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My hair has always given me headaches!


At my last job – as an elementary counselor – I once had a student walk by, glance at me, and whisper to a friend:

“Wait, is today crazy hair day?”

My Hair History

My hair can be nice at times, but historically, it’s been mostly embarrassing.

It seems my whole life has been full of hair woes. Frizzy hair, styling products, tears about my latest hair disasters, and many hats to cover it all up.

Here’s my hair at three years old.


Homemade Natural Hair Gel 1

See? I’ve had hair woes my entire life!

If it wasn’t for the brazen confidence of a three year old, I’d say I was only smiling about the sucker.

Here’s my hair when I was nine.

Homemade Natural Hair Gel 2

begged my mom for a perm – in my bangs only. Boy, did that one backfire.

When I was 18 I longed for sleek, blonde hair. Something that would turn heads and make people say:

“My, how your hair is like golden flax!”

Homemade Natural Hair Gel 3

It turned heads alright. It was like a bright light people couldn’t stop staring at.

I had threatened to give myself a buzz cut since middle school.

At 21 I followed through on that threat with this short, spiky ‘do that almost made my mother cry.

Homemade Natural Hair Gel 4

The spike was a result of sheer hair frustration.

A late night left alone with some sharp scissors, and constant peer pressure from a college roommate to put my scissors where my mouth was. My motto during the college years…”You can never wear too much lipstick or use too many styling products.” (Because boy, did that new spike ever need some styling products.)

There was even a period of three solid years when I wore a pony tail every day. I couldn’t bear to deal with my hair each morning, so I slicked it back out of my face and pretended to like the look. And although the tight pony tail kept me looking youthful (as it pulled the skin on my face taut), I’ve worked hard to expand my hairdo horizons.

Whatever my ‘do, this unruly head of hair required some serious styling products. In my younger years, I settled for products that were full of synthetic, chemical-filled materials, which only contributed to my hair and scalp problems.

But…

The new standard is a great, simple, homemade hair tamer.

So for those of you like me – sporting an untamable lion’s mane – but looking for a natural styling product…{drumroll please}

Homemade Herbal Styling Gel

This homemade styling gel contains no harsh, drying chemicals or synthetic materials.

Ingredients:

Directions:

Heat water and mix together with gelatin in a small bowl. Stir well to combine and refrigerate for about 3 hours, or until set. Once cooled and set, add essential oils if desired, and stir to combine. Using a funnel, transfer to a small squeeze bottle for easiest dispensing. Keep styling gel refrigerated between uses. Gel will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Use this homemade product on wet or dry hair and style as usual. I have had great results with both.

Here’s a picture of my hair with the homemade natural gel.

Homemade Natural Hair Gel 5

See that mop of hair?

My desire for a styling product that enhances my natural texture has finally been fulfilled!

Best of all, those are not crunchy, stiff curls you are seeing. My hair is left soft, shiny, and flexible with this natural styling gel that washes out easily, never leaving residue.

If you desire a thicker, stronger holding gel, use more gelatin.

**UPDATE: If you’re looking for a vegan/vegetarian alternative to gelatin, agar powder (also referred to as agar-agar) can be purchased here. I have not tried it, but read that it dries fairly clear and a little less is needed in recipes compared to regular gelatin.

**Looking for a gelatin substitute that’s more readily available? Check out this video tutorial for making natural gel from flax seeds.

Other Herbal Alternatives

Want to get fancy with your homemade styling gel and customize it for your hair type? Here are some suggestions for utilizing dried herbs or essential oils to create your perfect formula:

Lavender: The most versatile oil for hair care, lavender is good for all hair types. Bring about 1 cup water to a boil. Steep 1-2 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers in your water for about 15 minutes, strain, and measure out ½ cup of the hot water for your recipe. Or for an easier method, use the original gel recipe and add lavender essential oil. (where to buy lavender flowers)

Chamomile: Great for light hair, chamomile will add shine and enhance natural highlights. (Since chamomile can have a lightening effect over time, it’s not recommended for dark hair.) Chamomile can also improve the texture of hair that is dry and brittle. Brew a strong cup of chamomile tea, and measure out ½ cup to use as the liquid in your recipe. (where to buy chamomile tea) Alternately, chamomile essential oil may also be used.

