The best hair gel for men follows current grooming trends, offering a stronghold with a degree of flexibility, and avoids its past as being the default styling product for guys.
This post may have affiliate links, meaning we earn a small commission on purchases through the links (at no extra cost to you). This does not change our opinion but does help support the site. Thank you!
With a market promising variety through pomades, hairsprays, serums, and various pastes, hair gel might seem like a relic, but when it has the right formula, it delivers the precise blend of hold, control, and volume.
The Best Hair Gel Formulas for Men
Natural Hair Gel for Men
Just as with fashion and makeup, hair products have started receiving scrutiny for their ingredients, particularly if they’re harmful to the environment. The result is hair gels with shorter ingredients lists including more natural substances.
American Crew Boost Powder is one of the more preferred natural hair gels for men. While the name might imply a dry shampoo, this American Crew powder adds volume and texture, can be used with other styling products and finishes hair with a more matte, rather than wet or glossy, appearance. As well, the inclusion of citric acid helps strengthen your hair to reduce breakage in the process.
Unlike with other hair gels, all you have to do is add some of the powder to your hands and work it into dry hair.
Best Strong Hold Hair Gel
When a stronger hold is needed, Jack Black Body-Building Hair Gel gets the job done with its alcohol-, paraben-, and fragrance-free PureScience formula. Yet, strong hold gels can often deliver a stiff feel, and here’s where this Jack Black product diverges, offering more flexibility without a tacky residue or heavy sensation.
Creating this combination is a mix of proteins and B5 vitamins designed to enrich your scalp, hydrate and soothe the hair for more volume, and improve shine while offering antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and deodorizing properties.
Another option, American Crew Superglue Hair Gel lives up to its name with a strong hold that simultaneously counteracts damage, reduces breakage, and thickens your hair. The key ingredient here is castor oil, which improves shine and volume while adding lubricating properties.
Best Hair Gel for Men’s Thinning Hair
As we mentioned earlier, gel hasn’t always been the best option for men with thinning hair. Yet, a few formulas are starting to change that.
Johnny B Control Styling Gel adds volume with an alcohol-free formula to fine hair without leaving an oily or sticky residue, which can weigh down your locks and make them appear finer than they actually are.
American Crew Forming Cream is suited to a broad spectrum of hair types, including men with fine or thinning hair. As a plus, this American Crew product adds some shine while making hair appear thicker and offering a medium amount of hold without a stiff sensation. Ingredients like lanolin and glycerin help thin hair appear fuller without drying it out, and a water-based formula washes out fully at the end of the day.
Best Men’s Hair Gel for Thick Hair
For the control needed to tame and smooth out thicker hair, AXE Messy Look Hair Gel offers a matte finish, texture, and a flexible hold that won’t fall apart mid-day. Best of all, unlike old-school hair gels, only a small amount is needed for the desired effect, whether that’s controlling frizz or getting the perfect mussed-up bedhead look.
Why You Need Hair Gel
For guys who grew up in the ‘90s, gel is the OG men’s styling product. You may have had a large tub or tube, and you worked its colored, glossy consistency into your locks to hold them in place.
It worked, but as the expansion of menswear and grooming have shown, no product provides a one-size-fits-all solution. In turn, men’s hairstyling gel gets weighed down by its retro reputation and formulations, known to dry out hair and, worse, flake off during the day.
Still, gel when formulated correctly proves its worth. For many guys, it can tame frizz and an unruly mane, all while offering a wet look and slicked-back finish. On this note, gel produces a stronger, more meaningful result for guys with curly or wavy hair seeking to highlight their texture, but can make already-thin hair seem even more patchy and, worse, highlight bald spots when slathered on.
As such, while hair gel provides efficient frizz control especially in humid weather, it’s not the ideal product for adding volume, and a guy wanting this may be better served by a paste, pomade, wax, or clay.
Beyond the control factor, gel remains the de facto product for styles requiring a high degree of hold –for instance, adding curls when you have pin-straight strands, spiking up your hair, creating a mohawk, or striving for a perfectly straight style that will stay that way. Unlike pomade, gel greatly reduces fly-aways throughout the day and, provided you don’t go through it with a comb, helps your style remain in place.
As well, while many still associate hair gel with a goopy, slick texture that can crack and flake, modern formulations have started adding more nutrients. These can strengthen your hair, help reduce dandruff, and provide vitamins and minerals to your scalp and hair follicles.
Using Men’s Hair Styling Gel
To properly use men’s hair gel, approach it like you would mousse: work it into wet hair, but rather than stopping there, you need to blow dry and style your locks. Otherwise, you’ll end up with crunchy, crusty hair that almost seems dwarfed in appearance.
Why blow dry? This process ends up removing the water content from the gel, leaving a glossy look and reliable hold and eliminating the greasy appearance that can sometimes occur.
As well, slathering it on is out: although this may have worked in the ’90s and ‘00s, better knowledge of men’s hair care has shown that gel can dry out your scalp, not only resulting in a product that flakes but causes dandruff as a result. Instead, approach this product in moderation, using only a dime-sized portion for setting or finishing your hair.
Once you’ve worked in the gel:
- Avoid touching and combing it once it dries. If you run a comb or brush through it, you essentially remove the product’s hold and your style will need to be reset.
- Don’t leave it in wet hair, even if you’re using it as a pre-styler. Instead, go over everything with a blow dryer to set it.
- Never apply gel on top of gel. Instead, you’ll want to thoroughly wash your hair first to remove all product before re-applying gel.