Hair gel seems to be an integral part of our initiation into the world of grooming. When we first begin experimenting with a ‘hairstyle’ it seems the first product we turn to is a sickly, plastic-scented, gluey mess in lurid packaging. Those who dabble with gel quickly learn it can withstand wind, rain and a double header; hell, you could even sleep in it and hair wouldn’t budge. In the early days, gel abuse is common, but when you know how to apply it properly, it’s actually hard to beat.
What Is Hair Gel?
Hair gel is a styling product that typically has a clear, jelly-like consistency and is known for its shiny, wet look and elastic properties.
Who Does It Work For?
Gel helps those who struggle to restrain their natural hair texture. It smooths away curls and repels moisture, so it keeps frizz in check. Gel is also an essential ingredient for short to medium length slick back styles, sharp side partings and retro shapes such as a pompadour or rockabilly quiff.
How Should You Use Gel?
Who better to ask how to use gel than some of London’s top hair stylists? “I think gel had a bad reputation because it can make hair super crispy when it dries, and it can even cause hair breakage when you touch your hair if the hold is too strong,” says Davide Barbieri, session stylist with regular clients including Robbie Williams. “Modern gel formulations are nothing like their crunchy, flaky predecessors and are easy to remove,” he says.
“Always start with a small amount when using for the first time and apply evenly to damp hair before styling into the desired shape,” adds Joshua Gibson, session stylist at Sassoon, who’s worked on editorials for i-D and L’Uomo Vogue.
The Best Hair Gels
Sebastian Liquid Steel
When only the strongest hold will do, recruit this heavyweight. Joshua Gibson says, “Liquid Steel is one of my go-to gel products in my kit. It does what it says on the tin—it gives the strongest hold—and nothing will move a sleek look made using it except washing.” Be warned: this one dries super-fast so it’s for advanced gel users only.
Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel
Want a no-gel look with a strong gel hold? Lee Machin, session stylist, who creates show looks for Missoni and regularly works with actors such as Jamie Dornan and Douglas Booth, goes for Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel Krystal Clear. “This is my favorite gel. You can blow dry it in on wet hair to get volume and hold for quiffs and it will dry and look completely product free. I also love it for catwalk shows and for sleek wet looks and it won’t flake.” It’s also the best value for money.
Bumble & Bumble Bb.Gel
Want a natural look? Davide Barbieri favors the flexible hold of the Bb.gel from Bumble & Bumble when testing out new styles. “It doesn’t dry too quickly so you have more time to change the shape of the style,” he says. It also gives great natural-looking shine and firm hold once your style is set.
Nioxin Thickening Gel
Fair or fine hair? Gibson recommends Nioxin Thickening Gel. “It’s is great for lighter hair colour types like blondes, or where receding is an issue. It still has strong hold but isn’t concrete and brushes out easily.” The formula contains thickening polymer technology to form bonds between gaps in the hair to give it a denser looking appearance.
Fudge Hair Gum Extreme Hold Controlling Gel
Want the hold without the shine? Carmelo Guastella, Men’s Grooming Director at Gielly Green Four Seasons in London, recommends Fudge Hair Gum Controlling Gel. “It gives hair volume with strong hold and control, without going totally stiff, and the finish is matt. The other quality I like about this gel is that you are able to put your hands through your hair, breaking up the stiffness of the gel. And it leaves no residue or flakes.”
Davines Strong Hold Cream Gel
Tim Pateman, session stylist, uses Davines Strong Hold Cream Gel on fashion shoots and on clients at his salon, The Lion & The Fox. “This strong hold gel gives a great wet look, which is easily pliable when water is added to allow control before the style sets in place. If you like a tight barber look with a top that is going to stay where you want it to stay—use this.” It doesn’t flake and a little goes a long way. For best results always apply to wet hair.