Hair gel has its fans as well as its opponents. But the question is, how do you actually get spiky hair without using gel?
To get spiky hair without gel it’s important to get a layered haircut that’s short enough to stay upright on its own. Using sea salt spray and blow-drying upward should also help to keep it spiky for prolonged periods of time.
Although that’s the short answer, there’s more to it.
Here are some simple tips to help you keep your hair spiky without the need for using any hair gel at all.
Let’s get to it.
1. Get The Right Haircut
The key to effortlessly spiking your hair is to get the right haircut. It’s important to get the correct foundation before trying any styling tips or methods.
An honest talk with your barber is a great first step.
Let them know that you want to spike your hair without using any gel. A good barber should take that into account when cutting your hair.
While the available options may vary depending on the length you want to go down to, as well as hair thickness, a layered haircut is often effective here.
The hair is cut to various different lengths, making the strands literally layer on top of each other in clusters.
The top layers are usually shorter than the bottom layers.
This helps when spiking the hair because the different layers prop each other up and help them to stay upright, even without the use of any styling product.
It may not be quite enough to get the job done, but it’s a great start.
Another thing to bear in mind is that getting it cut to the right length will also help you spike it.
Hair that’s too long will weigh itself down and make it hard for you to spike it up and keep it that way.
The correct length for you will depend on your hair thickness, but keeping it short enough to prevent it from weighing itself down is a good idea.
However, it also needs to be long enough to allow for layering.
It’s all about getting that sort of balance – a barber will be able to help you achieve it.
2. Wash Before Styling
Washing your hair before styling it should also help you to spike it up. The reason for this is that oily, greasy, unclean hair tends to weigh itself down.
You’ll find that washing the hair first, removing excess grime and oil, will allow you to keep it light, airy, and responsive.
You don’t even necessarily need to use shampoo each time you do it. In fact, it’s usually recommended that you don’t use shampoo more than once or twice a week in any case – it can be pretty drying.
But even just running some lukewarm water through your hair and drying it before you start styling and spiking can make a difference.
3. Sea Salt Spray
Sea salt spray is a secret tool that so many people ignore. It adds grit.
Adding just the right amount of grit will make it a lot easier to keep your hair spiky without the need for any hair gel.
The grit binds the hair fibers once they’re spiked, making it less likely that they’ll fall back down.
It’s a subtle effect that may not be quite enough on its own, but it’s a great start to the styling process.
Sea salt spray is essentially just salt water, but additional ingredients are often added. These include algae, seaweed, aloe, and even UV protection in some of them.
These traditionally “beachy” ingredients go well with the windswept, surf-ready appearance you often get with sea salt spray.
While it’s known for building texture and volume, an underrated benefit of using sea salt spray is its ability to produce a subtle yet spiky finish.
OGX do a good one if you’re interested (Amazon Link).
It’s what’s known as a “pre-styler”. In other words, a product you use before you really start the styling process, in order to make the hair more responsive and the styling process more effective.
One way of “activating” a pre-styler such as a sea salt spray is to blow-dry it afterward. Let’s talk about it.
4. Blow Dry
Blow-drying the hair, with or without a pre-styler such as a sea salt spray applied, will help you get spiky hair.
While the technique you use is important, it’s a pretty simple way to achieve the effect.
Blow-drying uses heat and pressure to keep the hair spiked for prolonged periods of time.
The best way to do this is by targeting the roots of the hair while doing so. Avoid the mistake that many people make – blow-drying the tips of the hair instead of the roots.
Most of the volume and lift you get is from the roots. Completely ignoring this area when blow-drying is a missed opportunity, especially when you’re trying to get a spiky finish.
A concentrator nozzle is a narrow attachment you clip onto the end of the blow-dryer. What it does is concentrate and focus the heat and pressure onto specific areas of your hair, instead of blowing it everywhere.
This gives you a lot more control and is especially useful when you’re targeting the roots.
Working in sections, gently lift your hair with your fingers to expose the roots. Hold the blow-dryer around 8 inches away and target those roots using a medium heat and pressure setting.
