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How To Use Hair Gel Properly For Men

Guys who don’t know how to use hair gel properly tend to get potato chip hair. It’s crunchy, glistening, and leaves all that icky residue on your hands. If you don’t want your hair looking like your favorite bag of chips, then get your gel straight.

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What Is Hair Gel?

Gel is one of the most affordable hair styling products. It’s a lot like hair putty, wax, and pomade, but the texture is globbier, and it dries into your hair with a stronger hold and more shine. Once you have gel in your hair, you’re not really supposed to restyle it. It’s an all-day hairdo.

Most guys use gel at some point in their lives. It’s likely one of the first hair products you were introduced to as a teenager – and, not to throw shade, but you’re probably making a few of the same styling mistakes now that you were in high school. (Minus the mullet and peach fuzz mustache, hopefully.)

How To Use Hair Gel Properly For Men

If you want a really successful hairdo, there are three hair gel strategies that typically work out best:

With A Blow Dryer

  1. Start with damp hair (not sopping wet, but not dry).
  2. Take a dime-sized scoop of gel, rub it between your hands, and distribute it evenly throughout your hair. Add more as needed, depending on the length of your hair.
  3. Blow dry your hair in the direction that you want it to sit. Optional: use a brush with the blow dryer to keep your hair drying in the right direction.
  4. Voila! 

The blow dryer method is best for lots of volume. It has a matte finish (not shiny), and it keeps your hair relatively soft. The gel even protects your hair from heat damage and breakage.

With A Comb

  1. Start with dry or mostly dry hair. 
  2. Use the comb to style your hair. Most guys end up choosing a side-part if they style their hair with gel and a comb.
  3. Rub a dime-sized amount of gel between your hands and distribute it through your hair.
  4. Monitor the gel while it dries to ensure that your hair stays in place.

Remember, you shouldn’t really comb your hair once you have gel in it. Comb it beforehand, then use the gel to keep it in place. 

The comb method is best for a slick, glossy style. It preserves the shininess of the gel, giving you a modern wet hair look.

With Your Hands

  1. Start with dry or slightly damp hair.
  2. Distribute a dime-sized amount of gel evenly through your hair.
  3. Tussle it and style with your hands, shaping as you go.
  4. Wait for the gel to dry to ensure that it keeps the shape you want.

Strictly using your hands with gel is best for a messy, casual style. I recommend it most for guys with curly hair. If you have straight hair, gel tends to look better combed or blow dried.

Mistakes to avoid:

• Don’t use too much gel. Remember, if you want to style your hair up, too much gel will weigh it down. (Besides, it’s a waste of good hair product.)

• Play with the shape of your hair before you apply the gel. It’ll be easier to style if you already have it combed in the direction that you want it to sit – gel will just finish off the look with hold and shine.

• Some experts recommend that you only apply gel to dry hair for best results. I recommend experimenting with both damp and dry hair. Different guys have more success with one option or the other. Depends on your hair type.

Do You Put Gel On Wet Or Dry Hair?

You can put gel on wet or dry hair, but remember that it changes the way your hair looks once it’s styled.

Wet and damp hair are both perfect for a blow dried or combed-back gel style. Ironically, the two are polar opposites in terms of the finished results. Gel will add volume with the blow dryer, but it won’t have a lot of shine. Gel will take away volume with the comb, but it’ll have a very shiny finish.

Dry hair with gel creates a messier, casual look. Your hair has already shaped itself once it’s dry, so it’s a challenge to change the way it looks. That’s one reason guys often use too much gel – if you’re fighting with dry hair, it’s tempting to keep adding more gel, but that won’t fix the problem.

Guys with curly hair will have an entirely different gel experience. Whether you add it to wet or dry hair, it’s best to just style and shape it with your hands, and let the gel enhance your natural curls. The only way to make it look straight is with a blow dryer (and maybe an iron).

How To Use Hair Gel Without Looking Wet

I know, not everyone is a fan of the wet hair look (even though it’s pretty stylish).

The shininess of hair gel can make your hair look wet all day long. But remember, one of the styling methods that we talked about above makes your hair look non-shiny: using a blow dryer.

Apply hair gel to wet hair and use a blow dryer to style it. The finished results will look natural and matte, but the hair gel will still have a strong hold, keeping your hair in place all day. 

Sometimes, applying a little bit of gel to dry hair and styling with your hands works too. But it doesn’t always achieve that business-professional look that lots of guys aim for. For best non-shiny results, the blow dryer is your most surefire method.

Can I Use Hair Gel Daily?

You really shouldn’t use hair gel daily.

Lots of gels contain drying ingredients like sulfate and alcohol. Without enough moisture, your hair gets brittle, which leads to breakage. That’s part of the reason some guys think that hair gel causes hair loss (which we talk about below).

Besides that, your scalp needs room to breathe. It has more pores than any other part of your skin, and gel is really good at clogging those pores, causing scalp acne and dandruff.

It’s good to give your hair a break from products like gel.

Should I Wash My Hair After Using Gel?

You should always wash your hair after you use gel. Scrub it out once you’re done with the style or are ready to go to bed, whichever comes first. (The one exception is Black men, who shouldn’t wash their hair that often.)

Leaving product build up in your hair (like gel) irritates your scalp and weakens your hair. It’s really a matter of personal hygiene to wash it out. You’ll smell and feel better.

When Should I Put Hair Gel In?

I recommend applying hair gel in the morning, even if you have an evening event. It’ll keep your hair in shape all day, and it’ll be easier to wash out when it relaxes slowly by bedtime.

That’s not to say you can’t apply it in the evening for a special occasion. Just be cautious – it’ll be harder to wash out when you get home, and I doubt you’ll have the patience to rinse it out if you get home late (I sure don’t).

If you want to “refresh” your hair gel rather than reapply it, curly-haired guys can sometimes get away with spritzing their hair with water and reshaping it with their hands. Guys with straight hair have fewer options. Try a hair revitalizer or refreshing spray.

Is It Ok To Sleep With Gel In Your Hair?

Your scalp has more pores than any other part of your body. When you sleep with gel in your hair, those pores get clogged. In turn, that can cause acne, irritation, dandruff, and a host of other scalp issues.

There’s a simple solution: don’t sleep with gel in your hair.

But if you do make that mistake, you can help get your scalp back to normal with a shampoo and conditioner set that helps with scalp acne.

That rule goes for just about every hair styling product. If you don’t want scalp issues, wash it out at the end of the day. Scrub with shampoo, or rinse with apple cider vinegar for some extra cleaning power.

Does Hair Gel Cause Hair Loss?

There’s no direct evidence connecting hair gel to hair loss, but overusing gel isn’t necessarily going to help your balding situation.

Any hair product, including gel, can irritate your scalp and dry out your hair. Because gels have a reputation as the cheapest men’s hair product, they often contain cheap ingredients that can lead to hair breakage.

Try to shop for alcohol-free and sulfate-free gels. That eliminates two of the worst ingredients for dry hair. Or use another hair product instead of gel. Waxes, hair putty, and water-based pomades tend to be gentler.

More importantly, give your hair a break from gel every few days, and don’t forget to wash out hair gel thoroughly. Overusing any hair product can cause damage, hair loss and irritation in the long run.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.