March 4, 2023
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Leo possesses more than 17 years of valuable experience as a researcher and lecturer within the fields of Biology and Genetics. Holding a PhD in Biology from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina...
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Leonela Carabajal Paladino
Are your natural hair styling efforts not turning out as expected? If you’ve been struggling to get a good gel cast, you’re by no means alone.
A gel cast, in the context of curly hair, refers to a temporary, protective shield formed around individual curls when a styling gel is applied and then dries. This cast helps to lock in moisture, reduce frizz, and define the curl pattern. Once the hair is completely dry, the cast can be gently “scrunched out,” leaving soft curls with definition, and that are frizz-free.
We know how frustrating it can be when the curl definition and hold that you were hoping for don’t materialize, especially after you’ve put all that time and effort into it. I’m sure you can relate – all of us curly-heads loathe wasting a wash day! The answer isn’t that the rest of us are doing something wrong – oftentimes there is an underlying reason why it won’t hold.
Partnering with my friend who is a hair scientist and holds a PhD in Cosmetic Chemistry, we’ll offer science-backed insights into why your gel cast may not form. We’ll also explore what actually impacts a gel cast’s performance, and provide tips and product recommendations for achieving and maintaining a perfect gel cast for your curly hair.
Hair gel is an essential part of a good hair care routine. It provides hold, definition, and shine, but sometimes our hair just won’t get a gel cast if:
To get a good cast, your hair needs to be moisturized. If it’s too dry, the gel won’t hold properly and you’ll end up with a flaky, frizzy style.
For maximum results, ensure that your hair is damp to wet when you apply the gel; any drier and you won’t get a cast.
On the other hand, if your hair is too oily, the gel will slide right off and you won’t get any hold at all.
In this case, it’s important to use a gel that is light and won’t weigh your hair down. Look for gel products that are water-based and silicone-free.
Not all gels are created equal – some will work better with certain hair types than others.
If you’re not getting a gel cast, try switching to a gel that is specifically designed for your curl type.
Make sure you are using products that will enhance your curls and not weigh them down. For example, if you have frizzy hair, try adding a gel made for minimizing frizz.
Never go overboard with the gel! Too much of it will pull down your curls, while not providing them a firm hold. A light layer should suffice; enough to create an even coat on your hair.
If your gel isn’t sticking to your hair, it could be because you’re using the wrong method. If you are not applying gel correctly, it will not work properly.
Try applying gel with a styling brush for more control and add gel to your hair in sections. You can also try plopping your hair to allow the gel to set in before drying your hair. But, make sure not to plop too long.
Some gels are too heavy and will weigh down your curls which will prevent you from getting a gel cast. Try switching to a gel that is specifically made for your curl type to get the best results.
To get the most out of your gel, it is essential to cleanse your curls thoroughly before applying. Doing so will ensure that the gel coats them evenly and stays in place for a smooth, well-defined style.
If your hair is not forming a cast, it is likely due to an accumulation of product residue. Use a clarifying shampoo and notice the difference when you try again.
If all else fails, reach out to your stylist for assistance. They may be able to recommend an approach, product, or curly cut that is perfect for you and ensures maximum success.
Using too many products at once can prevent your hair from getting cast. Try to use the gel as your only styling product and see if that makes a difference. If you want extra hold, consider using a little bit of hairspray as the final product.
For a few people, it’s impossible to get a cast regardless of their efforts. Don’t pressure yourself; gel casts are not for everybody. You don’t need a gel cast to have beautiful curls!
Hair is made up of protein and it has tiny pores on its surface all along its shaft.1 Our hair can be very sensitive to certain treatments and products, thanks in no small part to their proteinaceous nature. Therefore, it’s important to take great care when choosing what we put on our hair.
Several elements are necessary to create a style with the desired firmness, form, shape, and overall look, including ensuring that your gel cast is correctly formed.
