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Does Hair Gel Cause Hair Loss?
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Updated on April 5, 2024

From quiffs to slicked back looks, hair gel helps you create all kinds of styles. But can hair gel cause hair loss or hair damage?

If you’re a regular hair gel user and you’re seeing high levels of hair loss, you’re probably wondering if your product is to blame. But most of the time, hair gel won’t cause or contribute to hair loss.

Let’s find out more about hair gel, and whether it can damage your hair. 

Table of Contents

The ingredients of hair gel

Knowing what your hair gel contains can help you choose the best formula for your hair. Different formulations use different ingredients, though most fall into the following categories:

  • Water — Used as a base for the formula.
  • Polymers and carbomers — Styling and fixative polymers and carbomers help keep your hair in place and protect it against humidity [1].
  • PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) — A very common holding polymer that dries to form a thin coating on the hair, protecting it from moisture and keeping it in place.
  • Alcohol — Encourages gel to dry quickly when applied to the hair.
  • Approved parabens — Preservatives that prolong the shelf life of hair products. Some parabens are banned in the UK, but those found in UK hair gels have undergone rigorous safety testing.
  • Additives — Various additional substances that improve hair moisture, texture, scent, and UV protection.

Does hair gel cause hair loss?

Hair gel is unlikely to cause hair loss. Most male hair loss is caused by a combination of genetics and hormones, and manifests as male pattern baldness. So your hair thinning is more likely to be caused by baldness genes than the hair gel you’re using.

The research into the effects of hair gel itself is fairly limited, though it’s unlikely that any of the commonly used ingredients will cause hair loss. One study found that PVP is safe for use in cosmetics [2].

However, using hair gel to style your hair into very tight hairstyles may lead to a condition known as traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is hair loss caused by excessive or prolonged tension on the hair follicles. Dreadlocks, tight ponytails, and hair extensions are all associated with traction alopecia.

Some people may have an allergic reaction to the ingredients in hair gel. If you’re prone to contact dermatitis, eczema, or other skin conditions, it’s a good idea to do a patch test before using a new product.

Can hair gel damage your hair?

While hair gel is unlikely to cause true hair loss, it can be damaging to your hair, especially if you use large amounts. One study recommends that hairstyle fixation is achieved with a “tiny amount” of styling with hair gel, mousse, or spray [1].

Certain types of alcohol used in hair gel may cause your hair to dry out. Fatty or long-chain alcohols, such as cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and cetostearyl alcohol, are normally fine for use on your hair, but other types may dehydrate your hair [3]. Dry hair can become brittle, making it more prone to breakage.

Using gel to style your hair into tight hairstyles can also cause damage, including split ends and broken hair strands (also known as trichoclasis).

Hair gel ingredients to avoid

The following ingredients which are found in some hair gels may cause unwanted side effects:

  • Propylene glycol — A known irritant, propylene glycol can cause itchiness, dryness, skin flaking, and redness on the scalp. Not everyone is sensitive to propylene glycol, but if you have any adverse reactions to a product, it’s a good idea to discontinue use and avoid hair gels containing propylene glycol.
  • Short-chain alcohols — Alcohols like ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, and propanol can dry out your hair, stripping it of its natural oils.
  • Prohibited parabens — Certain parabens have also been found to be unsafe, which is why it’s important to avoid these. Many unsafe parabens are banned in the UK and EU, but may still be present in hair gels made in the US and other countries.

Can hair gel cause dandruff?

Dandruff is a relatively common scalp problem. It affects lots of people, regardless of whether they use hair gel or not. 

However, hair gel can make dandruff appear worse. As the gel dries in your hair, it can flake off, which creates the appearance of dandruff, even if your scalp is health

Using a flexible hold gel and washing your hair every day may help reduce this effect.

Is hair gel better than hairspray?

There’s no research to suggest hair gel or hairspray will cause hair loss. Find out more about if hairspray is bad for your hair.

Hairspray is less likely to cause dandruff-like flakes than hair gel. However, they can both be used safely, depending on your hair type, length, and texture.

Hairspray tends to work best for those with longer hair. It’s lighter than hair gel, so it won’t weigh down your hair as much. Hair gel is more appropriate for those with short hair who need extra hold and lift.

Is it OK to use hair gel everyday?

There’s no harm in using hair gel each morning to style your hair. But if you choose to use hair gel this often, it’s important to wash your hair everyday. (Don’t worry — washing your hair everyday won’t cause it to fall out).

If you don’t wash your hair frequently, the gel can cause oil, grease, and flakes to build up in your hair. Long-term scalp build-up may lead to folliculitis and ultimately hair loss [4].

How can you prevent hair loss from hair gel?

Hair gel doesn’t cause hair loss by itself, so there’s no need to worry about causing hair shedding, even with regular hair gel use. However, there are things you can do to minimise damage and side effects of hair gel use:

  • Keep it for special occasions — Avoid using hair gel everyday to reduce greasy build-up and flakes.
  • Check the ingredients — Check for ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction, or which are likely to dry out your scalp.
  • Use the right shampoo for your hair type — If you’re washing your hair daily, make sure to use a quality shampoo that’s suitable for your hair and scalp type.
  • Wash your hair after each use — Prevent buildup and remove flakes by washing your hair whenever you use hair gel. Dry shampoo may not cause hair loss, but it’s unlikely to get rid of hair gel residue.

Alternatives to hair gel

If hair gel isn’t working for you, there are a few other products that can help you style and hold your hair. These include:

  • Hairspray
  • Hair waxes
  • Pomade
  • Styling clay
  • Mousse

Each type of product offers different benefits in terms of hair texture, hold, and appearance. If you haven’t used hair products before, experiment with a few different options before choosing your favourite.

What should I do about my hair loss?

If your hair is falling out in the shower, or you’re seeing more hair shedding on your pillow each morning, your hair gel probably isn’t to blame.

Instead, you’re likely to be one of the millions of men with hereditary hair loss. While male pattern baldness is common, it’s not always easy to deal with. Our resources are designed to help you navigate the diagnosis and treatment of hair loss. Read more:

Does Hair Gel Cause Hair Loss?, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)Updated on April 5, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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