Many curlies have a LOT of opinions on which products they will or won't use, and I've found this to be particularly true for people with fine, delicate curl strands. From my own experience, I swore off gel for many years after looking back at high school photos and being horrified at how crunchy and stiff my curls were. I was a mousse gal for a long time, until I cut my hair short and suddenly needed a heavier product to weigh down my suddenly weightless, springy, very frizzy curls. I was (and still am) very picky about the styling products I use, namely because it is so easy for fine-haired people to get products that don't work at all. It can be frustrating to spend a lot of money on something that you ultimately end up ditching, and seeing your hair still not look the way you want to.
On that note, there are some specific benefits of using mousse vs. using gel, as well as considerations to weigh when it comes to your hair type, frizz factor, curl density and desired texture:
The Upsides of Mousse
- It won't weigh your hair down. Can you say va-va-volume?! I am obsessed with getting as much volume as possible out of my low-density, 3c hair, and I am always trying new techniques and products that promise not to weigh my hair down.
- It's easy to use. Foams are very no-fuss. Waves and curls benefit a lot from scrunching (a bunch-of-scrunching, if you will), and it perfectly facilitates a good scrunch session post-wash. Just squirt some out of the bottle, rub between your palms, and scrunch all over your head in sections.
- It feels natural. Even with high-quality gels, sometimes I can feel the product on my hair or scalp. With airy, bubbly foams, it's like I'm not wearing any product at all.
My favorite mousses:
- SheaMoisture Fruit Fusion Coconut Water Weightless Styling Mouse
- Carol's Daughter Hair Milk Nourishing & Conditioning Styling Foam
The Downsides of Mousse
- It lacks definition. I can't speak for other curlies, but my curls don't form as tightly when I use foamy products. That look is fine sometimes, but I generally prefer to have springy, well-defined curls that fall nicely into place.
- It lacks moisture. It can be pretty drying for fine hair, and may not offer a good cuticle seal for those of us who are frizz-prone.
- It's not great for high-humidity climates. Unless you can find a product that is specifically formulated for humid weather, it will probably not hold up well if you're regularly facing down 80% humidity or higher. I lived in Houston until I was 18, and water-soluble foam was no match for the literal swamp air I dredged myself through on a daily basis.
The Upsides of Gel
- It's versatile. You can do so much with gel! You can scrunch your curls for looser definition, finger coil for tight springy curls, seal ends to fight frizz and so much more.
- It fights frizz. Gel is awesome for definition, which can be really important for fine-haired folks who tend to be more breakage and frizz-prone or who want well-defined ringlets.
- It layers well. Gel can be great on its own, or it can be layered with a cream or oil when you want more moisture or definition. If I'm layering, I always end with gel to lock in the goodness from my leave-in.
My favorite gels:
The Downsides of Gel
- It can be heavy. Some gels are really thick, or have heavy oils mixed in. Getting a gel that is too heavy for fine hair can be frustrating when it turns your hair into a semi-greasy, flat triangle shape.
- It can be damaging. Some gels have alcohol in them, or synthetic, petroleum-based ingredients that strip and weaken the hair shaft. Be careful, read the label and stick to natural ingredients where possible.
- It can leave your hair sticky or crunchy. Remember that noise your hair would make in high school when you used cheap drugstore gel and it literally sounded like straw after it dried? I do, and I don't wish to repeat that experience.
Conclusion: Why Not Both?
When it comes down to deciding between mousse or gel for fine, curly hair, I feel like the cute little girl in the Old El Paso taco commercial: why not both? I think that both products have great benefits and can create awesome looks for different hair types based on what you want out of your hair that day. Fine hair will always take a little bit of guesswork when it comes to the balance of hold vs. volume in a product, so try new things! Layer a small amount of gel over foam-based products for extra hold, use a conditioning foam if your hair tends to be dry or ditch the heavy gel for a thin, slippery product that won't weigh down your roots and see what works best for your curl type and density. And, if a product doesn't end up working for you, consider donating very gently used products to hurricane relief efforts: natural hair products are always in short supply during disaster recovery.