Rosemary: An excellent choice for dry hair. This herb will keep dark hair glossy. It has been used historically to help stimulate hair growth, and has antioxidant properties that aid in protection against cell damage. Use rosemary essential oil or steep dried rosemary leaves in hot water for 15 minutes, strain, and use in your gel recipe. (where to buy rosemary leaves)

Horsetail: This herb can improve the condition of your hair due to its mineral content. It contains the mineral silica, which strengthens hair and adds shine. Steep 2 tablespoons dried horsetail herb in 1 cup hot water, strain, and measure out enough for your gel recipe. (where to buy horsetail)

Enjoy the benefits of the above herbs or just choose an essential oil that is pleasing to your senses! I encourage you to do more of your own research to find other herbs that are beneficial for hair.

You can purchase pure essential oils at your local health food store. You can also find great quality essential oils online at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Note: Essential oils are highly concentrated pure plant extracts that can benefit the condition of skin, hair, and body. Always use caution when handling these powerful oils, and label all products well that contain essential oils. Consult your health care provider before using if you are pregnant or nursing, and use half the suggested amount of oils if making a product for children.

My Hair Future

This homemade natural styling gel costs only pennies to make, and takes only minutes to prepare. Now I don’t have to rely on the pony tail every day or worry that I’ll scare people with frizzy lion’s mane-like tresses.

**UPDATE with reader feedback and photos**

After the initial publishing of this article, DIY Natural community member Toni had some reservations about using the gel on her silver hair. She wrote back after trying the homemade gel to share her feedback and show some comparison pictures. Check it out!

“I was concerned that it might leave my silver hair dull or discolored, as happened with many products I’ve tried.  But I LOVE this hair gel and would like to post a comment to that effect on the blog.  However, pictures speak so much louder than my words could!”

Amazing results Toni! Thanks for taking the time to share with all our readers!

*******


References and Recommended Reading:

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Comments

  1. says

    Hair and weight are the 2 things girls battle their whole life. Those with straight hair do everything possible to put curl into it and those with curls do everything possible to take the curls out. My sister and I had the first afros in elementary school…..a perm gone bad. As we reach our senior years we are just thankful to have hair whatever the color it is.

  2. TamJ550 says

    I can’t wait to try this! Your hair is lovely Betsy, I’ve always wanted big Julia-Roberts-in-Pretty-Woman type hair but mines just wavey, neither here nor there :/ Thank you for yet another amazing and simple recipe, one even my hubby might try :)

  3. Bridget says

    Oh your hair looks beautiful!! Love the soft waves! I have found as I’ve gotten older my hair has changed in texture and thickness. I don’t know your age but wait until you’ve gotten older and gone through “the change”. Hormones and just gray hair I think will make your hair relax a bit. But I’d say for right now your hair looks the best it ever has, according to your photo history. ;)

  4. Toni says

    I have always had hair just like yours, Betsy, only mine is silver now. I know the heartache of a mane that always does its own thing. And humidity? Beware the Big Hair result! Any styling products I use can make my “colorless” hair look dull because they leave behind residue that doesn’t show up on younger hair (read, hair with color). Even the products that look clear before you apply them. I like that my hair sparkles and I want to use products that enhance that effect AND control the frizz. When I get home (I’m in Canada on vacation) I’m going to give this recipe a whirl and I’ll post the results. Thank you SO much for all the research and testing you do (you are so brave) and for writing this blog (you write concisely and with humor) and congrats on the award (you& Matt DESERVE it!).

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Thanks for the congratulations Toni! I’m glad you’ll be trying this and can’t wait to hear your results. It will definitely be helpful for all the other silver foxes out there! ;)

  5. Rachael says

    Do you have any suggestions for a vegetarian alternate to this homemade hair gel? Have you tried agar-agar or some other similar vegetarian substitute for gelatin? Just curious to know if it would work as my pre-teen daughter is getting to that age where she might want to start doing something to her hair soon. I personally am a brush it and leave it kind of person. Thanks.

