The mestiza muse

Reasons Why You’re Not Getting a Gel Cast

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Verna Meachum

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Hair is made up of protein and it has tiny pores on its surface all along its shaft. The chemical structure of hair defines the characteristic features of hair science. Hair responds to products and treatments and their response is potentially due to its proteinaceous nature. The retention and firmness of a style, shape, and its splendor depends upon many factors. Every one of us has different hair types, in that they are different in their degree of curliness, protein level, tensile strength, and porosity. Therefore different hair responds differently to hair styling products and techniques. Even, some hairs may not respond to setting or casting, which make it difficult to manage and style.

In this short blog, we’ll examine the mechanism of hairstyling and why different hairs cast differently. But first, let’s first examine what is hair styling, how it works, and then we’ll analyze why certain hairs cannot get a cast or proper hairstyle?.

Mechanism of Hair Setting and Styling

The salient feature of hair setting and styling products is the presence of large polymer molecules that are mostly man-made and synthetic. Scientists have developed a series of such big molecules of polymers that are capable of reshaping hair fibers temporarily. The basic objective is to form a fine uniform film from the root to tip. At a microscopic scale, this is a coating all over the hair surface which could be homogeneous or heterogeneous. This coating offers hardness and stiffness that keeps the hair strand in a definite desired shape for a certain period. The plan is to “weld” hair together in a definite shape.

This film alters the morphology and physical properties of hair such as bending, texture, tensile strength, and tactile response. Adhesion of polymer to hair surface depends upon the type of polymer used, its concentration, physicochemical properties of hair, and outer humidity conditions. Also, the time it takes to hold a style (style retention time) varies greatly depending upon the same factors.

However, this is temporary reshaping or “gluing” that can be reversed easily. A simple anti-residue shampoo can erode this polymer film and bring hair back to its original natural shape and texture.

Reasons For Not Casting

There are a wide range of styling products on the market, and they vary in their results offering different texture, style, holding time, and moisture incorporation (wet or dry style). However, some hair types will not style well or hold at all with any hair gel or setting product. In technical terms, this is called “hair does not cast at all”. They simply don’t get the right level of firmness or hardness, and are difficult to manage and shape. Interestingly, this happens with any hair gel applied.

Why does it happen? Why does my hair not cast with my favorite gel? Let’s examine various factors involved that can influence this.

Hair Porosity

The upper hair surface contains a large number of cuticles. They are aligned like “shingles on the roof” and their smoothness is important to minimize fiber friction. These cuticles also define the sensorial properties of hair. Hair with smooth cuticles offers shine and gloss which is a dream for every one of us. However, everyday grooming, combing, and chemical treatment, etc. may cause significant hair damage which can alter the physical and chemical properties of hair permanently.

Hair becomes porous, fragile, and is more vulnerable to high moisture uptake from its surroundings. Porous hair absorbs more of any product applied as its pores are more open now and there are large empty spaces inside the hair shaft. On applying hair gel to these hairs, it does not form a uniform homogeneous coating of product. Microscopic studies reveal a “bumpy” coating which is not enough for a proper definite hairstyle.

For these hairs, “less is more” principle must be remembered. The product should be applied in small sections of the hair and small quantities with even distribution, working throughly with your hands or comb. Try to do this pretty quickly, otherwise hair may be weigh down.


High humidity is another reason for hair not casting or responding to product application. Hair absorbs moisture from its surroundings and its water content varies with the humidity outside. The film coating of polymers must resist these humidity fluctuations. Generally, polymers used are water-soluble and thus tend to absorb water itself as well.

Experimental results suggest hair limps down and can be difficult to style under high humidity conditions. The possible reason is the increase in hair mass (weight) as water molecules inside hair fiber increases the overall mass (weight) of hair. That’s why polymer manufacturers and hair care formulators work closely to develop new polymers that offer more water-resistance and hold the style for a long time even under high humidity conditions.

Hair Treatments Previously Applied

Most consumers today use more than one hair care product daily. We shampoo and condition our hair almost every day while chemical treatments of oxidative bleach and dyeing are also popular among consumers. These cosmetic treatments greatly alter the morphology, physicochemical properties, sensorial touch, and hair volume.

Natural (virgin) hair and chemically treated hair fibers are very different and they have different cosmetic requirements for styling, setting, and daily manageability. Previous treatments and product applications may be an obstacle in not getting “hair casting”. These hairs may not respond to every hair styling product and consumers may experience difficulties in finding the right product.

High Protein Products

Similarly, consumers with multiple or repeated protein treatments may also face a “no casting” scenario. Just like polymers, proteins form a coating on hair surface that prevents penetration of any further ingredients. This means styling polymers may not work and perform effectively and thus cannot offer tight firm curls as desired. I suggest using anti-residue shampoo at least once a week to remove this film to bring a natural look and feel back to your hair.

High Humectant Products

Humectants absorb water molecules from its surrounding. A simple humectant is glycerin, and these humectants are common in hair care products. The main objective for their addition in a formula is delivering water to hair. They hydrate hair fibers and help maintain water balance across the fiber channels. However, excess use of humectants makes hair sticky, which is due to overloading of water molecules. Hairs feel wet, sticky, and gummy. Under these conditions, a hair gel will not work.

As described earlier, hair styling polymers don’t like water and under high water conditions, they are unable to hold curls tightly. The same happens if we have too much humectants on hair. And, hairs having chemical treatments are more susceptible to this problem.

Hard Water

Hard water contains a high concentration of calcium and magnesium ions. They are either present naturally or may be due to increasing water pollution. Hair uptakes these metal ions from tap water. Repeated deposits of metal ions may lead to crystalline build-up on the outer cuticular surface of the hair fiber.

Lab studies suggest that metal build-up can change the morphology and  affect combing force, sensorial feel, and shine. This also means metal build-up may prevent the penetration of cosmetic active ingredients (e.g. styling polymers) and result in “no casting” or undesired styling pattern.

Aloe Vera Treatments

Aloe vera is a popular ingredient which is commonly found in our personal care formulations. It mainly contains starch and protein along with small amounts of essential minerals and elements. Aloe vera ingredients are capable of withholding and attracting large amounts of water from hair which can also work like humectants. This can interfere with hair styling causing “no casting” experience.


Curly hair requires special attention and sometimes consumers may suffer from a rather unusual experience. Hair may not be styled in a definite shape and any product they try to use does not seem to work. Above, we talked about various possible reasons for this and things that will hinder the firm formation of styling polymers, which may lead to an undesired styling results.


1.         Johnson, D. H., Hair, and Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 1997.

2.         Zviak, C., The Science of Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 2005.

3.         Marsh, J. M.; Gray, J.; Tosti, A., Healthy Hair. Springer International Publishing: 2015.

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