Remember – Gel casting is a technique that is guided by a gel and acts as a coating to allow you to achieve super-defined curls without compromising the health of your hair.The Mestiza Muse
When styling hair, there are several considerations to bear in mind; each type of gel must be applied differently depending on the hair’s unique characteristics, such as porosity, curl pattern, and more.
For example, wavy hair with low porosity hair will use a gel that is designed for that type of hair and may use the praying hands method to apply the gel.
Thus, many factors play a role in the process of gel casting. It will require some experimentation to determine the best gel and method of application suited for your hair type.
The distinctive feature of setting hair with styling products is their ability to gelify and form a flexible cast that sets the hair in the desired shape.2
The basic objective is to create a uniform film from the root to the tip. These unique polymers provide a variety of benefits, such as reshaping strands while providing long-lasting hold and shine.3
This coating may be homogeneous or heterogeneous at the microscopic scale, and this coating offers hardness and stiffness that keeps the hair strand in a definite desired shape for a certain period.
The aim is to “weld” hair together in a definite shape.
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. This polymer film can be readily dissolved by simply using an anti-residue shampoo.4
Everyone’s hair has different reactions to hair care products and techniques. If a person finds that their hair does not respond well to gel casting, it can become a hassle trying to manage or style it accordingly.
These cuticles need to be smooth to reduce fiber friction; furthermore, they play an integral role in defining hair’s sensorial properties.7
Everyone loves lustrous, glossy hair that emanates a healthy shine and smooth cuticles. Unfortunately, frequent maintenance, brushing, and chemical treatments can cause severe damage to the cuticles of your hair that irrevocably alters their physical and chemical properties.7
As a result, hair becomes more porous, and fragile, and is more vulnerable to high moisture uptake from its surroundings.8
Porous hair absorbs more of any substance applied since its pores are now more open and there are large empty areas within the hair shaft.9
When applying gel to porous hair, there is no uniform homogeneous coating of product formed. If you were to look at it under a microscope, it would appear to have a “rough, bumpy” texture that is insufficient for a good definitive hairstyle.1
Bonus tip: The “less is more” concept should be kept in mind when it comes to styling this type of hair. Apply the product sparingly and evenly in small sections of your hair for the best results.
High humidity can also be a deterrent when it comes to achieving desired results from styling gels and product application. Hair absorbs moisture from its surroundings and its water content varies with the humidity outside.10
High humidity can be a difficult hurdle to overcome when attempting to get a perfect style, as it directly impacts product application and gel cast results.
To conquer these obstacles, polymers must possess resilient film coatings that can tolerate changing levels of moisture in the air.3 Water-soluble polymers usually do the job well because they absorb water too.
High humidity can leave your hair limp and hard to style. It is likely due to the additional weight of water molecules that builds up in each strand, thus increasing the mass (weight) of the entire head of hair.11
That’s why polymer manufacturers and hair care formulators collaborate closely to craft new polymers that provide higher water resistance, as well as hold the style for a long time even under high humidity conditions.
Now more than ever, our hair care routines are becoming increasingly complex. We wash and condition regularly, in addition to trying new treatments such as coloring or chemical applications.
These cosmetic treatments greatly alter the morphology, physicochemical properties, sensorial touch, and even hair volume.12
Unlike virgin (unprocessed) hair, chemically treated hair fibers possess a unique texture that necessitates different styling and daily care requirements.
Getting that gel cast can be a difficult feat, especially if you’ve used multiple products and treatments beforehand.
Finding the ideal product for your hair might seem like a daunting task due to its unresponsiveness, but with trial and error as well as some research – it can be done.
Consumers who have had several or continuous protein treatments might not get a gel cast, as well.
If you’ve had a few or multiple successive protein treatments, it may be impossible to get a gel cast.
Consequently, styling polymers may not work or perform effectively, and may not offer tight firm curls as expected.
