Home » Botanical Gel Secrets For Long Lasting Moisture

Botanical Gel Secrets For Long Lasting Moisture

Happy belated New Year, a month later! I’m late to posting & unfortunately haven’t made it to transform the 365 Days of Wash&Go Reels on Instagram into full blog posts. But let’s start this year fresh with a focus on providing you with as much as helpful information as possible and a walk through my hair routine as the journey continues. The goal is still waist length. So let’s get started!

If you haven’t heard about botanical gels a decade ago, I’m sure you’ve probably heard about it in recent times with tight curly heads rocking defined & long lasting beautiful wash and go sets. I first heard about botanical gels in 2014 when I stumbled across the Maximum Hydration Method, a modified version of the Curly Girl Method for coily 4c heads challenged with what they thought is low porosity hair.

What are botanical gels?

There’s no real definition for it and I unfortunately don’t know the origins of this term and who invented it. If you google it you’ll come across skin care gel moisturisers or cleansers mainly, so it definitely indicates it’s not a word exclusively made for hair care. Naturallycurly.com has published a post about The 7 Best Botanical Gels for Shiny, Healthy Curls in 2015, mentioning the Maximum Hydration Method. If you dive into Long Hair Care Forum threads, you’ll find out, people were mentioning botanical gels with wash and gos & also the Maximum Hydration Method in 2014. So I strongly believe this is how this type of gel slowly became very popular throughout the natural hair community. You can hate or love the Maximum Hydration Method, but the internet history can’t lie where popular things came from! Botanical gels did not fall from heaven or where the invented terminology used by curl experts. The internet made it popular..

So here’s the best way to describe it:

Botanical gels are the opposite of styling gels made of synthetic ingredients. 100% botanical gels are made with plant based ingredients only and don’t require synthetic holding agents. So, botanical simply means plant based. Nothing more or less. They contain humectant rich ingredients with zero to tiny amounts of oils. The ingredients giving hold are also plant based. And the pH is so well balanced that it smooths and seals your hair cuticles further down. Since most of them don’t contain drying and synthetic ingredients that can build up on hair over time, the gel residue is easily removed from hair when it’s time for the wash.

What ingredients should I avoid when using gels and other styling/hair wash products?

If you really want to reap the best benefits from botanical gel sealing/styling, you need to read and understand the Ingredient list in the back of the product. I’m not 100% strict and don’t avoid all of these ingredients listed below, but that’s my long term goal: To use as many plant based styling products as possible. Here’s a short overview to really understand why plant based botanical gels aren’t only one of the best styling options available, but also safest products for your hair, if you aren’t allergic to certain plants.

2023 UPDATE: This list is inspired by www.msdeekay.com and Pinkecube’s MHM product list, which is based on the Curly Girl Method by Lorraine Massey. It’s just MY personal guideline to remind myself when I buy new products.

Especially since I’m reading & learning a lot about the science & chemistry behind cosmetic formulations, I can definitely say many Ingredients simply don’t have “natural” & better alternatives. Just because something isn’t natural, it doesn’t mean it’s toxic. Most of the things we find in nature are toxic, so natural doesn’t necessarily equal healthy.

That’s why I mention “concerns” and not “scientifically proven with studies” in the following paragraphs.

  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
    Emulsifier, fragrance, thickener, pH adjuster (alkaline and can raise ph of acidic solutions), can irritate when used in higher concentrations in a product because of its alkalinity.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA)
    Surfactant, pH adjuster.
  • Ethanolamine (Acetamide MEA)
    Ethanolamines are ammonia compounds that are used as surfactants, thickeners, humectants. They increase sheen and ease of wet-combing, reduce static charge.

    Ethanolamines including TEA, DEA &
    – Monoethanolamine (MEA is a synthetic waxy solid made up of amine and alcohol, used in ammoniac free hair dyes)
    – Cocamide MEA (mixture of ethanolamides of coconut fatty acids)
    – Linoleamide MEA (mixture of ethanolamides of linoleic acid)
    – Stearamide MEA (mixture of ethanolamides of stearic acid)
    – Cocamide DEA (Non-ionic surfactant derived from coconut fatty acids, emulsifier, thickener, foam booster)
    – Lauramide DEA (derived from lauric acid)
    – Linoleamide DEA (derived from linoleic acid)
    – Isostearamide DEA (derived from isostearic acid)
    – Myristamide DEA (derived from myristic acid)
    – Oleamide DEA (derived from oleic acid)
    – Stearamide DEA (derived from stearic acid)
    – DEA-cetyl phosphate
    – DEA oleth-3 phosphate
    – TEA-lauryl sulfate diethanolamine

    are linked to concerns that they should not be combined with nitrates, because they create potential carcinogens. When used in products that also contain certain preservatives, they can also form nitrosamines (a class of chemicals with carcinogenic potential). Can cause allergies & irritations. The EU has banned Diethanolamine, DEA, so this says it all.

