4 Side Effects Of Hair Gels You Should Be Aware Of

Learn the potential dangers of using too much, too frequently if you want to preserve your hair health.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Madhuri Agarwal, MBBS, MD Dr. Madhuri Agarwal Dr. Madhuri AgarwalMBBS, MD facebook_iconyoutube_iconinsta_icon
Written by , Beauty & Lifestyle Writer Jyotsana Rao Beauty & Lifestyle Writer linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
Edited by , Associate Editor Eshna Das Associate Editor Experience: 3 years
Fact-checked by , Associate Commerce Editor Krati Darak Associate Commerce Editor Experience: 3 years

If you love to style your hair but are worried about the multiple side effects of hair gels, worry not! We are here to help you understand major issues with hair gels and how you can circumvent them. Most of us strive for an elegant, neat, and appropriate appearance throughout the day. It comprises good attire, a well-done face, and neatly styled hair. Hair is one of the most important aspects of a person’s personality and looks, but it is also difficult to maintain. Hair gels take care of the difficult process of properly styling and holding the hair in place.

Hair gels are hair styling treatments that harden and manage the hair into various hairstyles. Historical research shows that people have utilized natural hair gels since the ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman periods (1). But, the conventional hair gel was produced in the 1960s by Luis Montoya of the U.S.A. and sold under the brand name DEP, which stood for the main ingredient in the product, diethyl phthalate, that gave it its distinct non-sticky texture. Ordinary gels are primarily made up of cationic polymers, which have positive charges that give the gel its stiffness, allowing it to easily bond to the hair shaft, letting it flex and keep its place for extended periods (2).

These gels aid in hairstyling, making hairstyles last longer, improving their texture, giving tresses a pleasant sleek look, making the hair and face look presentable and groomed, and boosting an individual’s overall persona. But on the other hand, hair gels are considered to have negative consequences on the hair, scalp, and body due to the presence of toxic chemicals. The following are some of the negative consequences of hair gel. Keep reading.

Hair Gel Side Effects

1. Drying and dehydrating the hair:

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Image: IStock

Hair gels contain alcohol and corrosive chemicals that strip off moisture from the hair and scalp and make them dry and dehydrated. These gels mess with the moisture levels and reduce the production of sebum, causing chemical damage leading to dry, brittle hair and breakage-prone tresses that give rise to problems of itchy and flaky scalp. They make the hair frizzy, thereby giving rise to unmanageable, dry, rough, limp, and lustreless tresses (3), (4).

2. Hair Loss:

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These gels dehydrate the hair and scalp, thereby making the hair prone to breakage and fall. The chemical compounds present in these gels along with external pollutants together react with the dead cell build-up and excess sebum on the scalp. This clogs the hair follicles and eventually causes hair fall. Excess and prolonged hair fall can lead to problems like receding hairline, baldness, etc (5), (6).

protip_icon Quick Tip
Not all hair gels may cause adverse effects. Try to choose alcohol-free formulas to reap their maximum benefits.

3. Dandruff:

Close up of dandruff in hair as a serious side effect of overusing hair gel
Image: IStock

A dehydrated, undernourished, and infected scalp is characterized by irritation, and itchiness leading to dandruff and flaking. Improper production of sebum, unhealthy and clogged pores, and hair follicles, weakened hair roots all together cause and aggravate the problem of dandruff, Seborrhoeic dermatitis, or inflammation in the scalp which can further lead to other skin diseases like acne (7), (8).

protip_icon Did You Know?
If you are experiencing any flakiness after using hair gels, add an anti-dandruff shampoo to your hair care routine.

4. Discoloration and damage:

Woman checking her discolored hair in the mirror
Image: IStock

Damage, split ends, thinning, and discoloration of hair are also common side effects of using hair gels. These gels rip off the nourishment and moisture content of the hair, break and strip them, disturb the pH balance of the hair and make them unhealthy, scarce and dull. Harmful chemicals in these gels also have ill effects on color treated hair like fading and discoloration and prolonged usage of this gel also results in early graying (9).

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Robin, a vlogger, shared his poor experience of using store-bought hair gels. He said, “So if you’re a guy with hair like me with slightly more fine or less dense hair, then they’re not great and this is a reason why I don’t like using gels. I can generally just see into my scalp, which is a look that I don’t like (i).”

If these adverse effects are holding you back, keep scrolling to discover a few effective substitutes for hair gel you can use.

Alternatives To Hair Gel

There are several alternatives to achieve your desired hairstyle without the sticky and often chemical-laden properties of traditional hair gel.

