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 »
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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.

Bridget J



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.


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

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 »
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


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

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… 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…


It also works perfect for me!!


How are you using 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).