Humectants are powerful in their ability to hydrate and preserve the water balance of hair fibers. However, using too much can make hair sticky, which is the result of the overloading of water molecules.
Under these conditions, your hair will feel wet, sticky, and gummy, and hair gel will not work.
Tap water contains metal ions, which are absorbed by the hair.
Repeated deposits of metal ions may lead to crystalline build-up on the outer cuticular surface of the hair fiber.17
Laboratory studies indicate that while metal build-up may have some impact on hair morphology17 and characteristics like combing force, sensory feel, and shine,18 the effects are not highly significant. When an effect is observed, it is often attributed to metal build-up in conjunction with other factors, rather than metal build-up alone.
Moreover, with an accumulation of metal particles on your hair strands, it’s difficult for cosmetic active ingredients like styling polymers to penetrate the shaft.
Consequently, you might face difficulty in forming a gel cast or obtaining desirable styling results.
Aloe vera is an ingredient that’s frequently used in hair care products. It mainly contains starch and protein along with small amounts of essential minerals and elements.19
Aloe vera ingredients are capable of withholding and attracting large amounts of water from hair, which can also work like humectants.20 This can interfere with hair styling causing your hair to not get a gel cast.
If you’re in the curly hair community, chances are that you’ve come across the term “gel cast” at some point but aren’t quite sure what it means.
Don’t be alarmed; this is a positive development and something we want to happen to our curls.
However, if you don’t understand what it is or how to manage your hair once it takes place, you might mistakenly categorize it as hard hair with a crunchy feeling and think that you used a poor product or did something wrong.
Put simply, a “gel cast” is a hard gel layer that forms around the hair strands to keep the hair from moving, ensuring it retains its shape, definition, and style. The good thing is that it aids in maintaining the desired look for longer.4
The purpose of a gel cast is to help keep the curls in their natural formation until it’s dry, which is how we achieve that well-defined look.
When you apply enough gel to your wet hair (as the final styling product) and either air-dry or diffuse it, the gel will slowly harden and give off that crunchy texture as you wait for it to dry.
Achieving that “gel cast” typically is a sign that the gel has been applied effectively, creating a protective barrier. These hair casts are setting your hair in the shape you want it to be in.
In much the same way a cast for a body part keeps the injury stabilized and protected from further damage, gel casts can have a similar effect on hair by protecting it from the elements, such as humidity, sun, and wind.
The gel cast is beneficial because it serves as a protective coating to keep the moisture in and the frizz out, a longer-lasting style, thus resulting in shiny, bouncy curls that are well-defined.
Think of how hair is set in rollers and then sprayed with a product to help “lock” it in place for styling. In the same way, gel casts provide a strong hold on your hair to keep your curl pattern and shape locked in place, without the use of heat styling tools.4
Above all, a gel cast will keep your hair sleek and smooth by preventing frizz and controlling flyaways, which is what we curlies all strive for!
Let us take a deeper look into the science behind gel casting to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how it works and what can prevent success.
Achieving the perfect gel cast for curly hair is a game-changer. Here’s a visual tutorial on this technique by Penny on her YouTube channel:
Here are the step-by-step instructions to achieve a gel cast:
Optional: Use a small drop or two of your favorite hair oil (my favorite oil to use for this is Righteous Roots Rx Hair Oil) and scrunch out the crunch to help break the cast.
If you prefer not to use oil, then just use your hands or your satin pillowcase and scrunch upward to release the cast. Using the satin pillowcase is a great technique for minimizing frizz.
Another way to break the gel cast is to set your curls in the diffuser bowl and adjust your blow dryer to the warm or cool setting at a low speed, then scrunch upwards to release the cast.
Once you break the gel cast, it will be soft and shiny, but still without the frizz.
For softer-looking curls, opt for flaxseed gel, which is known to be more flexible than gel cast. Flaxseed gel will not harden as gel does, however, it can provide a softer and more natural look.
