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? 

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48 Comments on "Curl Activator Gel: Old School Product, 3 Brand New Uses"

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Works like a charm on my dry 4b hair!

Gugu Mtshali

Dear Amer­i­cans, what is appro­pri­a­tion?

–An African.

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… Read more »

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.


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!

Trainee Rapunzel

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.

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… Read more »
Rolanda Zanders

Yes, I love using curl acti­va­tor. i use the Lon­gAid Gel.. only draw is that it can be sticky.. the liq­uid forms of curl acti­va­tor don’t do much for con­trol but are great for mois­ture.

Tanya Bryant

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.


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… Read more »
curl secret on sale

Pros: vari­ety of hair­styles i.e. short, medi­um and long hair designs.


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.

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Vero77, YES it’s the mois­ture! I’ve exper­i­ment­ed with this pure­ly through lazi­ness but have found if I’m wash­ing my hair bi-week­ly, slow growth, week­ly — faster growth. I was doing it twice a week and didn’t notice much of a dif­fer­ence so I’m now back to once a week with a dai­ly mois­tur­iz­ing includ­ing spritz­ing and jojo­ba oil. It’s real­ly amaz­ing to me that water not only helps it to stay soft­er to retain length but some­how makes it grow. I guess we’re like plants. Drink­ing water and spritz­ing dai­ly — that’s what’s worked for me.


Thanks MJ.. that’s good to know! its con­firmed!


I just recent­ly cut my hair real low and I want to put a curl in now, on a low bud­get is there any sug­ges­tions of a prod­uct that I can get that I can put in myself. THANK YOU!


Great post! When I was nat­ur­al, I used acti­va­tor gel all the time. It made my dry hair very soft and man­age­able.


I tired the S curl acti­va­tor and like it!. My hair is very mois­tur­ized! A lit­tle goes a long way!


I have just start­ed using S curl jel acti­va­tor in my hair and wow I love­ly even ringlets all over my head that are defined and stay moist all day long! Just gut­ted I get to 40 and only get to know­ing this now! The trick is to apply gel in sec­tions. Love it !


I use curl acti­va­tor dai­ly, but they all are not made equal­ly, I have a favorite that get results!x I get stares lit­er­al­ly from women on the streets I’m told, and I notice. My hair is super healthy, mois­tur­ized and looks good. I feel blessed. Care­free Curl acti­va­tor doesn’t work in my hair, none of them men­tioned above work for me.

Bridget J

Just curi­ous. Which curl acti­va­tor do you use?


Long Aid.


Mimi, which Long Aid? The blue or green one?


Mimi I use long aid as well. It’s the only prod­uct that works on my low poros­i­ty hair. Late­ly, I’ve tried putting a touch of kinky curly curl­ing cus­tard on top to obtain a lit­tle bit more hold since the weath­er has been get­ting warmer.

Bridget J


I’m glad some­one brought this top­ic up. It was inter­est­ing hear­ing what to do with the care free acti­va­tors! I brought it months ago and didn’t use it as I had no idea how best to apply it! With that said I was think­ing just this week that although I use care free curl mois­turis­ers and oth­ers; I was won­der­ing what are we or I doing dif­fer­ent now — because when I had a wet look perm in the 80s my hair and sis­ters hair grew so long so quick­ly — why ? Why was this? Was it some­thing in… Read more »

Tech­nique, genes, and time that’s what will grow hair.

Tiff Dizzle

VERO77 No mat­ter what con­di­tion your hair is in Relaxed, Jer­ry Curl (wet look) or nat­ur­al its all about mois­ture. Your hair can grow in its Nat­ur­al state with­out a relax­er or jer­ry curl as long as you con­tin­ue to put mois­ture in your hair. dry brit­tle hair breaks and nat­ur­al hair tends to loose mois­ture more that’s why you see on a lot of blogs peo­ple talk­ing about “seal­ing” in mois­ture with oils and But­ters. You have to find the right prod­ucts for your hair but if all else fails remem­ber water your best friend

Tiff Dizzle
I use curl max dai­ly. spritz my hair with water, then the acti­va­tor then some shea but­ter. Love how it makes my hair feel,I have the cutest lit­tle curl ringlets after and for the price and how much use you get out of the bot­tle you cant beat it. I used s curl in the past when my hair was a twa and it worked good as well. When I became nat­ur­al I kept a open mind about prod­ucts. Ive nev­er been a Nazi about only using nat­ur­al prod­ucts, when my mom had con­trol of my hair she used all… Read more »

My all time FAVORITE is Sta-Sof-Fro, hands down! Nobody can bet the stuff!