Blow-dry in the direction you want the hair to eventually end up. When going for a spiky end result, this will usually be upward – either straight up, up and to the left, or up and to the right.
Blow-drying after applying some sea salt spray is a good way to exaggerate the effect.
Texture, volume, and spikiness.
Unlike using hair gel, you won’t have as stiff or crunchy of a hold. It also probably won’t be as shiny.
The spikes you’re able to achieve are more subtle, soft, and pliable.
5. Style Against The Grain
Styling “against the grain” is achieved by styling in the opposite direction to the one your hair grows in.
Overall, the hair you’ve got on the top of your scalp will probably prefer to lie in a specific direction.
It’s usually the direction it naturally falls into after a shower, for example.
It may be to the right, the left, or straight down, and this is influenced by where your parting lies.
Styling your hair in the same direction it grows in is easy. This is actually a great way to make hair lie flat – simply style it with the grain.
But what if you want to get spiky hair?
In this case, styling against the grain is actually a lot more effective. When hair is styled in the opposite direction to the one it prefers to lie in naturally, it tends to stay upright.
So, if your hair’s natural direction of growth is to the left, try spiking it up and to the right when styling/blow-drying it.
You’ll probably find that it’ll be more likely to stay spiky for prolonged periods of time.
6. Round Brush
When trying to achieve spiky hair, using your fingers to style is often a good way to go.
You’re able to achieve more texture because you’ve got more control over your finger spacing than you do with the bristles of a brush or the teeth of a comb.
You can gently twist and tousle to get a great textured and spiky finish. Doing so after applying some sea and while blow-drying will make it even more effective.
But if that’s not doing the trick for you, consider using a round brush.
While round brushes are better known for their use with more contoured styles such as pompadours, they’re surprisingly useful when getting spiky hair as well.
Wrap and twist sections of the hair around the round brush and then use a blow-dryer (8 inches away) with a concentrator nozzle attached to apply some heat/pressure and “lock” the hair in place.
Once you’ve done this, gently unwrap the hair from around the round brush. You’ll notice the section you’ve just done this to is wavier and spikier than the rest.
Continue this process throughout the hair, wrapping and unwrapping section by section while blow-drying.
7. Hair Clay, Paste, Or Wax
Hair gel may not suit you for any number of reasons. Common complaints are that it produces too much shine and that it produces too stiff/crunchy of a hold.
But there are plenty of hair products out there that don’t produce too much shine and don’t produce a stiff hold.
Here are a few alternatives you can consider.
Hair clay is a great alternative to hair gel when trying to get spiky hair. The reason for this is that it gives you a great hold (like hair gel) but not a stiff hold (unlike hair gel).
It’s a gritty product, but the hold is still quite pliable, allowing you to restyle it throughout the course of the day.
It’s also a matte or low shine product that won’t give you anywhere near as much shine as hair gel would.
Overall, it’s quite straightforward getting spiky hair with hair clay.
Hair paste is similar to hair clay in that it’s low shine and also produces a pliable hold. For anti-gel people out there, it’s also a good alternative.
But paste usually doesn’t have as strong of a hold as clay – that may be a downside if you’re looking for a stronger product to keep your hair spiky.
It’s worth trying if you’ve already got pretty responsive hair that isn’t too thick or stubborn.
The creamy consistency spreads well throughout the hair and feels light once it’s applied.
It has its benefits and is worth experimenting with if you’re looking for something completely different from hair gel.
Hair wax is also very different from hair gel in that it doesn’t produce a stiff hold. Like clay and paste, the hold is pliable and gives you the ability to restyle it if you wanted to.
But unlike clay and paste, wax does give the hair some shine. That shine may not be as prominent as it would be with hair gel or pomade, but it’s definitely noticeable.
For those of you that do want some shine to your spiky finish, wax may be a good way to go.
However, it’s important to remember that hair wax often isn’t the first choice when it comes to textured or spiky hair. It’s more effective when it comes to slick and defined hairstyles instead.
But hair wax can definitely still be useful when trying to achieve spiky hair and should still be effective if you follow the other tips in this list as well.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.