Hair gel – along with Lynx deodorant and crappy Bic razors – seems to be an integral part of our initiation into the world of grooming. When we first begin experimenting with a ‘hairstyle’ it seems the first product we turn to is a sickly, plastic-scented, gluey mess in lurid packaging. Those who dabble with gel quickly learn it can withstand wind, rain and a double header; hell, you could even sleep in it and hair wouldn’t budge. But it would also form unsightly flakes and left hair so rock hard that no-one would want to touch it.

In the early days, gel abuse is common, but when you know how to apply it properly, it’s actually hard to beat. Like a high quiff? Nothing will hold a pompadour like gel. Those who dropped it in favour of trendier hair products some time ago might like to revisit this classic; it’s all about finding the right one that works for you.

What Is Hair Gel?

Hair gel is a styling product that typically has a clear, jelly-like consistency and is known for its shiny, wet look (though matt options also available) and elastic properties.

Who Does It Work For?

Gel is a God-send for those who struggle to restrain their natural hair texture. It smooths away curls and repels moisture so it keeps frizz in check. Gel is also an essential ingredient for short to medium length slick back styles, sharp side partings and retro shapes such as a pompadour or rockabilly quiff. Basically, if you’re the type of person who likes to style your hair and then not have to think about it again, all day, gel is for you.

How Should You Use Gel?

Who better to ask how to use gel than some of London’s top hair stylists? They create looks for celebrities, photoshoots and fashion shows and still know what works for everyday clients. “I think gel had a bad reputation because it can make hair super crispy when it dries, and it can even cause hair breakage when you touch your hair if the hold is too strong,” says Davide Barbieri, session stylist with regular clients including Robbie Williams. “Modern gel formulations are nothing like their crunchy, flaky predecessors and are easy to remove,” he says.

“Always start with a small amount when using for the first time and apply evenly to damp hair before styling into the desired shape,” adds Joshua Gibson, session stylist at Sassoon, who’s worked on editorials for i-D and L’Uomo Vogue.

The Best Hair Gels

Sebastian Liquid Steel

When only the strongest hold will do, recruit this heavyweight. Joshua Gibson says, “Liquid Steel is one of my go-to gel products in my kit. It does what it says on the tin – it gives the strongest hold – and nothing will move a sleek look made using it except washing.” Be warned: this one dries super-fast so it’s for advanced gel users only.

Buy Now: £18.74

Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel

Want a no-gel look with a strong gel hold? Lee Machin, session stylist, who creates show looks for Missoni and regularly works with actors such as Jamie Dornan and Douglas Booth, goes for Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel Krystal Clear. “This is my favourite gel. You can blow dry it in on wet hair to get volume and hold for quiffs and it will dry and look completely product free. I also love it for catwalk shows and for sleek wet looks and it won’t flake.” It’s also the best value for money.

Buy Now: £3.82

Bumble & Bumble Bb.Gel

Want a natural look? Davide Barbieri favours the flexible hold of the Bb.gel from Bumble & Bumble when testing out new styles. “It doesn’t dry too quickly so you have more time to change the shape of the style,” he says. It also gives great natural-looking shine and firm hold once your style is set.

Buy Now: £23.00

Nioxin Thickening Gel

Fair or fine hair? Gibson recommends Nioxin Thickening Gel. “It’s is great for lighter hair colour types like blondes, or where receding is an issue. It still has strong hold but isn’t concrete and brushes out easily.” The formula contains thickening polymer technology to form bonds between gaps in the hair to give it a denser looking appearance.

Buy Now: £16.99

Fudge Hair Gum Extreme Hold Controlling Gel

Want the hold without the shine? Carmelo Guastella, Men’s Grooming Director at Gielly Green Four Seasons in London, recommends Fudge Hair Gum Controlling Gel. “It gives hair volume with strong hold and control, without going totally stiff, and the finish is matt. The other quality I like about this gel is that you are able to put your hands through your hair, breaking up the stiffness of the gel. And it leaves no residue or flakes.”

Buy Now: £10.36

Davines Strong Hold Cream Gel

Tim Pateman, session stylist, uses Davines Strong Hold Cream Gel on fashion shoots and on clients at his salon, The Lion & The Fox. “This strong hold gel gives a great wet look, which is easily pliable when water is added to allow control before the style sets in place. If you like a tight barber look with a top that is going to stay where you want it to stay – use this.” It doesn’t flake and a little goes a long way. For best results always apply to wet hair.

Buy Now: £15.30

Kiehl’s Clean Styling Gel

Prefer a lighter gel? Try Kiehl’s Clean Styling Gel. “It’s light and won’t flake when you touch the hair,” Barbieri says. It also gives a more natural looking shine from a non-greasy texture and has a fresh woody scent.”

Buy Now: £20.00

Davines Medium Hold Modeling Gel

Need control but want touchable hair? Tim Pateman suggest Davines Medium Hold Modeling Gel. “It’s a lightweight gel that I use for blow drying. Great for quiffs. It leaves hair touchable and malleable so you can still manipulate your style.” This is also an excellent product for curly hair.

Buy Now: £17.00