These 5 gels define my curls without the crunch of old-school formulas

When I was 13, I decided to use less heat on my hair and embrace my natural texture. Figuring out how to properly care for my curls has been a journey, to say the least. Over the past seven years, I’ve tried countless products (some hits and many misses) on my mixture of type 3 curls and have refined my wash day routine several times. But through it all, the one product that has remained essential in my hairstyling regimen is a gel. When I’m on the go or dealing with humidity that won’t let up, gels have been the key to maintaining camera-ready curl definition throughout the day.

But all gels aren’t created equal, especially when it comes to natural hair. Many leave flaky residue on the hair and weigh curls down, and many have ingredients like alcohol, which often strips strands of their natural oils and dehydrates them. After testing out dozens of gels, I’ve landed on my go-to lineup that delivers defined curls without making them feel or look crunchy. If you’re searching for new gels to add to your stash, here are five options that are curly girl-approved.

The best gels to define natural curls:

1Bounce Curl Light Creme Gel


Shop It! $26.96, Amazon
Four years ago, I spotted a post about Bounce Curl’s signature gel on my Instagram feed. Curious about the brand, I ordered a bottle and have been hooked ever since. This product stands out from the rest because it is 80% gel and 20% cream, meaning it works to define and moisturize the hair. It’s formulated with a unique blend of Middle Eastern oils, including black seed oil, which is known to promote scalp health and seal in moisture. After scrunching this lightweight gel into my hair, it creates bouncy curls sans frizz.

2Mielle Organics Moisture RX Hawaiian Ginger Moisturizing Styling Gel


Shop It! $6.99,
Whether you want to achieve a defined wash-and-go or a sleek protective style, this styling gel from Mielle Organics always delivers. Applying to wet or dry curls provides a long-lasting hold and even greater hydration. The brand’s gel is also packed with natural ingredients like ginger, avocado oil, lemon, and orange, so you can expect your hair to smell like a tropical paradise all day.

3Design Essentials Coconut and Monoi Curl Defining Gelée


Shop It! $12.99,
This defining gelée enhances all curl types, ranging from 2A to 4C. Applying a generous amount to wet hair ensures that textured strands remain frizz-free and hydrated. Amidst its ingredient list, coconut, and monoi oil are the stars. Together, they work to boost the hair’s moisture. The gelée also contains sunflower and milk protein, which strengthen the hair shaft and amp up shine.

4Taliah Waajid Green Apple & Aloe Nutrition Hold Me Down! Gelle


Shop It! $17.71, Amazon
This product offers an extra-strength hold without ever flaking. Smoothing the gel over the hair creates intensely defined yet soft curls. It boasts a mix of green apple, aloe, and coconut nutrients, which strengthen and balance the hair’s pH level, improve hair and scalp health, and boost hair strength.

5Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Curling Jelly


Shop It! $8.99, Amazon
Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Curling Jelly works best on freshly washed curls and coils. The curling jelly’s ingredient highlights include a hydrating mash-up of coconut oil, shea butter, and aloe vera. It locks in your curl pattern, zaps frizz, and leaves the hair with a shiny finish. Plus, it promises to never leave you with sticky or flaky residue after use.

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