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All hair gels are not created equal—and if you have curly, coily, or kinky natural hair, then you know that different occasions call for different gels. The right gel will provide clumping for your wash-and-go curls and definition for your twist-outs, but the wrong gel? Well, that’s just a dry, crunchy mess.
When searching for the best gel for you, it's important to consider your hair’s texture and porosity, as well as your styling needs. For those with low-porosity hair (your hair doesn’t allow in moisture easily), you’ll want to reach for a lighter gel to prevent product build-up. For those with high-porosity hair (your hair easily absorbs moisture), it might take a strong moisturizing hold to keep frizz at bay. Whichever your texture or your curl goals, there's a gel out there for you—and we've rounded up the best of them.
Keep reading to discover the best gels for natural hair.
Best Overall: Mielle Organics Honey & Ginger Styling Gel
You might’ve been forced to choose between moisture or hold in the past, but this styling gel gives you the best of both worlds. The formula—which contains honey, aloe extract, and babassu oil—nourishes and hydrates your hair while also offering curl definition and frizz reduction. Those with a wide range of curl types rave that it delivers a crunch-free hold without sticky build-up or damaging chemicals.
Best Budget: Ecoco ECO Styler Olive Oil Styling Gel
We’ve all seen this OG gel on the shelves at our local beauty supply store, but there’s a reason why this classic product has become a styling staple. The alcohol-free formula provides serious hold and definition while olive oil moisturizes strands. It can be a great option for those who wash their hair frequently (it’s known to flake after three or four days of buildup), but it really shines as a maximum-hold styler for twisted or braided styles.
Best Lightweight Hold: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel
This gel provides light to medium hold for long-lasting, natural-looking definition with superior movement, shine, and softness. This formula—made with quinoa extract, keratin, and rice amino acids—fortifies strands and increases elasticity as well as smooths and seals the hair cuticle to lock out frizz and promote consistent curl formation. Reviewers also love that this lightweight formula doesn’t cause any stiff or sticky after-effects.
Best Strong Hold: Tailiah Waajid Tight Hold Loc It Up For Natural Hair
If you’re looking for serious hold minus the flakes, this gel is the one for you. It’s strong enough to maintain loc styles—it's ideal for retouching or even creating new locs. But it’s also flexible enough to use as a styling gel to define your curl pattern and limit frizz. The all-natural formula is alcohol-free, which also makes it a great option for those with sensitive scalps.
Best Strengthening: NaturAll Club Curl Defining Flaxseed Gel
This nourishing gel (made with organic flaxseeds) keeps your natural hair strong, but it also delivers amazing hold. The formula is non-sticky and leaves natural hair feeling soft and crunch-free—plus, it allows for flawless wash-and-go styles, twists, and braid-outs. It's available in both flexible hold (for defining curly hair) and extreme hold (for defining kinky, coily hair).
Best Defining: The Doux Big Poppa Curl Defining Gel
This humidity-resistant formula creates a long-lasting, flexible hold, and helps to fight frizz while defining your style. It especially comes in handy for those who are transitioning from relaxed to natural hair or with multiple hair textures, and it comes with a promise to keep your curls poppin', defined, and shining. As a bonus, this 16-ounce container holds plenty of product, so you can feel good about getting the most bang for your buck.
Best Edge Control: Design Essentials Sleek Edge Control
When I first found this edge control on my mother’s bathroom sink, let’s just say that it didn’t stay there for long—it remains one of the best edge controls I’ve ever used. You can count on this product to tame your flyaways and provide a firm hold to unruly hair. And, while there’s no miracle product that'll completely change the texture of the hair that frames your face, this will definitely help you style your baby hair to perfection.
Best for Thinning Edges: NaturAll Club Flaxseed Gel Edge Control
Edge control is typically a quick fix, but this product doesn’t just lay your edges—it promotes growth, too. Made with organically sourced flaxseed, this formula offers strength and naturally derived protein to help promote edge hair growth and prevent breakage. This product will smooth your edges, tame frizz, and manage flyaways to reveal effortless, filled-in, and laid-back edges that last all day long.
Best for Wash-and-Go Styles: Curls Blueberry Bliss Curl Control Jelly
For all of the curly girls who don’t like gel for their wash-and-go styles, this jelly is a total game-changer. My high-porosity hair is very curly yet fine, which makes it difficult to find a gel that defines my curls without drying them out or causing too much product build-up. I’d almost written off gel completely until trying the Blueberry Bliss Collection, but once I did, I never looked back—my curls were hydrated, soft to the touch, and more manageable.
