Is Gel Bad for Curly Hair? 5 Things to Avoid When Using Gel On Curly Hair

Gel… something every curly girl has tried at some point in time. It’s most often associated with that crispy, crunchy, sticky feeling that brings back oh so many memories of the 90s.

Every curly/wavy girl knows the feeling of sticky, crunchy curls after trying your best to style your hair using a gel.

For the longest time, I stayed away from it, for me it was a product that was just plain BAD!

Today I’m sharing 5 Things You are Doing Wrong When Using Gel On Curly Hair to debunk a common misconception that curls don’t like gel while shedding light on a few things you may be doing wrong when applying.

Which got me thinking… What if gel wasn’t the problem? What if gel wasn’t so bad for curly hair?

But first, have you taken the mistake finder quiz?

When it comes to caring for curly hair and choosing the right products, there are 3 classic mistakes people make that destroy their hair and cause frizz. 

Take this FREE 60-second quiz to see which mistake you are making.

Take The Mistake Finder Quiz!

Is Gel bad for curly hair or are you just using it wrong?

I remember back in high school always having an LA looks gel bottle in my backpack. Back then, no one really knew anything other than crunchy curls.

Fast forward to 2020 and not only are crunchy curls not in, but those of us who wore them in high school have ditched gel altogether. 

I get comments on my Instagram account almost every day asking me about how to use gel on curly, natural hair and not have it look like an extra crunchy chicken wing after application. Which is why I decided to write an in-depth post surrounding the topic.

So for those of you who have ditched gel all together because the only experience you have had with it was negative and the 90s. I have a feeling ill be able to convince you gel isn’t so bad after all. 

Just hear me out. 

I’m going to tell you something that is going to blow your mind.

A secret that blew my mind. I’ve had for the last 30 years and I had no clue about!

And it’s been an absolute game-changer!! that I’m about to share with you!!

If you are struggling with dull, lifeless, damaged or thinning hair, check out my in depth workshop on how to heal your hair from the inside out

The Secret… Spoiler Alert it’s GEL

Seriously! One of the biggest secrets to having great curls is gel! That’s right!

Without gel, it’s going to be really hard to lock in your curl pattern and control frizz.

Ladies, we’ve been using gel all WRONG!

It’s like a toothbrush. When used correctly, your toothbrush is the end all be all of your dental health.

But when used incorrectly, it can actually cause damage to your gums. 

Same principle with gel.

When it’s used the wrong way (like on dry hair for instance), or used for the wrong thing (like adding moisture), it makes your curls yucky. 

But when you use the right gel, with the right styling technique, and for its purpose (which is to lock in moisture and hold your curl pattern) your gel will make or break your look. 

What does gel do for curly hair? The Purpose Of Applying Gel To Curls:

When it comes to styling curls, each product plays an important role and therefore has an important purpose. 

Each step in the styling process is meant to complement and build upon the last step. Think of it like the ecosystem. Each entity involved relies on one another to make a complete circle..

And if one thing is out of whack, the rest of the system comes tumbling down. 

Same with curly hair care. 

The purpose of gel is essentially to lock in your curl pattern, hold curl clumps together (by binding them in a way that reduces frizz) and holds in moisture.

Notice I said “hold in moisture”, not to be confused with “adding moisture”.

It’s great if you have a gel that is moisturizing, but if you don’t establish a good protein moisture balance BEFORE you use gel, your curls will be lacking.

If you are confused about protein moisture balance read this post.

In the past when you attempted to use gel you may have immediately come to the conclusion that it was not for you. You may have even blamed the gel, thinking that it was just a bad product.

But, it was most likely a user error, I know it was for me. The thing you NEED TO KNOW about gel that it relies heavily on you taking care of your curls and developing healthy habits.

If you haven’t been taking care of your hair then you can’t expect to just throw some gel in it and hope it comes out looking great.

Taking Gel from BAD to Must-Have! 5 Things You Are Doing Wrong When Using Gel On Curly Hair

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Meaning that at no cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you purchase through my link. But don’t worry, I never promote products that I don’t believe in or truly love <3 You can read my full privacy policy here.

NEVER Apply Gel On Damp Or Dry Hair Curly Hair EVER

Since the purpose of gel is to lock in moisture and your curl pattern, the best way to apply it is on soaking wet hair. 

Just think about it for a moment…..

…..your hair is smoothest while it’s super wet because the moisture and weight of the water have a way of pulling your natural curl clumps together, yes? 

So it’d be safe to say that the sooner you apply gel to your curls after you get out of the shower, the more likely you are to hold in moisture and reduce frizz. 

Like everything with curly hair, there is a level of experimenting because all curls are different and all gels are different.

You can sometimes get away with applying gel to damp hair but generally speaking, the best way to apply gel is to very wet hair.

Another thing to consider is the product.

All product lines are different so it’s important to read the label and follow the instructions. When it says to “use on wet” hair it isn’t merely a suggestion.

The rule of thumb is to apply a generous amount of gel to wet hair, then check back while your hair is drying and if you need to apply a bit more you can.

Using Too Much Or Not Enough Gel 

Oftentimes the reason gel is not working in your favor is because you either aren’t using enough, or you’re using too much. 

This is an easy mistake to make and like everything with curly hair it will take some experimenting on your end. The amount of gel you use totally varies on your hair type and texture, and what gel you are using. 

A good way to determine how much gel to use is to start by applying a dime-size amount of gel to every 2-3 inch sections of your hair. This is a good way to distribute the product evenly.

Then check back with your curls when they are 30% dry. If they seem to need more weight or definition don’t be afraid to add a bit more gel. Check back again when your hair is 60%, then 90% dry, and if it needs more product go ahead and add some to your curls.

