Hair gel is a product that some naturals love and can’t leave without but for others, it is beyond useless as they may find it drying and damaging in addition to not doing anything at all visibly to the hair.
I recently experimented with a number of popular hair gels on swatches of my own 4c hair and I’ll cut to the chase, here are the results.
Initially the results look underwhelming. The hair without gel pretty much looks like hair with gel. Additionally, there isn’t a visible difference between the different gels (at least not to me!). Here is a close up of the comparison between hair with no gel and hair with aloe vera gel just in the event you think that the previous set of images are too small to compare.
However, this isn’t an unexpected result. My hair (I emphasize my) really in general does not care about products, any shampoo will do, any conditioner will do and also now any gel will do.….…..or will it?
Lessons from the experiment
1. Why the bentonite clay step?
I used bentonite clay to clump the curls before applying gel. Some people can use hair gel to clump hair but this often involves a lot of combing for tightly curled hair such as mine. My hair is averse to a lot of combing and the easy clumping method for my hair is a bentonite clay rinse (more details here)
2. Why isn’t there a visual difference between the gels or hair without gel?
Essentially, the result seen is the ability of the gel to lock in the curl clumping from the bentonite clay stage. In my case, all the gels perform to the same degree.
3. Is there no way to distinguish which gel is better
Yes there is! This experiment really brings home the message of trial and error. You will never know whether a product works well or not for you if you do not try it. It is the subjective assessment that maters. However, I am able to distinguish between the gels for myself as a result of using them e.g
a. No hair gel : Hair feels soft, clumps break up easily
b. Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel : Slight crunch, good hold for long and in humidity
c. Kinky Curly Curling Custard: Very little crunchiness, hair feels soft but a little oily, light hold. Strange product consistency (not be too graphic but it is a little bit like holding mucus)
d. World of Curls Gel: Slight crunch, very sensitive to humidity absorbing water from air or if misted on easily (actually makes a good pre-wash treatment if hair is thirsty for moisture), sometimes does not play well with other products
e. Ecostyler Gel: Very crunchy and oily with a heavy hold, sensitive to humidity, the most difficult of the three to use due to gel/oil like consistency.
4. Do I have a favorite?
I emphasize again these are my favorites for my skill and desired results. For free hair — Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel gives the most consistent results and has the easiest to use consistency. For hair in own braids — World of Curls Gel because it traps moisture so well. Least liked — Ecostyler is a definite no and KCCC is a no if you want a strong hold.
The moral of the story: Trial and Error.
Hair swatches: All from the crown area (details)
Experiment: Hair unbraided and detangled first then shampooed (2 mins), rinsed (2 mins), conditioner applied (1 hour with heat) and then rinsed (2 mins) before applying bentonite clay suspended in water applied (20 mins) and before being rinsed (2 mins). Leave in applied to soaking wet hair followed by gel (except in one case where no gel is used. Hair then dried and imaged.
Conditioning time: In practice, I never use heat or condition my own hair for an extended period of time; 20- 30 mins at most, but in the interest of doing what many naturals do, I chose to apply heat and extend the conditioning time to 1 hour.