Who knew that I would con­sid­er revis­it­ing a prod­uct I used MANY years ago lol, thanks for the info.

I have been using Hawai­ian Silky Gel Acti­va­tor and love it main­ly for the price. It works as well as ‘Curls Unleashed: Set if off Curl Boost­ing Jel­ly’, ‘Kinky Curly Curl­ing Cus­tard’, or any of the curl defin­ers that have a jelly/gel con­sis­ten­cy, but it’s less than half the price. And it does a pret­ty darn good job elon­gat­ing my curls! When I use it on top of Hawai­ian Silky’s 14-in-one mois­tur­iz­er, it’ll last a lit­tle longer, but I think just about any qual­i­ty mois­tur­iz­er under­neath will help it to last. The first day I put it in, it has… Read more »
Candy Cane

I am with you Latasha. These are my sta­ple prod­ucts as well. They are the bomb.


It was one of my sta­ple prod­uct when I had a TWA


I need some­thing for dry hair. Per­haps I will try it too. Yes, I have that Jheri Curl look for 7 years and then a relax­er now nat­ur­al what a jour­ney!

I rec­om­mend try­ing the soft­sheen car­son curl acti­va­tor as it real­ly works on lock­ing in mois­ture (with­out that ‘icky’/greasy residue. I have a low fro and I have been bat­tling with the dry coarse feel­ing. Then I found a bot­tle my mom had for some­time (years)in my bath­room. I sim­ply rub in some of my leave-in con­di­tion­er, then apply a teaspoon/less of the acti­va­tor to my hair. I mas­sage them in and some­times I may put on a show­er cap while I get ready. Then I pick the hair and pat it down (it becomes almost mal­leable-like) and I am… Read more »

I use Care Free Curl Acti­va­tor as part of my reg­i­men. I have spent a for­tune on nat­ur­al prod­ucts but none worked bet­ter on giv­ing my hair the curl pat­tern desired as this old school prod­uct. Not only is it very inex­pen­sive but it works so well in con­trol­ling the frizz. I high­ly rec­om­mend it.


Good test


Look­ing at the ingre­di­ents it has wheat amino acids.….my hair is SUPER pro­tein sen­si­tive so this may be a no go for me…
any­one know a leave in/moisturiser thats pro­tein and aloe vera free?


I use world of curls and the sto­ry behind that is my mom had a jeri curl and one day I ran out gel and I was 15 at the time did­nt know the dif­fer­ence and when I used it I was soo mad cause it made my hair­line curl up more not a joy­ous moment when youre going for the slick look then I realised 2 days lat­er my hair was sooo soft been using it ever since with a few alter­ations


Thanks,great post.


My cousin laughed at me when she saw it with my oth­er hair prod­ucts. It’s one the things I put in my spritz.


How con­tro­ver­sial!!! LOL! J/K. Very good arti­cle. You should also do some­thing on the ben­e­fits of Luster’s Pink Lotion. Those prod­ucts from back in the day that I have kicked to the curb. I won­der if that one is good for some­thing. Seal­ing, maybe?


Dear Can­dy,
i have nat­ur­al hair since 4 years now and i relised that lus­ter pink oil lotion works per­fect for me..when my hair is very dry it mois­tur­izes it very well…So try it…


For­re­al?!? My mama is always sug­gest­ing I put some in my hair (it was her go-to for styling my hair when I was a per­mie), but I thought it would be far too heavy (although I’ve now giv­en up my ridicu­lous fear of min­er­al oil). Its inter­est­ing that it might work…but don’t tell my mama (who doesn’t do any­thing to her waist length locs but go to the loc­ti­cian once a month…but she always got sug­ges­tions for me).


How are you using it?


It also works per­fect for me!!