The curly hair debate: to gel or to mousse?

To Gel or To Mousse

This is the million dollar question and will forever divide opinion amongst the curly haired community and in large part it will be trial and error for each individual to see what works for your desired look. Having said that, there are some key features of each which might help you figure out where to start!


We all remember those big tubs of suspicious blue looking wet look gels of our teen years and as a result, gel tends to have a bit of a bad reputation for drying rock hard and flaking at the slightest touch… not quite the look we are going for! Gel formulations have developed vastly since those days and are great addition to your hair styling routine offering so much versatility! Scrunch it in for definition, finger coil it into small sections for bouncy curls or use a small amount to seal the ends and fight the frizz.

There are a couple of things to consider with gel. Firstly it can be heavy so if you have fine hair watch out for thick formulations or those infused with heavy oils which will not only drag down your curls but can also leave hair looking somewhat greasy.

Check the ingredients. We have already talked about curls needing hydration and the last thing we need after all that effort to add moisture is a gel to strip it back out. Watch out for the alcohol in the ingredients and stay clear. 

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Curlsmith Hydro Style Flexi-Jelly, £23

Only Curls Enhancing Curl Gel, £16

Oribe Curl Gloss, £41.50

Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat and Humidity Gel, £26

Aveda Confixor Liquid Gel, £18.50


Often those with fine hair are forever on the quest for volume and this is very much the case with curls too. Mousse by its very nature is lightweight and airy, a definite plus when you don’t want to add weight to your hair. With that said, for those who want to stretch out their curls a little more, mousse may not be the way to go.

Wavy and Loose Curls – apply to rinsed, detangled hair by glazing a small amount over the surface. Flip the hair over and apply another thin layer to the underneath before applying the majority via a scrunching motion being careful not to flatten the airiness of the foam. 

Tighter Curls and Coils – apply to wet hair (this can be after a leave in treatment if your hair needs the boost). Add the product using your fingers and gently combing small sections at a time. For longer lengths finish with the scrunching method, lifting ends to roots with a flat palm to fist motion.

Possible considerations on deciding if mousse is for you would be that often the curls won’t form as tightly with a lightweight foam, while this look may suit you some days it may not always be your desired finish. It’s also typically not a very hydrating product and may not offer the cuticle seal you want if your hair is particularly prone to frizz.

A final thought on mousse – consider the weather conditions. Being water soluble by nature very few mousse products on the market when used alone can hold up against high humidity!

Moroccanoil Curl Control Mousse, £14.85

Ouai Soft Mousse, £22

Redken Guts 10, £17.40

Umberto Giannini curl whip curl activating mousse, £7

Virtue Moisture Defining Whip, £27.20


Whichever product you chose you need the hair to fully dry after application. And this is where many get tempted to start touching and undoing all the hard work as the hair will fill crispy at first. Don’t panic! Your products have done what they are supposed to do and have created what is often called “Curl Cast”. Its an important step in the process but its absolutely not meant to be left at this stiff stage. To soften things up you need to break the cast by coating your palms with a thin layer of serum or pomade. In one firm motion smooth your palms over your entire hair from front to back using a similar motion to that you would do when creating a ponytail. This final step will soften the hold while maintaining the definition!

Favourite Finishing Serums & Pomades

The verdict… mix it up! Play around with product and find the mix that works best for you for the various styles you may want to create. Fine hair in particular will take a bit of trial and error to balance hold vs volume. Try layering a small amount of gel over a mousse based product for some added hold or if your curls feel weighed down ditch the gel and stick to mousse. (Don’t forget if a product doesn’t work for you consider donating to one of the many charities who will very gratefully take lightly used products off your hands).

Aveda Brilliant Anti-Humectant Pomade, £23

The Body Shop Grapeseed Glossing Serum, £6

Cantu Shea Butter Hair Dressing Pomade, £5.25

Goldwell Dualsenses Curls and Waves Serum Spray, £14.25


By Jenny Morrell

Imagery: courtesy of brands

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