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How To Use Gel In Dry Hair

by Gabbi

Picture this – the year is 2007. Your friends have just called you to meet up for a day at the mall (probably shopping at Abercrombie and Hollister). Before you leave the bathroom after doing your makeup, you take some time to squeeze a palm-full of extra-hold gel into your hands and scrunch it through your locks.

Are you visibly cringing? So are we. How our locks were able to make it through the early 2000s, we’ll never know. But what we do know, is that guys and gals all around were seriously misunderstanding how to use gel in their hair.

So, how do you use gel in dry hair? How to use gel in dry hair depends on your hair type and desired effect. For guys, gel can give you volume and lift as no other hair product can, but make sure you keep the quality of the product you’re using in mind. Curly hair? You may want to skip gel if your hair is dry.

If you’re going for a high fashion look, putting gel on dry hair is exactly what you need to achieve that!

It’s a hair technique that’s nothing short of an art form. Though it may sound intimidating, we promise that by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what styles you can achieve through a skillful gel application. Read on!

Why Is Hair Gel So Hard To Use?

We think the best way to describe gel is that it’s basically hairspray in a tube. Once on, it will lock your style into place until you’re ready for a wash (because there’s no way you’ll be able to get it out of locks without a good shampoo).

Hair gel is typically used to slick down pesky hairs and flyaways in more feminine looks and used to spike or create slicked styles in masculine looks, but the result is in the hands of the user! 

The problem with gel lies in the fact that even a mild to medium hold formula can still leave you with stiff or wet looking locks, and they usually come in formulas that are all too easy to go trigger happy on (as seen in the magazines of the 90s and 2010s).

Because of its difficulty to master, people tend to opt for more forgiving formulas: pomades, waxes, etc., that offer a more flexible hold than hair gel does. 

For those looking for serious hold, keeping a variety of gels in your bathroom is definitely recommended. Another hair type we would use hair gel on would be shorter or cropped styles. Due to its heaviness, hair gel can weigh down long locks, but add volume and hold to shorter hair. 

What Strength Hair Gel Should I Buy?

For longer locks, or those with fine, thin hair, a light-hold hair gel is the way to go. It’ll keep your hair from clumping together in strands, and still offer your strands some movement.

Light-hold hair gel also has a more lightweight formula overall, which can save you from breakage or hair fall when it comes time to wash the product out.

If you’re going for a more masculine style or trying to re-create a wet look to your locks, a medium-hold gel can give you that sought-after shine, without the stiffness of a higher strength product. 

And if you’re looking for super slicked-back locks or a stylistically stiff finish, a strong-hold hair gel should be your next hair purchase. Hair gel of this strength shouldn’t be used every single day, as the formula could be too harsh on your strands.

But it should definitely be thought of during high-fashion or editorial shoots (or whenever you’re looking to make a slick, structured statement).

Styling Masculine Short Hair

Probably the most popular way to use gel for masculine styles is by spiking it up, but if overdone, you can be left looking fresh out of Jersey Shore. To control how much product you use at one time, put a lick of gel in between your index finger and thumb. Consider these fingers your styling tool!

Brush through your strands to free up any tangles and use these gel-coated fingers to spike up sections of your hair. This is a much more precise way to coat your strands, rather than pushing globs of product through your cut. 

For a visual tutorial, take a look at this video from Ben Arthur on YouTube.

Styling Feminine Short Hair

For pixie cuts in need of a little bit of structure, the technique mentioned above can help hold things in place where needed!

But if you’re looking for something super slick, emulsify a quarter-sized amount of medium hold gel through your hands to heighten the reach of the product and finger comb it through your strands. 

If you want the hold without the stiffness, squeezing a little bit of conditioner into your hand and mixing it with your gel can aid with the “crunchiness” of your strands.

Styling Masculine Long Hair

If you’re rocking the man bun or boasting lengths that rival that of Kit Harrington’s, keeping a bottle of light to medium hold gel in your hair care kit can elevate your looks to new heights.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing your hair au naturel, adding some structure and sheen to your lengths can complete your ensemble, especially for more formal occasions.

