Hair gel is one of the trickiest hair products to use effectively. While it can really add definition to a hair style, it can also look stiff and unnatural if it isn't used with a certain amount of finesse. It makes sense - the purpose of gel is to make hair stiff so that it will stay in place - but it should still look natural.
Gel can work with every kind of hair style, but it shouldn't be used the same way with each. Here's a quick overview of ways that gel can be effective:

  • In wet or dry hair, gel can make quick spikes.
  • Small amounts of gel can give updos or braids a smoother look and hold frizz in place.
  • A little gel in the roots can add volume to a hair style (we'll come back to this).
  • A little gel scrunched into natural curls can add definition.

Make sure that when you buy your styling gel, you consider your hair type. Most gels are made for specific types - short, curly, fine, etc. You should also consider the look you want to achieve with your gel. Some gels can give a nice light hold when used with a diffuser and hair dryer, while others are made for a stiffer hold, as with men's gel.
Once you've got a gel you can use, there are a few guidelines that will help to make everything work more effectively. First, don't put a lot of gel on on the ends of your hair. This weighs your hair down and may counteract any body you're getting from the gel. Avoid applying gel to any one area of the hair - this doesn't make the gel hold better, it just makes your hair look clumpy and globby. Gel typically works better for fine or medium hair. Very thick hair can be styled with gel, but it's more difficult. Make sure to find gel with extra hold or gel for thick hair if possible.
Wash your hair before you style it, and decide whether you want a wet or dry look when you finish. If you want a wet look, apply gel while the hair is still damp and let it air dry. If you want a dry look, apply it to damp or dry hair, but if it's still damp, use a diffuser or carefully dry your hair into the style you want. For very short hair, applying gel to dry hair is a great way to create quick spikes. Dry hair needs less gel than wet hair, so if you want a dry look, make sure to apply sparingly and rub your hands together first to help the gel to spread more evenly.