Curl Activator Gel: Old School Product, 3 Brand New Uses


In the 1970s and 80’s the Jheri curl was in and the wet look was perfected with curl activator gel of course. Unfortunately, many people still link curl activator to this wet look and avoid it as a result. However, it can be a very useful product especially if your hair is prone to dryness, the key is simply to know how much to use and when.

First though, let us be clear, curl activator gel referred to in this article is the non-drying type with very little to no hold. The ingredient label will start with water and then follow on with a humectant such as glycerin and/or aloe vera. The high concentration of humectants is the primary reason why curl activator gel is so effective at holding moisture for very dry hair. Examples include World of Curls Activator Gel, S Curl No Drip Activator Moisturizer, Care Free Curl Activator among others.

1. Using Curl Activator as a Moisturiser
There are two tricks of the trade in getting curl activator to work as a moisturiser. The first is you need to apply it to hair that has some water on it. This can be wet, damp or misted hair. The water is essential to stop the product just sitting on hair and giving it a greasy look. The second trick is to use very little of the product. The more you load on, the more wet your hair will stay and therefore look. Try to use no more than a teaspoon per quadrant of hair, focus on spreading it thinly and evenly. You can use additional products such as oil or if you wish another moisturiser over the curl activator.

The Downside: Curl activator does induce shrinkage and if you are keen to wear your hair in a stretched out style, it is best to avoid it. If you are however intending to do twists, braids or a tucked in style where shrinkage does not matter, curl activator will be good.

2. Using Curl Activator to detangle hair
Yes, you can use gel to detangle your hair! As curl activator is not a drying gel and can have good slip, it is possible to use it to detangle your hair. In this case, you can use a lot of the gel to ensure good coverage before either finger detangling or combing. The trick of the trade here is to work in sections and apply the gel onto only the hair you are working on. Twist or braid the detangled section afterwards to cut down on shrinkage and make your hair easier to handle. Curl activator is water based, highly water soluble and very easy to rinse off after detangling.

The Downside: Curl activator does soften hair and as a result when hair is breaking during detangling, you may not hear a snapping noise at all. Be very careful when finger detangling, combing or brushing to avoid any unnecessary extra force on the hair. Do not repeatedly run the comb through the softened hair, stop detangling once the strands and separated enough.

3. Using Curl activator as a Curl enhancer
If your natural hair forms clumped spiral curls, it is absolutely possible to use the curl activator to enhance those curls. Curl activator is very good at creating shrinkage due to the high water and humectant content. This shrinkage is an essential component in getting the curls to the right conformation to create the clumped spiral so do not fight it.

The Downside: Most curl activator gels have very little to no hold. If you would like to keep your clumped curl style for several hours, you may need an additional thin layer of a holding gel to help. Alternatively, you could use a curl activator gel that tends to dry a little more and has more hold for example ecostyler gel or fantasia ic gel.

Ladies, have any of you use curl activator gel? What was your experience with it?

The Natural Haven

The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!


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47 thoughts on “Curl Activator Gel: Old School Product, 3 Brand New Uses

  1. I had spent much money on these natural products only to find that the old school products are soooo good for moisturizing, hands down. I use the Carefree Curl instant moisturizer and love it, it’s inexpensive and doesn’t have a strong smell. I like Sta sof fro too but the smell is just too high, heavy and masculine smelling for me.

  2. Hi Everyone,

    I seriously need help I’ve managed to grow an afro without any gel activator and I’ve only heard about it now. My afro is very dry and I don’t want to do the big chop but I do want to start using the gel activator. I’m from South Africa and it’s gets really hot in here. How do I start using the gel activator and how do I go about continuing with it on my already dry hair. Your help and references will be very much appreciated. Thank you guys!

    • Congratulations. It is always exciting when we reach a hair goal. I also have very dry hair and scalp. Deep conditioning on a weekly basis as long as you wear your hair in an afro may help with the extreme dryness. After deep conditioning, it might also be a great idea to use the LOCO method and braid or twist it until it dries to help it really maintain moisture. The gel activator can be your daily regimen for maintaining your beautiful afro style. I usually apply a conditioner or leave in conditioner and then my activator to help with the moisture and style but I’m not suggesting that (just sharing what works for me). Stay encouraged!

    • I love this gel, and you are right, it can be sticky until it dries. I use Ecostyler on my roots, and apply the Long Aid in sections. My WNGs usually last a week, if I pineapple at night.

  3. I use Long Aid Curl Activator Gel (Extra Dry Formula in the green/white container purchased from beauty supply for $7.99). I really like it for my 4b shoulder length hair. I use it as follows:

    on clean/detangled hair I part my hair down the middle,section into 6-9 smaller sections per side (to make application easier),thoroughly saturate a section at a time with water, then apply Long Aid gel with a smoothing motion while detangling from root to tip (I use approx. a tsp – tbs per 3 inch diameter – sometimes more), then I smooth Ampro Prostyl Clear Ice gel on top of Long Aid for hold (I use half the amount of Ampro to whatever amount was used for Long Aid gel – if you want more hold then a 50:50 ratio is perfect).

    Because of the glycerin content in the Long Aid, it can take a very long time to fully dry, but, the final result is worth it! (or you can diffuse or spend several hours outside which will lessen the drying time). Try not to touch your hair until 50% dry at which time you can scrunch your ends to “shape” your style. When I apply as mentioned, my style will last up to a week!!!! At night I just stuff in a bonnet and in the morning, shake head back and forth…I only suggest not mixing both products in an effort to save time…it works ok if you do, but, results are much better when layered separately…Much success!!!!!!!

  4. Interesting. When I was 14 I relaxed my hair- then instantly regretted it, and began to transition. All I used was S-Curl activator gel and my hair retained so much length! I’m definitely going to incorporate it into my current regime.

  5. Seriuously I just mix a cheap activator gel with a moisturizing leave in I already have and some eco styler for hold..Bam! curly pudding!

  6. Soft sheen Curl Activator dried my hair. I didn’t realize the product contained alcohol. I switched to Smooth n Shine instead. So far so good.

  7. I have a question. I didn’t do enough research as I should have done and so I went to a salon and used the curl free products they had. Now after researching, I found that the stylist might have used the care free curl chemical re-arranger, does this mean my hair is no longer natural? I feel so disappointed. I like the curls and everything but I just feel bad thinking my hair won’t be kinky anymore. I know the chemical wears out in about 3 months or so but it still leaves hair a bit straightened. Please enlighten me on things to do moving forward.


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