  6. Peggy says

    Hi Betsy, I’d like to know how much you use on your hair for styling. Do you use less of this compared to a commercial hair gel? How well would you say this stands up to humidity? Love how this product looks compared to the stiff “wet look” normally asscociated with styling products for curly hair. Your hair is beautiful! Thanks for writing this article.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I probably use more of this compared to a commercial hair gel. (But if you use more gelatin you may need less.) My hair is extremely thick, so I probably use about 3-4 quarter-sized squirts. Honestly, I think I’ll be increasing the amount of gelatin in my future batches because I’ve noticed it holds up only mediocrely in humidity.

  7. LAURIE says

    I want to try this one..my hair is wavy..so sometimes I wear it straight or leave it alone..when I want to bring out the curl in it, styling products always leave it stiff. I’ve been using the no poo method for more than 2 months and my roots are still very oily. I’ve tried using more baking soda and not putting the ACV on roots..also added lavendar to it..but nothing is helping..any suggestions?

    • Michelle says

      Laurie, I also fought the greasies getting started with no poo. Tried it a few different times for months at a time and couldn’t get over the “hump”. Then I read about someone who with the same problem used 2 egg yolks mixed with 2 tsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar as a once in a while shampoo. She left it on a few minutes and rinsed with cool water. It worked wonderfully for me and even seemed to condition my hair. It also works to cut the coconut oil I use to “deep condition”, so I remain chemical free. I haven’t bought shampoo in a couple of years.
      I HAVE to try this gel formulation though. I need something and haven’t used commercial gel because I didn’t want chemicals on my hair again which causes the grease problem all over again. Thanks for the idea, Betsy.

  8. Katie says

    From a curly haired gal to another . . .Thank you for the recipe! I have always had hair battles because of the natural curl. How much do you use & would it hold up in the midwest with the humidity?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Increase the amount of gelatin in the recipe for better results in humidity. The recommended amount only does a so-so job when it’s humid. For my (very thick) hair, I use about 3-4 quarter-sized squirts.

  9. Jess says

    Yet another great thing I’m going to have to try. I totally sympathize with your hair situation, I have pictures that would fit right in with yours!

  10. Normy says

    Looks like it’s time for you to update your photo Betsy! I’m still using the hairspray recipe you gave us and it’s great. I don’t use much but my hair can be quite fine and flyaway, and the grey and redder bits can be frizzy (yep – great combo!). The hairspray makes it sit where I want it to (and smells divine!).

    I bet DH’s hair would look good with this gel though – he’s got curls – I’ll have to check out the flax alternative to gelatine though as we’re both veggie.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I was wondering if anyone would notice it was time for an updated photo! Hehehe. Glad you’re still enjoying the hairspray recipe…and definitely check out the flax recipe. It looks very gooey, but I’m sure it works similarly. :)

  11. Cassie says

    Another option would be to make flax seed gel. Boil 1/4 – 1/3 cup of organic flax seeds in about 2 cups of water. Allow it boil until the mixture has a think consistancy. Allow it to cool a little, then strain the mixture into a container. I use an old pair of knee-highs to squeeze out the gel, but cheese cloth (or any other straining method) may work too. After the gel is strained, stir in a few drops of rosemary essential oil (or EO of your choice) and some Vitamin E oil and refrigerate til compeletly cool. And you have hair gel! It’s a little more work that this recipe, but I love it!

  12. Monki says

    My hair is thick and curly (not pretty spiral curly- out of control curly). I had to laugh as I looked at your pictures, it was like I was looking at my hair styles over the years, with the exception of the permed bangs. Also my short look was much shorter than yours was… lots of products, but much more convenient than trying to tame the hair tornado. Within the last two years I’ve been using some creme that seems to work well, but leaves yucky residue. Looking forward to trying your recipe!
    -Monki

  13. Nicole says

    Ok question for you. I have been wanting to make my own styling gel. My hair is very fine but I have a lot of it. I was just wanting something to keep my style in, otherwise it goes flat. I always used like a root boost or a thickener or something to give it body. Would this work for that also or no?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I think this would do the trick, but you’ll have to give it a shot to be sure. If you don’t own essential oils and want to try it out, just make your first batch without….super cheap that way & you won’t be too bummed if it doesn’t give the right results. :)

        • Betsy Jabs says

          You can your favorite EO simply for fragrance, or you can choose one that will benefit your hair type. See the recommendations for lavender, chamomile, and rosemary under the “Other Herbal Alternatives” section.