  1. Aloe vera gel: If you prefer a more natural approach, consider using aloe vera gel, which not only holds your hair in place but also nourishes and moisturizes your scalp.
  2. Sea salt spray: While it has a lighter hold, it adds texture and volume to the hair and helps you maintain a beachy, tousled appearance.
  3. Hair wax: It provides a strong hold and a matte finish, making it ideal for clean, sophisticated and brushed back hairstyles.
  4. Pomade: It offers a sleek and shiny finish, which is perfect if you are going for a classic and polished look.

Infographic: Tips To Reduce Side Effects Caused By Hair Gel

Hair gels can dehydrate your hair and make it look dull. The product build-up may also lead to scalp irritation and itching along with headaches. If you use hair gels regularly, it is time to think of their several drawbacks to your hair health. The good news is that you can reduce these effects with the following tips. Check out the infographic to learn the best ways to use hair gels to minimize hair damage.

tips to reduce side effects caused by hair gel (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

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Hair gels definitely ease the process of styling your hair, but it is important to know about the damage they can do to your locks. Hair gels can dry out and dehydrate your hair, along with affecting regular sebum production. They can make your hair frizzy and unmanageable. They can also lead to hair breakage and severe hair fall. Other side effects of hair gels are dandruff, discoloration, and damage like split ends and hair thinning. If you recently colored your hair, you might want to steer clear of hair gels for a while as they could fade out your new hair color.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are All Hair Gels Bad?

Madison Dufour, a licensed cosmetologist, says, “Not all hair gels are bad, but if the gel is reapplied to the hair daily, it will build up on the hair.”

Is it OK to sleep with hair gel?

“It is acceptable to sleep with hair gel as long as the hair is dry. If the gel is wet, the hair will be scrunched and build up in between the cuticle shafts, as well as dry out the cuticle, damaging its integrity and making the hair frizzy,” says Madison Dufour.

How do you remove hair gel?

Madison recommends using a clarifying shampoo to remove gel buildup if the gel is used frequently.

Is hair spray or hair gel better?

Madison Dufour says, “Hairspray and hair gel both contain alcohol, but the gel is, in my opinion, better than spray because it can be reactivated the next day without needing to be reapplied and coating another layer onto the hair.”

Can I use hair gel every day?

If you use hair gel every day, you will have to wash it off every night to remove the greasiness and product residue. But, shampooing your hair every day is not healthy as it can strip your hair dry. So, don’t use hair gel on your hair daily.

What can I use instead of gel?

If you are using gel to detangle your hair or make it easier to style, you can replace it with a natural oil or a detangling serum. For hold, you can use a hair mousse or hair spray.

Is hair wax better than gel?

You can use either, depending on your preference. Hair gel is not as thick as hair wax, but hair wax does not make your hair stiff like hair gel.

Does hair need gel?

If you want to keep your hair in a style for a long time, you will need to use hair gel or some holding product. However, check the ingredients in case you have any skin allergies.

Can I use Vaseline as hair gel?

Yes, you can use a little bit of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) as a replacement for hair gel. It will keep your hair intact and make it easier to style and manage. However, it is important to note that it is very difficult to wash Vaseline off your hair.

Can you use coconut oil as hair gel?

Yes, you can use coconut oil as a healthier alternative to hair gel.

Can hair gels cause allergic reactions?

In some rare cases and due to skin sensitivities, hair gels can cause allergic reactions burning sensation, rash, skin redness, and allergic reactions, and also might cause eye irritation if it gets in the eye.

Key Takeaways

  • The alcohol content in hair gels may cause dryness and hair breakage.
  • Overusing hair gels may lead to problems like clogged hair follicles, hair loss, and baldness.
  • Frequent use of hair gels may lead to dandruff and an itchy scalp.
  • Hair gels containing chemicals may disrupt the pH balance and cause hair discoloration.
  • Some ingredients in the hair gels may cause nausea.

Curious about the impact of daily hair gel use? Click on this informative video to explore the potential side effects of overusing this product on your hair and scalp.

Personal Experience: Source


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Ancient Egyptian hair gel: new insight into ancient Egyptian mummification procedures through chemical analysis
  2. Advancements in polymers used in hair care: a review
  3. The Side Effects of Hair Products on the Scalp and Hair
  4. Part 2 of a 4-part series Hair Products: Trends and Alternatives
  5. Scalp Condition Impacts Hair Growth and Retention via Oxidative Stress
  6. Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment
  8. Revisiting dandruff
  9. What ages hair?
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