My absolute favorite flaxseed gel product is the one by Orange Marmalade Flaxseed and Aloe Curl Definer by EcoSlay – this product is amazing. Not only will you have super-defined curls, but shiny hair as well.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua, Eau), Isobutane, Vp/Va Copolymer, Propane, Propylene Glycol, Phenethyl Alcohol, Peg-6 Cocamide, Butane, Triethanolamine, Carbomer, Glycerin, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Parfum (Fragrance), Panthenol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Laurtrimonium Chloride, Limonene, Sodium Bisulfite, Rice Amino Acids, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel) Fruit Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Tussilago Farfara (Coltsfoot) Leaf Extract, Melissa Officinalis Extract, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Chlorphenesin, Sorbic Acid, Benzoic Acid.
Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, PVP, Acrylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer, Hydrolyzed Silk, Panthenol, Pentylene Glycol (Natural), Ethylhexylglycerin, Tetrasodium EDTA, Caprylyl Glycol, Propanediol (Natural), Hexylene Glycol, Triethanolamine, Fragrance (Parfum), Benzyl Benzoate, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool, Alpha- Isomethyl Ionone.
Ingredients: Water, VP/VA copolymer, Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Jojoba Esters, Hydrolyzed quinoa protein, Hydrolyzed Oat protein, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Panax Ginseng root Extract, Salvia Officlnalis (Sage) Extract, *Nigella Sativa (Virgin Black Cumin) Oil (Certified Organic), Boswellia Carter Oil, Aminomethyl Propanol, Carbomer, Sodium Phytate, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Citric Acid, **Fragrance (100% Natural Fragrance).
Ingredients: Water\Aqua\Eau, Glycerin, Chondrus Crispus (Carrageenan), PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Corn Starch, Caprylyl Glycol, Tocopherol, Sucrose, Ethylhexylglycerin, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum, Octyldodecyl Citrate Crosspolymer, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Hydroxide, BHT, Fragrance (Parfum), Citral, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Linalool, Geraniol, Limonene, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol<ILN48044>.
Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Polyquaternium-11, Polyquaternium 37, Phenoxyethanol, Hydroxyethylcellulose, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, PVP, Isoceteth-20, Polyquaternium-7, Hydroxypropyl Bis-Hydroxyethyldimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Parfum/Fragrance, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil, Panthenol, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Sericin, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Cetrimonium Chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride, Benzyl Salicylate, Hydroxycitronellal, Limonene.
Ingredients: Deionized Water, Pectin, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Panthenol, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow) Leaf/Root Extract, Agave Americana (Agave) Leaf Extract, Equisetum Arvense (Horsetail) Extract, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Leaf Extract, Hydrolyzed Corn Starch, Xanthan Gum, Chondrus (Seaweed) Crispus Powder, Polysorbate 20, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B-12), Phenoxyethanol (Optiphen ND), Caprylyl Glycol, Phthalate Free Fragrance.
Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, VP/VA Copolymer, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Panthenol, Oleth-20, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Polyquaternium-11, Fragrance/Parfum, Benzyl Alcohol, Caprylyl Glycol, Benzoic Acid, Amyl Cinnamal Geraniol, Linalool.
Jessicurl Spiralicious Styling Gel (Fragrance-Free)
Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Polyquaternium-69, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Panthenol, Polyquaternium-11, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Alcohol.
Ingredients: Water, Hibiscus Esculentus Fruit (Okra) Extract, Aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) juice, Pectin, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Urtica dioica leaf extract, MELISSA OFFICINALIS LEAF EXTRACT, Mentha piperita (Peppermint) leaf extract, Horsetail leaf extract, Yucca Vera leaf extract, Propanediol, Aminomethylpropanol,Fragaria Ananassa (Strawberry) Fruit Water, Benzylalcohol, dehydroacetic acid, Carbomer, Sodium Gluconate.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Butylene Glycol, Polyquaternium-28, Sericin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate, Panthenol, Polyquaternium-7, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwi) Fruit Extract, Lawsonia Inermis (Henna) Extract, Wheat Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Glycerin, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride, Cetrimonium Chloride, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, VP/DMAPA Acrylates Copolymer, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Hexylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Potassium Sorbate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance (Parfum).