  14. Dee says

    I havent used gel in my untamed wild curly hair cuz of the stiffness. I have found virgin coconut oil make my curls naturally soft, non frizzy, and non greasy! Perfect for a day at the beach too! I also use jojoba oil!

  15. says

    You hair story is similar to mine except for the perm (I dyed mine) and because I chopped mine of earlier (16 years old). My mom did cry :-)

    Only in the past few months have i finally gotten to a better hair place. I shampoo once potter week and condition every day using Everyday Coconut conditioner. I used to use Ouidad to style, but they never gave me a consistent look. I now use almost no styling products and my hair is better than ever. I will make an oil blend for frizzies and deep conditioning, but i learned that all the crap i was putting on my hair was more the problem. Like everyone said, your hair is beautiful. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I’m curious to try it!

    Rocio
    Floraesthetics

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Lilly, try this out for a root lifter…it might give you the results you’re looking for. Leave out the essential oils for your trial run, and if it doesn’t work you’re only wasting a tiny bit of gelatin and water. :)

  16. marla says

    Wow, you have gorgeous hair. It takes most of us tons of curling and styling to even get close to pretty curls like yours and even then, they fall by lunch. I will have to try this. My hair has a long wave to it and temple curls, but until I stopped using commercial shampoos and conditioners was I able to accentuate in my styling. The conditioners would weigh my hair down and then I would have to add styling methods to get the fullness back up. With our deep south humidity, all is lost by lunch. My hair is thinning now that I am in my 40′s and I need all the fullness I can get. Thanks for posting this.

  17. Rebeca says

    What is the gel supposed to turn out like, do you have a picture? Is it supposed to harden up like jello or be a little more liquid like? I’ve tried 5 batches now, changing the different amounts of gelatin, and don’t exactly know which is going to work best.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      It’s supposed to be more liquid-like than jell-o. You should be able to squirt it out of a bottle or dip your fingers in to get a blob. Start using your batches and make note of which you like best…hopefully you kept a record of how much gelatin you added to each batch to make mixing easier next time. :)

      • Rebeca says

        Thank you. I am keeping a journal of the different measurements of everything I am trying out. I’ve been learning so much from the DIY books!

  18. Rebecca says

    Hi,

    I have to say I love this idea and will be trying it out. I have also found a simple tool for taming my curly hair. I use coconut oil as an after bath moisturizer, and always run a tiny amount through my hair. It has worked miracles. I’m so glad I finally found your recipe for a gel that doesn’t make you hair “crunchy”

  19. Amy says

    I have fine, straight, flat hair which is also thinning. I wash my shoulder length hair, spray with strong styling gel, scrunch it up, and let it air dry. This makes it crunchy but it has to be crunchy to be stylable. Then I have to use a curling iron all over it. As if that’s not enough, I then have to use the dreaded hairspray or it all falls flat. I also have the type of face shape that needs some volume. (not 80′s style lol) Do you know of a way to make this recipe strong enough to handle this challenge? Maybe also homemade hairspray? (btw I use a very experienced stylist and get the best cut that I possibly can even though I can’t afford it)

  20. Estie says

    I am SO IMPRESSED with this !! It is working wonderfully. I used lavender essential oil. At last something to tame my wild hair. Thank you !

  21. Jess says

    Thanks a bunch for this,my hair is out of control curly as well. most days it has its own zip code.

  22. Sacha says

    I love this hair gel!!! It works great for my very fine (but lots and lots of it) curly hair. I was using a very expensive brand and I can’t believe how much money this is saving me! It’s so easy to make too.

  23. Liz says

    I tried making this but I either used the wrong gelitan or something. It never set up. Is it really a 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon gelitan?
    Thank you for posting this!!!!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      You got the measurements correct…that’s a bummer it didn’t set up for you. I’m assuming you did everything else correctly? Used hot water, refrigerated it for several hours, etc.? The great thing about this recipe is that you can play around with it and if one batch doesn’t work out you’re only wasting a tiny bit of gelatin and water. :) Keep trying!

