curls will carry a light, pleasant scent that’ll make heads turn.

Curl type and pattern

Hair nerds have a numerical system for curl type: 1 is for straight hair, 2 for wavy, 3 for curly, and 4 for coily. Then there are subclassifications, ranking from A to C, for the diameter of your hair pattern. A is a wider wave, curl, or coil, whereas C is a tighter one.

Let’s stick to a breakdown of the numbers for now, which may require different curly hair products.

  • Type 2 (wavy): This type has a defined, S-shape wave. Hair can be fine or coarse, but the pattern lays closer to the head. Some gels are too heavy for this hair type and will weigh down your style, especially if your hair is thin.

  • Type 3 (curly): If you’re a 3, your hair ranges from loopy curls to tight, springy corkscrews. Frizziness is an issue for this hair type, though hair may naturally have some sheen. Gels work well on this type as well as some curling creams.

  • Type 4 (coily): This type is kinky and naturally dry due to spongy (more porous) hair texture. Curls are very tight and small and may zigzag from the scalp. This hair type may also be prone to shrinkage. Because lack of moisture is an issue, a leave-in conditioner and/or a conditioning gel is essential.
DID YOU KNOW?

A premium gel for curly hair will provide flexible hold without making hair feel stiff or crunchy to the touch.

Features

  • Humidity protection is available in premium products for consumers who live in humid climates. These use plant proteins and polymers, which expand with heat to define curl and also seal the cuticle to keep even the worst summertime humidity out.

  • Moisturizing/conditioning ingredients are essential for most curly-haired people. For thick or kinky hair, a gel containing natural oils may be the way to go. Plant-derived proteins and amino acids also help lock in existing moisture and seal the cuticle.

  • Added shine without using silicone (which can build up on hair and weigh down your curls) is a tall order for a hair gel but is accomplished by many brands.

  • Sulfate-free products for curly hair are considered a must by curly hair experts. Sulfate breaks down hair internally and also deposits salts, which can accumulate and dull hair. While this is more common of an ingredient for detergent shampoos, always opt for sulfate-free curly hair products.

  • Clean beauty products are formulated without harsh, potentially harmful chemicals like sulfates (SLS and SLES), formaldehydes, parabens, and many other additives. Clean hair gels are generally better for you and the environment.
EXPERT TIP

Afro-textured hair benefits from a curly hair gel with strong hydrating ingredients or oils.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Alcohol-free gels for curly hair won’t dry out your curls or make them weaker.


Staff  | BestReviews

Gels for curly hair prices

Inexpensive: A low-priced gel for curly hair goes for $4 to $14. At the lower end of this spectrum, you may get hold but also unwanted crunch and additives.

Mid-range: For a mid-priced curly hair gel, expect to pay between $15 and $23. These may be a cross between creams and gels, or serums and gels, that offer flexibility and shine. You can also score some great clean, curly hair gels in this price bucket.

Expensive: Top-of-the-line hair gels that can be purchased from salons or Sephora range between $24 and $30. These may offer humidity control and quality ingredients to combat frizz. Higher priced gels are usually free from parabens, sulfates, silicone, and phthalates.

Cheap, clean beauty gel

For a low price, this natural gel for curly hair is free from a plethora of chemicals that are bad for curls and your health. It’s quinoa extract strengthens strands, and the planted-based amino acids seriously tame frizz. It carries a light, clean scent.

Tips for curly hair

  • Evenly coat hair with gel while it’s still wet from the shower. Air drying is best and less prone to frizz.

  • Touching your hair while it’s air drying will lead to frizz. As tempting as it may be to scrunch up your curls while they’re drying, leave them in peace.

  • If you don’t want to leave the house with a wet head, invest in a diffuser attachment for your hair dryer and use a low heat and speed setting.

  • Co-washes (a cleanser and conditioner in one) are popular for curly-haired heads, because they won’t strip hair of essential moisture. Consider adding one to your shower routine to get the best results from your curly hair gel.

  • Use a microfiber towel, or even a cotton T-shirt, in place of drying with a regular towel. A softer surface will cause less frizz as will scrunching hair to dry rather than rubbing it.

Other products we considered

For a hydrating gel for curly hair, we love FORM Sculpt. Curl Gel. You need not worry about this product drying out your curls: it uses conditioners to control frizz and locks in 100% of hair’s water content. With a clean seal of approval, this top-of-the-line gel is free from silicone, sulfates, and a bunch of other nasty stuff you don’t want near your hair and scalp. For most users, it leaves no sticky or crunchy residue. A gel “custard” loved by super curly-haired folks is Kinky-Curly Original Curling Custard Natural Styling Gel. It adds lots of shine and moisture to the hair and provides lightweight hold. It contains no alcohol and its plant-based ingredients carry a vanilla scent. Works well on type 2 curls as well.

Curly hair tends to be duller than straighter hair. Some hair gels for curly hair will add sheen as well as definition to your locks.

FAQ

Q. How do I figure out my hair type and pattern?
A.
The best way to determine your curl shape (wavy, curly, or coily) is to identify it when your hair is sopping wet. Be aware that you can also have a combination of types. We like to think of the subclassifications (A, B, and C) in terms of what your curl could wrap around (when dry). For someone with a type 3 curl, give yourself an A if your curl could wrap around a piece of sidewalk chalk, B for a Sharpie marker, or C for a straw or pencil.

Q. I have 4C hair type and experience a lot of shrinkage. What is the best curly hair product for me?
A.
Because your hair type experiences about 75% shrinkage (or more!) and dryness, you want to stretch that supertight curl and moisturize it. Use a leave-in conditioner or even castor oil as a great hydrator and moisture sealant before a gel. Even within these classifications, every head of curly hair is unique, so finding a product to define your curls may be a bit of trial and error. You may find a curling cream or pudding to work better with your own unique hair type.

Q. What’s the difference between a gel and a cream for curling hair?
A.
In a nutshell, gels provide more hold than curling creams, whereas curling creams add more moisture. Gels always run the risk of feeling crunchy or sticky. However, for gels designated for curly hair, that risk is lower because of added conditioners. With curling creams, your curls may lose definition throughout the day. If you’re rocking beach waves, this may work for your style, but if you have tighter curls that you want to keep bouncing and defined throughout the day, opt for a gel.

The team that worked on this review
  • Ana
    Ana
    Writer
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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