Next time you pull your hair back into a bun, use a dime-sized amount of light hold gel and work it through the nape of your neck and around your hairline – the areas of your hair that tend to have the most flyaways.

It’s a simple step, and one that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to complete, but it can keep your locks looking neat all day long.

For textured hair, utilizing the conditioner trick we mentioned in the section prior can highlight the natural shape of your strands. The sheen and scent the conditioner provides are what will bring your style to fantasize-worthy finishes.

Styling Feminine Long Hair

When we think of hair gel used in an editorial sense, our minds immediately go to Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala or Megan Fox at the VMAs. When styled with the right outfit, a wet look can be sexy, dreamy, and sleek- the complete opposite of how we looked back in the day.

The secret to the wet look is in the prep. Strands can be dry, but make sure they’re tangle-free by taking a brush or comb through them. Afterward, use a couple of spritzes of sea salt spray for some extra body and lift. If you have naturally wavy hair, this is also a great opportunity for your natural texture to peek through.

Once you’ve styled your hair with sea-salt spray to your liking, use a medium-hold hair gel emulsified through your fingers to scrunch and smooth your locks into place. Be wary of any flyaways and chunks and ensure that you run a fine-toothed comb through them as soon as they’re spotted so they don’t dry into place. 

If you’ll be wearing the wet look for a long time, you can choose to add a hair oil on top of the gel step for further shine. We also recommend adding gel if you plan on taking photos, as it can add a more reflective shine than the hair gel alone. 

Another great way to utilize gel is for period hairstyles! The traditional curls of Hollywood had a lot of body and structure, all of the curls going in one uniform direction, offering a cascading look you don’t often see worn by stars of today!

Using curlers and rolling each section of hair in a singular direction is an easy way to get that uniform look. Once they’re out of their rollers, run a wide toothed comb or brush through your locks until all of your curls form together into deep waves.

To ensure your curls stay put all day and night, use a dime sized amount of strong-hold hair gel. Gently smooth your curls down (without compromising the curl) and use metal duck bill clips to reinforce the shape of the wave.

Once you’re all clipped up, quickly blast your lengths with your hairdryer on its lowest blast setting, but highest heat, to lock in your style!

For a visual tutorial, take a look at this one from eHow beauty explaining how to gel long hair back in a ponytail.

Putting Gel On Dry Curls

Due to the shape of curly hair follicles, locks with texture (even the slightest wave) have a tendency to lose moisture easier than straighter hair types.

Since gel acts like an occlusive to your strands, applying it onto dry curls will lock them into their moisture-less state, making your coils more susceptible to breakage and damage.

Gel on dry hair can also compromise your curl pattern, making for messy, non-uniform strands. If you don’t have time to get your hair soaking wet, keeping a spray bottle of water, or a spray leave-in conditioner handy can save you time in the mornings before your gel application.

Related Questions

How do I properly clean hair gel out of my hair?

The extensive process of hair gel removal is lengthy, but it’s something you must commit to if you want to preserve the natural strength and bounce of your locks! 

Before getting in the shower, we suggest finger combing your strands as best you can. We recommend this over brushing, as your hair is in a sticky, dry state that can make breakage as easy as one swish of a hairbrush. 

Turn your shower water on hot- as hot as you can stand without hurting yourself. While we don’t often recommend using hot water on your hair, it’s the main thing that can break down the adhesive properties of hair gel. 

Use a little bit of shampoo at first to break a bulk of the product down, and then rinse. If your hair still feels intensely sticky, follow up with a clarifying shampoo rather than the one you started out with. Use a hefty amount of conditioner to reintroduce moisture back into your strands. 

Can I use hair gel every day?

Due to its strong formula and aggressive removal process, using hair gel every single day can lead to thin, frizzy, damaged strands of hair. The only exception is if you’re using tiny amounts of light-hold formula, as an amount of hair gel that miniscule can be washed away with a single shampoo. 

If you can’t fathom a day starting without reaching for your bottle of gel, we suggest opting for more gentle alternatives. Mousse and pomade work well, and aloe vera gel is a natural way to mimic the look of hair gel without the damage!

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