Men’s Guide to Modern Hair Gel

Anyone born after the 90s or early aughts is lucky to have never experienced crunchy hair gel. That stuff was like glossy cement; sure it was good for locking in a helmet-tight combover, but once the hair would dry, that same product would turn hair into one giant lizard scale. You could practically peel it off the head in one piece, until it started to break apart and leave you covered in dry flakes. No wonder hair gel has such a bad rap—until recently. 

Finally, styling gel is having a renaissance, though there’s still a bit of PR that needs to be done on its behalf. Modern hair gel is very much not like the gels of yore, says celebrity groomer and hair stylist Mia Santiago, whose clients include Ed Sheeran, Daveed Diggs, and Hugh Jackman. She credits lighter formulas and a more diversified roster of hair products for this. There are plenty of products that can provide a shiny high hold (like traditional pomade and some paste), leaving room for gel to be reinterpreted.

Modern hair gel—at least in the way Prose formulates it—provides nourishment for strands, and can be used for all hair types, including curls and coils without risk of crunchiness and flaking. Better yet, this formula is adjusted for the hair type of each person, making for a truly versatile product. “Curls will benefit from a lighter gel to keep everything separated and allow movement,” explains Santiago. “And for straighter hair, gel will usually provide higher holds to keep the style in place.” (But again, more akin to pomade, which is more “touchable” and easy to rework throughout the day.)

Below are a few different ways to use hair gel, across different hair lengths and textures. 

Table of Contents

    5 Ways to Use Hair Gel

    Here are different ways to use hair gel across different hair patterns and lengths—and one for facial hair in particular. Remember, though, to start with a small amount and adjust as needed. Each hair type and individual preference may require different levels of hold, shine, and moisture, which further underscores the importance of choosing a hair gel that honors your hair type and styling goals.

    1. Coils

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Prose: Custom Beauty (@prose)

    After washing and conditioning, apply a small amount of gel to wet hair. Use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to evenly distribute the product. This will help define each coil while also reducing unwanted frizz and maintaining natural texture.

    2. Curls

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Prose: Custom Beauty (@prose)

    A curl-targeting gel can provide your own ideal hold without any stiffness or crunchiness. Start by applying hair gel to your wet curls, and scrunch them gently to enhance their shape and to maximize their bounce. If you prefer a softer hold, simply opt for a lighter formula; for stronger hold, go for a more concentrated or heavier recipe. 

    3. Straight Hair

    Modern hair gels add volume and texture to straight hair without weighing it down; this is a big stray from the old-timey gels that basically superglued strands to the dome. So, apply a small amount of gel to towel-dried hair, and use a comb to distribute it evenly. You can use a hair dryer and a round brush to create volume and style as desired. And like with curls, a customizable formula (such as Prose’s) allows you to control the level of shine and hold.

    Prose Custom BeautyDiscover your Custom Styling Gel formula.Take the free consultation today.

    4. Hair Ends

    You can also use hair gel to target the ends of longer hair, in order to provide extra control and prevent both unwanted frizz and flyaways. To do this, take a tiny amount of gel on your fingertips and apply it only to the ends of your hair. You’ll feel much more in control of your style throughout the day without making the rest of your hair feel weighed down.

    5. Beard Hair

    Yes, you can even use a hair gel in your beard. If you have a lengthier beard, gel will give it the right amount of hold and shine without feeling too hefty or gloopy. Definitely start on the conservative end when applying product—a dime size for a big beard to begin. Rub it between your palms and then apply it evenly to your beard, concentrating in areas where you experience flyaways or misshapenness. Then, sculpt your beard style as desired. Just be sure to apply your beard oil, moisturizer, and/or facial sunscreen before finishing things off with styling gel—and do your best not to slather it across your skin; even a light dusting over the top of the beard will help preserve its shape and prevent flyaways.