Ingredients: Water, Laureth-23, Polyquaternium-4, Fragrance, Benzyl Alcohol, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Acrylates/Beheneth-25 Methacrylate Copolymer, Aminomethyl Propanol, Acrylates Copolymer, Disodium EDTA, Ethylhexylglycerin.
Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-11, PEG-75 Shea Butter Glycerides, Sericin, Wheat Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer, Polyquaternium-59, Polyquaternium-10, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Cassia Auriculata Leaf Extract, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwi) Fruit Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate, Panthenol, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Polyquaternium-7, Behentrimonium Chloride, Cetrimonium Chloride, Polysorbate-20, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum (Fragrance), Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Limonene, Linalool.
Trying out different oils is a great way to find the one that works best for you. Here are some of my favorites when it comes to gel cast:
These are lightweight oils that will not weigh your hair down or make it look greasy. A little goes a long way so you don’t have to overuse them.
When you’re breaking out of a gel cast, frizz can be your worst enemy! But luckily there are a few tips and tricks to help keep your hair looking sleek and smooth.
Using gels with anti-humectants helps prevent the binding or absorption of water molecules. Anti-humectants are a fantastic way to fight frizziness by preventing the absorption of water in your hair’s proteins.
If your gel isn’t providing enough hold, you can layer another single gel on top of it. This will help to hold your style in place while still preventing frizz.
Find gels that contain the following ingredients:
To understand and learn more about the fascinating science-y stuff behind Polyquaterniums, be sure to check out: Polyquats Explained!
Yes, absolutely! Sleeping in a gel cast will yield extra-defined curls the next morning. Just make sure you preserve your curls by sleeping on a satin pillowcase or using a satin bonnet or scarf. I prefer to sleep in a gel cast and then scrunch out the crunch in the morning.
Yes, you can use mousse to create a cast. However, depending on the formula, some mousses will create a slight cast to provide a soft, touchable hold.
If you have naturally wavy, curly, or coily hair, achieving a gel cast is not always necessary. My 3C hair type usually prefers a soft hold; however, when the humidity kicks in and I’m looking for extra definition, strong-hold gels are my go-to product.
If your gel cast is too hard to break, you likely need to add some moisture. Before you apply styling items, give your hair some nourishment by utilizing deep conditioning treatment. Alternatively, try using a leave-in conditioner or curl cream as the base before adding any gel.
Yes, you can use the Curly Girl Method (CGM) to achieve a gel cast. The CGM emphasizes the use of sulfate-free and silicone-free products to maintain and enhance natural curls.26 When applying gel within the CGM framework, you’d typically use a gel that’s free from harsh ingredients and non-water-soluble silicones.
Alcohols in gels can be a point of concern for many, especially when they’re termed “drying alcohols.” At a molecular level, these alcohols can evaporate quickly, sometimes taking moisture from the hair with them, which can lead to dryness.
However, the overall impact on your hair depends on the entire formulation of the gel. In some formulations, other ingredients can counteract or balance the potential drying effects of the alcohol.
Therefore, it’s crucial not to judge a product solely on one ingredient but to understand the synergy of all components in the formulation.
If you’re having trouble getting a gel cast, try some of these troubleshooting tips. But if they don’t seem to be working for you, consult your curly hairstylist for help.
Getting a gel cast can be an effective way to enhance definition, fight frizz, and keep your hairstyle under control. With the right gel and styling technique, you can achieve the gel cast pretty easily.
Have fun experimenting with different oil products to find the perfect gel cast for your unique hair type!
If you found this post to be helpful, please share it with others. We thank you for taking the time to read through and give our blog a chance!
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