Best Multi-Purpose: Pattern Beauty Strong Hold Gel
You can never go wrong with a slicked back pony, and this gel has what it takes to get the job done. Never damaging or drying, reviewers love that it has a flexible yet strong hold that’s great for a variety of styles. It also has a slippery texture that distributes well throughout your hair, making it an ideal choice to define your curls when rocking a wash-and-go style.
Best for Sensitive Scalps: Curlsmith Hydro-Style Flexi Jelly
This medium-hold styling gel is formulated to be super lightweight, delivering the definition you deserve without product build-up that can irritate your scalp. It’s super-charged with hyaluronic acid and hydrates both your scalp and your hair, plus it’s full of several other yummy ingredients, like green tea, thyme, and lavender.
This lightweight gel is ideal for those with low-porosity hair, providing curl definition that is flexible and soft to the touch.
Best Anti-Frizz: Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
For curly hair, humidity is not your friend. That’s because textured hair leaves the hair cuticle exposed, causing your strands to expand and frizz when they encounter water. The answer? This protein packed-gel, which seals every strand and locks in moisture to define dull frizzy hair. The result is a flexible hold that won't leave hair crunchy, sticky, or weighed down.
Best for Styling: tgin Rose Water Defining Styling Gel
Twist-outs, braid-outs, roller sets, and slicked back looks—if you can style it, this gel can hold it. This rose water gel delivers moisture and soft hold to your hair for greater definition without flakes or residue. Plus, it's free of harmful sulfates, parabens, and artificial colors, so you can feel confident that you aren’t sacrificing the well-being of your hair for the sake of a style.
Best for Fine Hair: Aveda Confixor Liquid Gel
When you have fine hair, it can be difficult to find a gel that delivers the hold you want without weighing down your curls. This liquid gel does just that while the Morikue protein-infused formula conditions, fortifies, and creates definition. Reviewers also rave that it adds body and volume to limp hair.
Best Elongating: Aunt Jackie’s Flaxseed Elongating Curling Gel
For type 4 hair, we all know that the shrinkage is real, but this beautiful gel does the work to stretch shriveling curls. The formula—made with flaxseed, shea butter, and extra-virgin olive oil—conditions your hair while nourishing the scalp and promoting hair growth. Users love that it defines curls without flaking or weighing hair down.
A small amount can be used on clean, dry hair, but this gel works best when used on clean, wet (or damp) hair. Apply more for tighter curls and less for elongated curls.
Best for Coily Curls: As I Am Smoothing Gel
Hold and shine? Check and check. This smoothing gel has a thick yet lightweight consistency that does wonders for type 4 curls. With aloe vera and wheat protein, it moisturizes as it strengthens, working to provide a strong hold without drying your hair out.
Best For Loose Curls: Mixed Chicks Styling Gel
For type 2 to type 3 curls, this option delivers serious definition and hold without any heaviness or flaking. A little goes a long way, so you can actually get away with using a quarter-sized amount. The formula adds thickness and texture, so if you’re on the hunt for volume and body, this one's for you.
What to Look For in Gel For Natural Hair
Alcohol can be a problem in any hair care product. In textured hair, it can increase dryness. Since textured hair tends to err on the dryer side already, this can be damaging and can make hair look dull.
Consider your hair's porosity
If your hair is highly absorbent, you'll need a stronger, more moisturizing product in order to prevent frizz. But if your hair is low porosity, you'll want a lighter gel so that you don't experience buildup quickly. if you're unsure of your hair's porosity, try this simple and quick test.
While some products can function in an all-in-one capacity, many will work better specifically for edge control, or protective styles, or loose curls. Using an edge control gel for braids or twists may not be as effective as choosing a gel that's made for that purpose.
Is gel bad for your natural hair?
A hair product is as good, or bad, as its ingredients. Some ingredients should be avoided for natural hair—for example, alcohol can cause dryness and silicones can create buildup. Provided you're choosing a gel that lets your hair breathe and doesn't contain any problem ingredients, you shouldn't experience damage from it.
What gel makes your hair grow?
If your goal for gel is to stimulate hair growth, choose a gel like NaturAll or Aunt Jackie's. Gels that contain ingredients such as flaxseed oil can potentially facilitate hair growth, and might also help to thicken thin edges. You may also want to avoid styles that pull at the edges of your hair, including tight ponytails and buns.
Which gel is best for natural hair edges?
What can I use instead of gel?
Gel is a great choice for everything from twist-outs to holding a sleek pony in place. However, some people might not enjoy the look or feel of them. If you haven't liked the gels you've tried, you could consider making your own so that you have full ingredient control. You can even make one with flaxseed oil to promote growth.