Holding Products: Which to Choose?

Quite a long time ago, I promised that, at some point, I’d go through the different holding products on the market. Well, I’m nothing if not a woman of my word, so that’s what we’re here to do today.

Now, I cannot live without holding products. I use gel and mousse quite frequently, and hairspray pretty much every day. After all, if I spend twenty minutes braiding my hair, I want that braid to stay put, and I’m not going to go to the trouble of curling and shaping my bangs if the first gust of wind will make them fly up and out so bad I look like I’ve electrocuted myself.

Granted, my hair is more unruly than the average person, but the point still stands. When we do our hair in the morning, we’d like it to hold for more than a few minutes. And, that’s the allure of hair holding products. They aren’t just for theater kids on opening night. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be.

So let’s talk about the classics: mousse, hairspray, and gel.

I’m willing to bet that most of you know what those are, but for those who don’t, here’s the quick breakdown. Mousse is a light foam that’s usually applied to the hair by scrunching your locks together for an invisible, smooth, but weak hold. Hairspray is a (you guessed it!) spray for a medium hold (though most companies have three types of spray that will vary in power) that will push past most obstacles like wind and gravity, but can clump and wire the hair as it dries. Gel is a thick liquid for an iron hold, applied to the hair by spreading it on with fingers or a paint brush, mainly used as spot treatment to glue in braids or stick fly-aways where they’re meant to go. These products are ubiquitous within the industry and virtually every hair brand has multiple options of each.

With that in mind, when’s the best time to use them?

Mousse won’t change the texture or look of your hair. It won’t clump or wire like hairspray and gel, no matter how much you put in. But, its weak hold means that, over the course of the day, the hairstyle will start to unravel. Mousse slows this process, but won’t stop it. So, if you’re most concerned with volume, this is a good fit. If you’d rather your fly-aways stay in place, not so much. The method of application also makes it a bad fit for most updo’s. You can’t brush it like gel, you have to scrunch it into the locs or it will not work. Because of this, mousse is best fit for hanging hair after it’s brushed, blow dried, or ironed. I will usually use mousse when I curl my hair with an iron the curls stay bouncy and light.

Hairspray is a good fit for pretty much any style (which is why I use it every day). Since it’s a spray, it works with updo’s, and its hold will keep your style perfect in the face of danger. However, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t overdo it, because, as the spray dries, it will make the strands clump together, and if there’s too much spray that corseness will be visible. I recommend just a quick spray all over, then if you have trouble spots, spot treat it. The main downside is that the hair will become rougher in texture, and a bit sticky, so if you’re in a situation where people will be touching your hair frequently (like, say if you’re cuddling with a romantic partner), stay away.

Gel works for updo’s and spot treatment only. It’s essentially the gorilla glue of hair. It should be used sparingly, otherwise your hair’s going to be shiny in the wrong way, greasy, and look wet. It also doesn’t dry as quickly as hairspray and mousse, so I recommend fastening the fly-away or securing the shape of your hairstyle with bobby pins before application, then coming back and removing those unwanted pins once the gel is dry. Disposable hair ties also work, and then you can cut them off with scissors later. I will usually use gel after I braid my hair to lock it in and smooth out fly-aways, or if I’m wearing a high ponytail or bun and there’s some annoying hairs falling down my neck.

It’s recommended you rinse your hair after using hairspray or gel, otherwise the products may flake and look like dandruff. If you don’t want to wash, using a simple conditioner by itself will do the job.

I recommend pursuing the aisles next time you need some shampoo and picking up one or more of these tools. There’s so many brands and subtypes (their special purpose will be indicated on the bottle, I promise) that you’ll find your best match.

And there’s nothing like coming home from a long day, looking in the mirror, and seeing hair as fresh as the moment you left.

Come Through, Growth!