Close up of dollop of clear gel on white background

Hair gel was first used to keep hair neat and slicked down. It's now used for everything from traditional hairstyles to upholding mohawks. It has gained such popularity in the early 1990s that there are now a variety of hair gel alternatives on the market.


Hair gel was invented over a century ago. According to's "History of Hair," it was the first hair product mass-marketed to men. Prior to its invention, wax and petroleum jelly were used to uphold hairstyles.


Hair mousse, pomade, hair wax and hairspray all serve as alternatives to gel. Depending on the quality of the products, you may have to use more to get the desired result, which may change the look and feel of your hair. Salon-quality hair gel alternatives are more expensive, with big brands selling pomade for as much as $30. However, you won't have to use very much of the product.


Gel alternatives can all be used to hold hair up or down. Hairspray provides a very strong hold that can harden your hairstyle. Wax and pomade leave hair soft and shiny but a bit sticky. Hair mousse can be used to accent natural waves or to discreetly spike short hair. It has a creamy texture and leaves hair flexible but does not hold as well for extreme hair styles such as mohawks or spiking longer hair.


If you use hair gel or its alternatives regularly, consider using a cleansing shampoo to eliminate residue on the scalp and hair. Also, using water-based products reduces build-up on your hair.


Always test new hair products on a small section of your scalp to avoid allergic reactions.