  24. Stacy says

    I made this mainly for my son’s hair which is crazy in the mornings. We are IN LOVE!!!!!! I even used it on mine and it worked great and doesn’t leave that nasty residue like the store bought kind. Love the fact that my fingers don’t stick after applying it and water is enough to wash it off. I added tree oil and it smells kind of like a swamp but other than that it is awesome!!!!! Thank you so much!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yaaaaay! It’s definitely more gentle and less gunky than commercial hair gels. I’m laughing at your swamp comment! Maybe try a lighter scent or just leave it unscented. Lol. Tea tree can be a bit musty smelling without the addition of another balancing scent.

  25. tori says

    Did Toni ever get back to us? I am waiting. Also, I have straight fine hair and am gonna try it, but I hate having to wash my hair everyday, because it dries it out and makes my gorgeous hair look like straw. When I use my home made shampoo, it’s not as shiney as usual…
    Ahhhh, we all have our dilemnas, eh?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Thanks for asking Tori! Toni actually DID send me some pics and feedback that I just updated the article with…check the end of the article to see what she sent. (I needed a nudge to get these pics up…thanks again!) :)

      Also, if you use this hair gel it doesn’t leave residue like commercial hair gels so you can get away with washing every other day.

      • tori says

        Wow. It gave Toni’s hair the perfect finish.

        I tried it today and it didn’t weigh it down like the store bought stuff. I LOVE new recipies and love the savings and not having the toxic ingredients. THANK YOU.

  26. Brandi says

    I’ve considered trying a concoction of marshmallow root and distilled or spring water with some added essential oils. You can get whole marshmallow root and marshmallow root powder from Mountain Rose Herbs. I came up with the idea after noticing one of the ingredients in my organic hair gel (Kinky Curly Curling Custard) is marshmallow. I think I would probably try to modify the detangler recipe found here to have more marshmallow to make it thicker. Just an idea :).

  27. Angi M says

    As Uncle Sam decides every week that I can live on less and less of MY money, I am slowly but surely dipping my toe into Lake DIY. It’s not only fun, it’s saving me a ton! I’ve also become more cognizant of what chemicals I don’t want to ingest or put on my skin, no matter if Uncle Sam says it’s safe. I found your website and just love it. Great job! I made this hair gel last weekend and couldn’t wait to try it. I also made up a batch of a chammomile face wash I found on another website. I put them into identical plastic bottles, not writing the contents on the bottles (in case I someday want to repurpose them). So the other night I grab a bottle and start washing my face with its contents…and realize, belatedly, that I am washing my face with the hair gel! I didn’t think it smelled like Lavender EO, which I put into my face wash to calm and soothe me in the evening! OOPS! I put Rosemary EO in my hair gel to “enhance mental clarity and concentration”…boy do I need THAT during my long days at work!

    Just thought you’d get a chuckle out of my little mistake. BTW, I LOVE the hair gel as a hair gel. As a face wash…not so much. :)

    Blessings! Thank you for a great site!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      That is absolutely hilarious Angi!!! LOL! I’ve had similar experiences when I was just being lazy about labeling. :) One good trick if you don’t want permanent labels is to stick blue painters tape on your bottles and label with a permanent marker. The tape can be ripped off without leaving any sticky residue behind when you want to repurpose the bottles later.

      So glad you love the hair gel! Thanks for returning and sharing your great story. :)

    • toriLynn says

      Oh, Angie, sooo funny!
      My sister says to use dry erase markers! LOL She’s been there, done that!

  28. Angi says

    Both are such great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I used (borrowed? stole?) the labelmaker at work and made pretty little tags for all my new DIY toiletries. Ssssh! Don’t tell the boss! :) lol

    • Betsy Jabs says

      We recommend using distilled or filtered water. Water from the faucet contains impurities that will reduce the shelf life and promote bacterial growth in your hair gel. However, as always, you’re free to use whatever you’re comfortable with in any of our recipes. :)

        • Betsy Jabs says

          I haven’t tried it that way, but you should give it a shot! Of course, the gelatin has to be dissolved in something hot before setting up in the fridge. So you may want to heat a small amount of water to dissolve it in, then add your aloe vera juice.

  29. victoria says

    I stir this into my coffee in the a.m. and into my mother’s water, and into the oatmeal after it’s cooked…..

  30. victoria says

    Why not?! I think I would try to dissolve it with some hot water instead, but, I just used tap water that I had boiled, then added the other stuff.