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When you want to create hairstyles that hold up to wind, humidity, and more, turn to the best hair gels, which come in flake-free formulas which work for your hair type and offer strong holds to keep your preferred look in place. To find a flake-free formula, keep an eye out for gels with the word “copolymer” in the ingredient list. Hair gels often include polymers to keep your strands in place, and copolymers (aka blends of two or more polymers) can be stronger and more flexible than single polymers, making them less prone to flaking.
Once you find a quality copolymer formula, you’ll want to choose your preferred type of hold. Lighter hold formulas create softer, more flexible styles that work well for flowy or casual looks. For more elaborate updos or formal styles, though, you’ll want to go for that maximum hold gel to ensure your look will last. While the hold you need mostly depends on the style you’re going for, you should also keep your hair type in mind. Thicker hair, whether curly or straight, usually needs a stronger hold formula, regardless of how you want to style it. For fine hair, though, a strong hold can weigh down your locks, making it tough to get lasting volume. For dry or thinning hair, strong hold gels can make your hair prone to breakage, so you may want to stick with light or medium hold gels.
For any hair type that’s prone to dryness, you should also opt for an alcohol-free formula so the gel doesn’t dry out your hair even more. For low-porosity hair, like 3B or 4C curls, a thinner, more watery formula spreads more easily and will help your hair absorb the product better to prevent clumps. In between washes when you’re applying gel to dry curly, coily, or natural hair, it can help to create a hair cocktail of hair gel and leave-in conditioner to help distribute the product more evenly and avoid clumping or crustiness.
Whatever your hair type and whatever look you’re going for, find the hair gel you need in this list of quality copolymer gel formulas.
1. A Maximum-Hold Hair Gel For Thick Or Curly Hair
With a 4.7-star overall rating after more than 7,000 Amazon reviews, SexyHair Style Hard Up is a popular hair gel with a strong hold, flake-free formula that works great for thick hair. The high-hold, high-shine formula adds dimension and gloss to locks to keep your hair looking vibrant and healthy all day long.
The copolymer formula provides that maximum hold while maintaining the flexibility needed to prevent flaking or crunchiness. While it does contain some alcohol, which might make it too drying for dry or damaged hair, it’s still a great pick for many other hair types. If you do have dry hair but you really need that extra hold, make sure you rehydrate your hair later with a moisturizing conditioner or hydrating hair mask.
According to one reviewer: “Best hair gel ever. Excellent hold. The hold on this is so good that, even on the rare occasion when I wear a hat, I do not have ‘hat hair’ afterwards. It’s a little pricey as hair gels go, but it holds well and you don’t really need a lot of it to get it to work right. No flaking, either. I’ve gotten caught in rain, (Florida summer downpours), and it still holds. And with that kind of hold, you’d expect it difficult to wash out. And though it doesn’t rinse right out without shampoo, I’ve never had any problems with it coming out with a normal amount of shampoo. If they ever stop making this, I’ll be sad; because I don’t think there’s anything on the market that compares to it.”
2. A Pack of Budget-Friendly Strong Hold Hair Gels
This three-pack of strong hold hair gels from Aussie gives customers a great balance of budget-friendly pricing and quality, flake-free styling. The copolymer formula is infused with aloe and jojoba oil to provide nourishing moisture , so you can achieve the styles you want without drying out your hair.
The volumizing effect provided by the bamboo extract combined with the lightweight, hydrating formula makes this a great go-to formula for any hair type; dry hair will benefit from the moisturizing aloe and jojoba, fine or thin hair will benefit from the lightweight formula and volumizing ingredients, and natural or curly hair will benefit from flake-free curl definition.
While this gel’s hold may not be strong enough for laying edges or keeping more elaborate updos in place, reviewers suggest that it has the perfect amount for defining curls or maintaining control of your casual styles.
One thing to note is that this product contains benzyl alcohol, which should be totally fine for most people. That said, if you’re sensitive to benzyl alcohol, you should steer clear to avoid potential skin irritation.
According to one reviewer: “This product is not stiff or greasy in your hands. My hair looks healthier and has a good amount of volume. Aussie Hair Gel gives your hair a boost with maximum all-day hold and brilliant shine. It feels weightless and helps your style stand up to humidity.”
3. A Nourishing Cream Gel For Natural Hair
Coconut oil, coconut milk, mango butter, and murumuru butter combine to make this hair gel from Carol’s Daughter a deeply moisturizing formula that allows you to skip the leave-in conditioner when styling your hair — it’s like conditioner and hair gel in one awesome package.
The copolymer used as the binding ingredient is strong enough to control your curls but flexible enough to avoid crunchiness or flakiness that you’ll get from other hair gels. The cream gel is formulated to be a wash-and-go formula that you can leave in your hair without worrying about drying or damage. The flexible-hold formula adds definition and shine to your curls but may not be strong enough for laying edges or pulling hair back into a sleek ponytail. But for protective styles or when you’re wearing your hair natural, this is a great go-to gel for maintaining healthy, radiant natural curls.
While this is a deeply hydrating formula, it does contain benzyl alcohol, so you should avoid it if you are allergic to this ingredient.
