The 16 Best Hair Gels for a Flexible Hold

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Byrdie / Sabrina Jiang

When it comes down to it, sometimes you just need a powerful product that'll keep your hair in place. While hair gels might remind you of the most cringe-worthy looks of the early aughts, they're actually really great when you need them. (And despite some protests, lots of styles from the 2000s are coming back).

If you're interested in dipping your toes (or rather, your tips) back into the gel pool, we've got good news. Today's formulas aren't like the goopy blue hues of decades past.

They're a little creamier, often nourishing, totally versatile, and offer a flexible hold that lasts for hours. What's more, you can count on all-around better-looking hair. For those rocking a pixie, slick back, cropped cut, sleek updo, or scrunchy curls—and anyone wanting to explore the wet hair look—gel is your friend.

Scroll down for the best gels currently on the market.

Best Overall: Biolage Styling Gelée

Biolage Styling Gelée
What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Adds volume

  • Minimizes frizz and flyaways

  • Shiny finish

What We Don't Like
  • Hold isn't as strong as other options

What's the best hair gel of today? You're looking at it. Biolage's Styling Gelée is an all-purpose, pro-level product formulated to deliver not just control but also body, shine, and nourishment. 

But it doesn't stop there. The lightweight, slightly creamy concoction adds volume, tames flyaways, smooths frizz, and leaves your hair with a truly gorgeous finish. Enriched with blue agave nectar, citrus oil, and other botanicals, it shapes and sculpts without crunchiness or a sticky residue.

Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Budget: Garnier Fructis Style Pure Clean Styling Gel

Garnier Fructis Style Pure Clean Styling Gel
What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Lightweight

  • Doesn't flake

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

Thanks to Garnier, you can get the good stuff without shelling out a bunch of cash. Containing an impressive 98% naturally derived ingredients, the brand's Pure Clean Styling Gel offers a strong yet weightless finish without any flakes.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Drugstore: Aussie Instant Freeze 20-Hour Hold Hair Gel

Aussie Instant Freeze 20-Hour Hold Hair Gel

 Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Long-lasting

  • Strong hold

What We Don't Like
  • Dries with a crunchy cast

Aussie is a go-to for drugstore haircare, so it's no surprise the brand makes a standout gel. Infused with sea kelp and jojoba oil, Instant Freeze offers maximum hold and a refreshing scent—no flakes, no stickiness, no residue.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Splurge: Oribe Curl Gelée for Shine & Definition

Oribe Curl Gelée for Shine & Definition
What We Like
  • Moisturizing

  • Minimizes frizz and flyaways

  • Adds volume

What We Don't Like
  • Pricier than other options

Feeling fancy? Treat yourself to a tub of Curl Gelée. It's got Oribe's signature plant-derived complex of lychee, watermelon, and edelweiss flower extracts, plus nourishing natural butters and oils to hydrate, tame frizz, and add bounce.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Natural Hair: Pattern Curl Gel

Pattern Curl Gel
What We Like
  • Smells good

  • Touchable finish

  • Great for wash-and-gos

What We Don't Like
  • Hold isn't as strong as other options

With braids, twists, and coils in mind, Pattern Beauty's take on hair gel is this sizable tube containing an au natural blend of nutrient-rich ingredients. We're talking cacay oil, coconut oil, and aloe vera, plus a slightly sweet aroma of rose, neroli, and patchouli.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Baby Hairs: Kreyòl Essence Sleek + Chic Edge Gel

Kreyòl Essence Sleek + Chic Edge Gel
What We Like
  • Doesn't flake

  • Promotes hair growth

  • Strong hold

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

You'll be glad to have Sleek + Chic Edge Gel on hand when styling your baby hairs. Containing all-star ingredients like black castor, moringa, mango, and coconut oils, the Haitian superfood blend helps lay the tiniest hairs flat for a polished finish.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Curly Hair: Curls Dynasty Twisted Definition Twisting Cream

Curls Dynasty Twisted Definition Twisting Cream
What We Like
  • Moisturizing

  • Shiny finish

  • Minimizes tangles

What We Don't Like
  • Hold isn't as strong as other options

For the curly-haired camp, we recommend Twisted Definition, a creamy gel that simultaneously moisturizes and defines. Drawing from marshmallow root, ginger, shea, and aloe, it pulls out all the stops for spirals, coils, and kinks.

Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Wavy Hair: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel

Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel
What We Like
  • Flexible hold

  • Moisturizing

  • Minimizes frizz and flyaways

What We Don't Like
  • Hold isn't as strong as other options

If you're working with waves, reach for Brigeo's Curl Charisma. The 90-percent naturally derived formula is chock full of healthy-hair ingredients like quinoa extract, rice amino acids, and tomato fruit ferment extract to give your hair a flexible hold and a nourishment boost.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Thick Hair: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curling Gel Souffle

SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curling Gel Souffle

 Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Not sticky

  • Moisturizing

What We Don't Like
  • Consistency gets ruined in hot weather

SheaMoisture's Gel Soufflé does amazing things for those with thick hair and short cuts. The natural formula adds definition and hold, but since it doesn't contain silicone or polymers, you won't get any sticky buildup.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Fine Hair: Sexy Hair Big Sexy Hair Blow Dry Volumizing Gel

SexyHair Big Blow Dry Volumizing Gel
What We Like
  • Adds volume

  • Strengthening

  • Pump bottle

What We Don't Like
  • Feels sticky

Fine hair? Size up with Big Volumizing Gel, which contains fortifying hydrolyzed wheat protein and soothing aloe vera. Apply it to damp hair, then blow-dry, and watch as it plumps up your hair with body, strength, and a soft bounce.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Strong Hold: Davines This Is a Strong Hold Cream Gel

Davines This Is a Strong Hold Cream Gel
What We Like
  • Strong hold

  • Dries quickly

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • May weigh down finer hair

Need something that'll stay put for longer than a few hours? Go with Davines. As its name suggests, this no-nonsense, strong-hold gel isn't messing around. It dries quickly, adds texture, and preserves your 'do without any clumps.

Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Flexible Hold: R+Co Motorcycle Flexible Gel

R+Co Motorcycle Flexible Gel
What We Like
  • Flexible hold

  • Touchable finish

  • Works on wet or dry hair

What We Don't Like
  • Hold isn't as strong as other options

For a piecey look that's not hard as a rock, your best bet is R+Co Motorcycle. Despite its tough-sounding name, a dollop of this clear gel will leave your hair feeling soft and hydrated with just the right amount of texture.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Humid Climates: Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel

Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
What We Like
  • Minimizes frizz and flyways

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Hold isn't as strong as other options

High humidity got you down? Ouidad's Advanced Climate Control Gel is formulated to battle frizz and keep flyaways in check while delivering a reliable hold and an enhanced texture for curls, coils, spirals, kinks, and waves.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Texturizing: Amika Haute Mess Texture Gloss

Amika Haute Mess Texture Gloss
What We Like
  • Adds volume

  • Not sticky

  • Touchable finish

What We Don't Like
  • May weigh down finer hair

Amika's saucily named Haute Mess walks the line between elegant and unkempt with finesse. Tousle your hair with a squeeze of this gel gloss, and behold your newfound brilliant texture.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Defining: Girl + Hair Curl Cloud Moisturizing Curl Defining Gel for Curly Hair

Girl + Hair Curl Cloud Moisturizing Curl Defining Gel for Curly Hair
What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Touchable finish

  • Moisturizing

What We Don't Like
  • Strong smell

If it's definition you're after, pick up a tub of Curl Cloud. With neem, tea tree, castor, and pimento oils, this antioxidant-rich hair gel accentuates coily and kinky hair and creates a soft hold for loose curls, twist-outs, and braid-outs.

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Shaping: Sally Hershberger 24K Vanity Hair Shaping Balm

Sally Hershberger 24K Vanity Hair Shaping Balm
What We Like
  • Flexible hold

  • Lightweight

  • Not sticky

What We Don't Like
  • Unhygienic packaging

"My favorite product to provide texture, control, and hold is the 24K Vanity Hair Shaping Balm," says celebrity hairstylist Sally Hershberger. "Similar to gel in terms of delivering flexible hold, this balm blends seamlessly into the hair and gives it long-wearing shape and definition without any stickiness."

Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Final Verdict

If we could only recommend one hair gel, we'd have to go with Biolage Styling Gelée on account of its multi-use, ultra-nourishing botanical formula that works for all hair types. Having said that, Garnier Fructis Style Pure Clean Styling Gel is a great option for those who want to keep their gel budget under $10. And Oribe Curl Gelée for Shine & Definition is an excellent choice for anyone open to splurging on a high-quality product.

What to Look for When Buying Hair Gel

Polymers

Most hair gels contain some form of polymers, which are what creates the long-lasting hold. They can be in the form of naturally derived ingredients, such as starch, cellulose, silk protein, or hydrolyzed wheat protein. Then, synthetic polymers appear on a list as copolymers, polyquaternium, polyvinyl pyrrolidone, silicone ingredients, or acetates.

Fortifying Ingredients

When browsing hair gels, world-renowned session stylist Kevin Murphy says to look for a "range of ingredients designed to protect the integrity of your hair and scalp while giving you that on-trend gel finish."

While formulas vary greatly in terms of their formulations, standout ingredients include plant-based butters, like mango, cocoa seed, and shea, as well as natural oils, like apricot, jojoba, macadamia, castor, tea tree, neem, baobab oil, and coconut. Additionally, you'll find options with hydrolyzed wheat protein, keratin, quinoa extract, rice protein, and other amino acids. Aloe vera is also often added for smoothness and enhanced texture.

Formulation

Modern hair gels come in a few different formulations. There are traditional transparent gooey gels, nourishing gel creams, lightweight gelées, and balms, which fall somewhere between gel and pomade.

FAQ
  • How do you apply hair gel?

    With a dime-to-nickel-sized dollop in the palm of your hand, massage the gel into your hair, evenly coating each strand. Use your fingers to add texture, scrunch your curls, or tousle your hair to create the look you're going for.

  • Does hair gel damage your hair?

    If a hair gel is high-quality and combined with the right ingredients, it can shut the cuticle and create shine, Murphy explains. However, products with poor-quality ingredients and high alcohol content can create dry, brittle hair and dry out your scalp.

  • Does hair gel expire?

    "Everything has a use-by date," says Murphy. "Most brands have a shelf-life of two years or more, then they either discolor or the suspension drops, and they become watery."

Why Trust Byrdie?

This roundup was researched and written by Theresa Holland, a freelance commerce writer covering fitness, skincare, makeup, and haircare. She has been contributing to Byrdie since 2020, with other stories appearing on The Spruce and MyDomaine.

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