Note: Each time I check back after 30%,60%, and 90% dry if I do need to add more product I always dilute it a bit with water to lighten it up. 

Be sure to keep a detailed log of what type of gel you are using, how much you are using, and how you are applying it. This will help you determine exactly what your hair needs. 

Keeping a detailed log of your curl journey is super important especially during the first six months.

So much of having great curls has to do with knowing exactly what your curls love and what they do not like. 

Do you ever wonder why some people have effortlessly soft shiny hair while others struggle with unmanageable frizz? 

Take THIS 60 Second Quiz to find out which mistake you are making that is causing your hair to become frizzy.

mistake finder quiz

CLICK HERE To Take This Quiz!

Touching Your Hair After You’ve Styled It

Touching your hair too often is a no-no and can cause issues, especially when using gel.

During the drying process it is all too easy to keep touching, scrunching, and twisting rouge curls while they are drying. But this is a huge mistake. 

Curls have a way of getting worse before they get better.

When you style on wet hair, you will typically get beautiful curl clumps that look promising. But as you continue throughout the drying process, your hair will go through a frizzy, stringy looking stage. 

Don’t be fooled by this!

I cannot tell you how many times I thought my curls were going to be horrible but ended up with one of the best wash days ever!

Never trust the in-between stage. 

Once you’ve completed styling your hair, don’t keep messing with it. Other than check-in while it’s drying using the 30, 60, 90 methods which is when it will be ok to add a bit more product. 

Note to self: Don’t touch while drying unless you are adding additional products.

Using The Wrong Type Of Gel 

There is a method to choosing the right type of gel for your curls that I share in this post.

There are so many products and all claim to be the best at one thing or another. 

The secret to choosing the right curly hair products is truly understanding your curls. The health of your hair, your hair porosity, and the texture of your hair all play an important role in choosing the right products. 

Before you buy any product do the work and educate yourself on what is the best fit for your specific curl type.

When it comes to gel, my favorite type is a cream base. Cream based gels tend to add moisture and hold without getting crunchy.

My favorite cream based gel is EVOLVh’s super curl defining cream. I like to use this product for hold because it keeps my curl pattern while allowing my curls to have a soft and light look.

>>>>>>Click here to get the super curl defining cream

Evolve also has a curl bundle that I love because it gives you all the products you need to get started and keep your curl routine simple.

>>>>>>Click here to get the EVOLVh curl bundle

You can check out all my favorite EVOLVh products on this post.

What Makes Gel Bad? Not Breaking The Cast

You are not even ready for what I’m about to tell you. 

You know, that crunch you used to dread after applying gel? 

Yeah, that’s actually not a bad thing. 

It’s called a curl cast and it’s a good indication that your gel is doing its job by locking in moisture and holding your curl pattern.

The mistake that we all made in our dreaded high school years was NOT breaking the cast. 

Let me explain….

Once you’ve applied gel to wet hair, checked back and added any product, and then let dry completely, it’s time to scrunch out the crunch (SOTC)

Get your favorite oil, rub it through your hands, and gently glide or “scrunch out” that gel cast. This will create soft bouncy curls that we’ve always wanted. 

Is your mind blown? Mine certainly was when I discovered this technique. 

Breaking the gel cast is what separates crunchy curls from soft defined curls. 

The Best Gel And Oil For Curly Hair 

Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite products when it comes to gel and oil. Keep in mind that all curls are different, and what works for me may not work for you. 

But if you have similar hair to mine, one of the items mentioned below may be a perfect fit for you.

Best Gel For Curly Hair


Two tried and true drugstore gels that I love are Aussie Instant Freeze and Kinky-Curly Curling Custard.

Both are affordable and the pair compliment each other.

Kinky Curly Curling Custard has good slip and is great for training your curls while Aussie Instant Freeze is the best stronghold gel you can get at the drugstore. 

>>>>>>Get Aussie Instant Freeze Here & Kinky Curly Curling Custard Here


The second best gel that I recommend is Miss Jessie’s Pillow Soft Curls. This gel has a soft hold but still creates a bit of a gel cast and a good definition. 

>>>>>Get pillow soft curls here 


My two favorite gel’s are Bounce Curl Light Gel and EVOLVh’s Super Curl Defining Cream.

I love bounce curl’s cream gel because it’s high in protein (which my hair loves) and does a great job of defining without weighing my hair down.

>>>>>>>Get bounce curl light creme gel here

And I love EVOLVh’s defining curl cream because it adds the perfect amount of shine and hold.

>>>>>Click here to get EVOLVh’s Super curl defining cream – Use code COLLEEN for 15% off

Best Oil To SOTC

Ecoslay has a really great oil combination called moonshine. I like this oil because it is lightweight and full of healthy oils.

>>>>>>Get Ecoslay Moonshine here

My next favorite oil is called righteous roots. I purchase this oil after seeing tons of Instagram reviews and was not disappointed.

I will say that this oil is a little bit on the heavy side so I only use a tiny bit to break the gel cast and before bed for a scalp massage. 

>>>>>>Get righteous roots here

In Conclusion: 

When it comes to using gel on curly hair, the age-old tale that “gel makes your curls stringy and crunchy” is outdated and false.

Misuse of gel yields stringy and crunchy curls, it’s not the gel itself that is bad, it’s the application.

If you take the time to establish healthy hair habits and find the right protein/moisture balance, you are well on your way to having great curls. 

Commit to experimenting on wet hair with how much gel your curls need and what type of gel works best on your curls.

And don’t forget to keep a detailed log of your curl journey. 

And always always always, let your curls dry completely before you scrunch out that beautiful crunch.



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