According to one reviewer: “It's AMAZING!! It is so slippery that the tiniest twirl of your fingers encourages immediate curls! It literally cut my styling time by 1 1/2 hours doing my finger twists. My style held strong for three days before finally getting frizzy, and even then it still didn't look that bad […] Hair is incredibly soft and light.”
4. An Alcohol-Free Strong Hold Hair Gel For Dry Hair
American Crew’s firm-hold styling gel offers an alcohol-free formula that’s gentle enough for daily use on all hair types yet strong enough to handle most of your styling needs. In addition to being free of drying alcohols, this gel is infused with vitamin B5, ginseng root, and other nourishing extracts that strengthen and hydrate while keeping your look in place.
For dry or damaged hair, the nourishing, non-drying formula can help heal and protect your hair and scalp to minimize breakage. For thicker hair, the firm-hold formula packs a strong enough punch to keep your mane under control while the watery, spreadable consistency makes it easy to spread evenly through thick or curly locks.
For thick or curly hair, those nourishing ingredients combined with the flake-free copolymer formula make for a great all-purpose gel. Scrunch a small amount through your curls for definition or apply a thin layer to braids to smooth flyaways.
According to one reviewer: “I love this gel because it requires very little to give a nice firm hold. The gel stays on for the full day, I play racquetball about 3 hours a day, which causes me to sweat bullets. This gel does not skip a beat, it continues the hold extremely well.”
5. A Thickening Hair Gel Designed For Fine Hair
Specially formulated for thin hair, this thickening hair gel from Nioxin is infused with peppermint (or mentha piperita) oil to help stimulate hair follicles to promote growth. There’s also mentha arvensis leaf oil in this gel, which is commonly added to formulas for the same purpose. Together, they help promote new hair growth for long-term thicker locks.
Those follicle-stimulating ingredients are blended into a strong yet flexible copolymer gel that can add volume and definition, all while being lightweight enough to avoid flattening your hair or becoming too stiff. While it’s made with thin hair in mind, the volumizing, lightweight formula is also great for fine hair or looser curls that tend to go flat with heavier gels. Just steer clear if you’re allergic to benzyl alcohol.
According to one reviewer: “This product really works. It doesn't leave your hair stiff or sticky. Looks and feels thicker.”
6. An Alcohol-Free Hair Gel That’s Great For Sensitive Scalps
This fragrance-free hair gel from Free & Clear is specially designed for sensitive scalps or damaged hair. The strong, flake-free copolymer formula is alcohol-free, sulfate-free, phosphate-free, fragrance-free, dye-free, and otherwise completely free of the most common chemical irritants found in hair gels.
This non-irritating formula is great for anyone whose scalp often itches or peels when exposed to ordinary styling products. Reviewers also note that it’s great for laying edges without causing a breakout on your forehead.
Even if you don’t have sensitive skin or damaged hair, this gentle hair gel still provides a flexible, flake-free hold that’s great for everyday looks. The lightweight, spreadable gel can define curls in natural hair, lift roots in fine hair, and generally add dimension to all hair types without getting crunchy or stiff.
According to one reviewer: “I mix a small amount (nickel size) of this in my palm with a little coconut oil and apply it to my damp hair when I get out of the shower. So far I have no complaints, continue to be itch free, and love the unscented, medium/light hold for my thick, curly hair. It doesn't seem to be drying my hair or irritating my sensitive skin and rinses out easily in the shower with my mild shampoo. No problems with flaking either when I spritz water on dry hair the next day between washes. It is truly fragrance free, which is wonderful!”
7. A Humidity-Proof Hair Gel With UV Protection
For shoppers looking to maintain control over their locks in humid climates, Matrix Vavoom Hold My Body is a hair gel you can rely on. Specially formulated for hot and humid climates, this alcohol-free gel holds volume and curls in place no matter how much sweat or humidity it's exposed to. It even provides some UV protection to prevent sun damage when spending long afternoons outside.
The flexible hold keeps your hair under control while still allowing for movement and bounce that’s suitable to all hair types. For natural and curly hair, the humidity-proof curl definition and flake-free hold are just what you need to keep your styles intact through the summer. For fine or thinning hair, the lightweight, volumizing formula adds body and resists flattening.
According to one reviewer: “Ive used this gel off [and] on for 14 years. It is the best I have found! It really controls the frizz and gives shape to curls. I apply about a dime size to my hand and apply it to the ends and then all over. Then I take a little less and apply that all over again. […] We vacation in Orlando and Charleston.SC in the summers where it is hot and humid and I could not stand my hair without this gel. I use more on super hot / humid days.”
8. A Flexible Gel For Defined Curls That Last For Days
With a lightweight formula that’s designed to last for days, Biolage’s styling gelee is a great hair gel for anyone who wants to maintain their styles in between washes. Simply mist your hair with water the next day and scrunch your roots to reactivate the gel and renew your style.
This ability to reactivate means you won’t have to apply more product in between washes. The paraben-free, dye-free formula is gentle enough to leave in for a couple of days (though it has benzyl alcohol, if that’s a concern for you), while the copolymer gel will resist flaking no matter how much you move or restyle your hair.
According to one reviewer: “I love how this product holds my naturally kinky hair for several days. I apply it immediately after a shower & scrunch my hair. Then for the next couple days, I have a spray bottle filled with water & i just spray fairly heavy with water & scrunch again! Perfect.”