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Which styling gel is best?

Whether you want to start styling your hair or you’re looking for a way to make your hair more manageable, styling gel can help you. Some gels use natural ingredients that add extra nourishment to your hair. Others, such as the American Crew Firm-Hold Styling Gel, use powerful polymers that help maintain your preferred style all day long.

What to know before you buy styling gel

Hold and malleability

Styling gel comes with three main levels of hold, each referring to how well it can hold your hair in your chosen style. They are:

  • Light: Sometimes labeled as “flexible hold” or “level one hold,” this is best for those who want to make minor changes to their hairstyle. It can increase thickness and enhance your hair’s natural shine.
  • Medium: Often referred to as “level two hold,” this can boost your hair’s volume and make it look shinier and healthier.
  • Strong: Also called “level three hold,” this type of gel is stiff and can keep your locks in place for multiple hours. This makes it perfect for anyone who needs their hair to look perfect throughout the day or for specific events. Strong gel can also minimize frizz, though it is difficult to wash out of your hair.

Gels with a higher level of hold are less malleable than those with a lower level. The more malleable the gel, the easier it is to change your hairstyle after application. Not all gels list how malleable the gel is, though, so you might need to test out a few until you find the one that works best.

Hair type

Before choosing a styling gel, consider your hair’s texture and type.

  • Fine or thin hair: Go with a light hold that won’t weigh your locks down.
  • Thick, wavy or curly hair: A medium or strong hold can keep unruly hair in place.
  • Coily hair: A stronger gel adds enough density and weight to help you maintain your style.
  • Sensitive skin, dry scalp or oily hair: Choose a hypoallergenic gel that won’t damage your scalp or dry out your hair. Also, wash your hair with the right shampoo and conditioner to keep your hair and skin healthy.

Shine and matte

There are two main types of styling gel:

  • Shine: This type was more prominent in the early 2000s, but it’s making a comeback. It catches the light to give hair a textured, well-defined look.
  • Matte: This type also emphasizes texture, but in a subtler way that gives hair a dry, laid-back look.

What to look for in a quality styling gel


Polymers are one of the most common ingredients found in hair gel, as their main purpose is to keep your hair styled. These can be either natural or synthetic.

  • Natural polymers include silk proteins or starches
  • Synthetic polymers include copolymers and silicone

There are also natural ingredients that fortify your hair without damaging it or drying it out. These include:

  • Plant and shea butter
  • Tea tree, coconut oil and other natural oils
  • Keratin
  • Wheat protein


Modern styling gels range from an almost liquid consistency to a thicker balm-like texture. The consistency of the one you choose makes a difference in how easy it is to apply or remove it from your hair. It also affects the gel’s overall malleability throughout the day.


Most gels come in tubes, small containers or jars. They’re usually between 16 and 64 ounces in size. There are also travel sizes, which are convenient for those who want to style their hair on the go.


Although there are some fragrance-free hair gels, most have at least a faint scent, especially when you first apply them to your hair. Common scents include:

  • Musk
  • Coconut
  • Tropical
  • Botanical or floral
  • Citrus

Consider the fragrance’s potency before choosing a gel, as well as how long it lasts after application.

How much you can expect to spend on a styling gel

Most gels cost $5-$20, based on the ingredients and size of the container. If you’re looking for a professional styling gel, expect to spend upward of $40.

Styling gel FAQ

What’s the best way to apply gel to my hair?

A. This can differ from brand to brand. In most cases, you need to wash your hair first with your standard shampoo and conditioner. Then, dry your hair until it’s damp. From there, add a dollop of gel to your palm and rub your hands together until it’s malleable enough to use. Apply the gel evenly throughout your hair, starting from just above the hairline. If desired, use a comb. Once it’s in your hair, style it as desired.

Can styling gel damage hair?

A. If the gel contains fragrances or ingredients such as alcohol, it can dry out your hair. That’s why it’s important to use one whose ingredients are safe for your scalp and hair. Also, if you use it frequently or in excessive amounts, you could develop dandruff. To prevent or fix this, use moisturizing shampoo and conditioner as part of your hair-care routine.

What’s the best styling gel to buy?

Top styling gel

American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel

American Crew Firm Hold Styling Gel

What you need to know: This large container is perfect for anyone who wants a non-drying gel that can hold their hair in place and give it a healthy shine.

What you’ll love: It uses a low-pH formula that includes a polymer complex, vitamin B5 and natural extracts. It doesn’t contain alcohol, making it safe for nearly any hair type and those with sensitive skin.

What you should consider: It’s strong enough to hold most styles, but isn’t as effective with thick or coily hair.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s and Ulta Beauty

Top styling gel for the money

Got2b Ultra Glued Invincible Styling Hair Gel

Got2b Ultra Glued Invincible Styling Hair Gel

What you need to know: Available in one- or two-packs, this non-sticky gel is perfect for those with thick hair who want to maintain a funky or vertical style.

What you’ll love: This gel has a strong hold and can keep your locks in place for multiple hours. It comes in a 6-ounce container. It’s also formulated to not flake.

What you should consider: It’s tricky to wash out or comb through once applied.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Ecoco Eco Style Gel Olive Oil

Ecoco Eco Style Gel Olive Oil

What you need to know: This lightweight gel lets you style your hair, while giving both your hair and scalp an extra boost of hydration.

What you’ll love: Using natural ingredients, it provides great edge control, adds shine and reduces split ends. It’s great for natural, fine and slightly wavy hair.

What you should consider: The hold isn’t strong enough for thicker hair types.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Angela Watson writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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