How To Use Hair Gel

Hair styling with gel
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Hair Gel 101: Making the Most of Short Hair Looks
Within variables that shift from decade to decade, short hairstyles become more or less prevalent in our society – especially among men. In fact, men’s styles overall tend to be shorter than women’s styles – a situation based almost solely on tradition.
Yet in spite of the fact that shorter hairstyles are usually chosen for their simplicity in maintenance and styling, many short hairstyles are still quite versatile and can be enhanced to show their best effect with the application of the appropriate hair gel products.
And just as with everything else, there are different types of hair gel, and these all serve specific purposes and are better suited to different hair types. As a rule of thumb, you generally want a stronger-hold product for stiffer textures of hair. You just want to be careful not to overpower the hair with a product that's too heavy.
Gel Types
Hair gel formulations can be found in traditional gels, spray gels, and even extra-strong formulas (as well as those containing extra additives). As mentioned above, these are great for a wide variety of hair types and styling needs.
Traditional gels are those that come in squeezable tubes and spring-loaded pumps and are generally used by those people with normal hair that they want to control and style into a crisp, neat look. Depending on the exact length and texture of the hair, gel can be used to create a dressy, slicked-back style for a formal occasion, or can be used on short hair with point-cut ends to create a spiky look.
Stylist’s Tip: If you’re having difficulty getting your slicked-back style to lie smoothly, try rinsing your hair with water as hot as you can tolerate. Towel-dry the hair quickly and apply the gel, then comb it through into the style you want. Try to finish while the hair is still warm, and then allow it to cool after it's styled. The hot water will make coarser hair a little more pliable since it breaks the physical side bonds which are partly responsible for the wave pattern in the hair. Letting the hair cool in the new styling configuration means that the hair should hold the style better since the side bonds will re-form in the new shape.
Traditional gel to style hair
Photo: Towfiqu Ahamed Barbuiya/Canva
Spray gels are typically packaged in a similar fashion to non-aerosol hairspray pumps. In fact, aside from being slightly more viscous, they are often difficult to distinguish. Spray gels are good for use with fine-textured hair to offer good control and hold for the styles worn. They are also good products for use with styles in medium-textured hair that need a light hold, or for medium-textured hair that is curly to keep the curls smooth and intact.
To use a spray gel, you can apply it to towel-dried hair and work it through the hair gently for most styling needs. Because it is a spray-on product, you can target specific areas of the hair that need more control, and can easily touch up curly styles that may become "frizzed" throughout the course of a day.
Of course, no discussion on traditional and spray-on gels would be complete without noting that sometimes these products contain alcohol. The alcohol is used to enable the gel to dry more quickly and therefore set the style faster. This is generally not a good thing when dealing with hair that is already damaged, since damaged hair is more porous and the alcohol can exacerbate that damage.
Therefore, if your hair is damaged (even if only slightly) you should look for gels that do not contain alcohol. The tradeoff will be that the non-alcohol gels will take longer to dry, but will be gentler on damaged hair, and in some cases will have additives that will help minimize the appearance of the damage.
Spray gel to style hair
The last gel products we're going to refer to today are those with special additives to help you achieve specific styles. These additives can vary widely. Some gels contain wax-based additives to keep the styles pliable and allow you to work the hair virtually all day to keep the style fresh and sharp-looking.
Some contain smoothing agents specifically for use to combat frizz or to keep curly hair looking smooth and controlled. There are even gels that contain sunscreen, moisturizers, and humectants to keep the hair hydrated and protected from UV damage and exposure to harsher outdoor elements.
Styles that Benefit from Styling Gels
While a number of hairstyling situations can benefit from styling gels regardless of the length of the style, the use of gels often really shines in cases where short hairstyles are involved. There is, of course, the short and spiky look that most people often associate with hair gel usage. The gel in this situation is used to make the hairs stick together in small clusters which create the "spikes" that define the style.
But gels are also used with other short styles such as the medium-short blow-dry looks that sweep the hair from one side of the head to the other and create sculpted looks. It can even be used in the aforementioned "short and spiky" style and combined with a blow dryer to diffuse the hair into a topiary style.
Other men’s styles that generally benefit from styling gels are the more modern textured cuts such as the faux hawk and the Caesar cut with the upturned bangs. The lengths of these cuts can vary, but the use of gel becomes beneficial in adding structure to the hair. In these more current styles, gels with additive ingredients, such as wax, are great for making a style easy to maintain throughout the day, since the hair stays pliable and can be easily manipulated with the fingers to freshen the look.