Are mostly used as thickeners and are not water soluble. Beeswax, Paraffin wax among other synthetic and natural waxes can easily cause buildup in formulations. So you definitely need an effective shampoos to get rid of waxes. Waxes are great anti humectants, I wonder why they aren’t really formulated into gels.

Mineral Oil / Paraffin / Petrolatum (Vaseline)
Is an emollient derived from petroleum. It gives gloss & shine, acts as a lubricant and seals hair cuticles. The molecules are too large to enter the cuticles, so it’s not a penetrating oil. It’s a water repellant, excellent in preventing moisture loss. Look up your favourite hair greases like Blue Magic or Lanolin. This is what seals 100% once your hair is clean, damp & moisturised. In my opinion no gel or plant based oil out there can compete with mineral oils when it comes to sealing natural hair. When used in high concentrations it can block moisture from entering the cuticles and needs stronger surfactants to be removed from hair. Concerns are being raised if it could be a source for health issues, sensitivities and a carcinogen. Other names are also:

– Paraffinum Liquidum
– Petroleum White Mineral Oil
– Mineral Grease
– Mineral Jelly
– Petrolatum Amber
– Petrolatum White
– Petroleum Jelly
– Yellow Petrolatum.

Silicone (Siloxane)
Synthetic compounds, used in hair care products since 1970s. Their main function is to remain on the hair’s surface to provide a protective layer as lubricant, conditioning agent & heat protection. Some silicones are water soluble and can wash out with gentle cleansers. But many require sulfate shampoos or strong sulfate free clarifying shampoos. So if your styling products consist of silicones and you cleanse & condition your hair with silicones, there can be buildup over time, that can block the full potential of water to enter your hair. If you check out your favourite brands, most of them have clarifying shampoos. So they are fully aware some of their products possibly contain buildup causing Ingredients and those hair strands will require a good reset after some time. You can detect them as:

– Aminopropyl Triethoxysilane
– Amodethicone (water soluble to some extent)
– Behenoxy Dimethicone (water soluble to some extent)
– Cetyl PEG/ PPG 10 / 1 Dimethicone
– Cyclomethicone
– Cyclopentasiloxane
– Dimethicone
– Dimethicone Copolyol / HWP (water soluble)
– Dimethiconol
– Dimethyl Silicone
– Dimethylsiloxane
– Di-Isostearoyl Trimethylolpropane Siloxysilicate
– Hydroxypropyl (water soluble)
– Lauryl Methicone Copolyol (water soluble)
– Methicone
– Methyl Polysiloxane
– Phenylpropyldimethylsiloxysilicate
– Polysiloxane (water soluble)
– PPG/PEG-8 Silcones and higher
– Polysilicone-18 Cetyl Phosphate
– Silicone Resin Spheres
– Silcone Quaternium 16 / 18 / 22
– Stearoxy Dimethicone (water soluble to some extent)
– Trimethylsilyl Amodimethicone
– Trimethylsiloxyphenyl Dimethicone
– Trimethylsiloxysilicate

Polyquats (Polyquaternium):
Synthetic cationic polymers to tame frizz, boost shine, define curls, and seal hair cuticles similar to silicones. They also provide slip, conditioning & some have anti-humectant holding abilities. Cationic means positively charged. Hair strands are negatively charged. That’s why they can bind to hair and build a protective layer around the cuticles by filling the gaps for an example. Polyquats are similar to silicones but act different. They don’t resist water like silicones, but cling on negatively charged hair strands, because they contain a charge of positive ions. So if your hair is more porous or simply more damaged, since the cuticles lost their function, the more polyquats will bind to your hair strands. Some polyquats are used for their water-resistant abilities to enable humidity resistant hairstyles.

But the downfall, again, is the buildup they can create over time, if you use those products containing them excessively. So your hair will need appropriate cleansers over time to get them out of your hair (just like silicones). Again, just find a balance. Here are a few examples:

-Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey (Honeyquat)
-Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chlorid

UPDATE 2023 – This is what I learned from Swiftcraftymonkey (Canadian Cosmetic Chemist) Btw, a conditioner is not a conditioner if it doesn’t contain any ingredients that have the ability to “condition” your hair. Oils & butters usually lubricate the hair shaft, some are that small in molecular size to pass through the cuticles. But they normally don’t cling onto hair strands because of their charge. So those conditioners are technically moisturisers. It will require cationic ingredients that cling onto the hair to fill in gaps. The higher the damage, the higher the negative charge of your hair and the stronger those agents can condition your hair. The “healthier” non porous your hair is, the less you’ll require conditioning agents. These agents don’t entirely rinse off from the hair, once you finished conditioning. That’s why it makes sense to also follow up with a leave-in that contains one or two of the ingredients, because it stays inside the hair until the next round of shampoo.

Quaternary Salts (Quats)
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds are lubricants that provide total slip & great moisture. They’re also anti statics and can be plant derived or synthetic. Some also function as preservatives. Quats can build up on hair over time when used in high concentrations and excessively. So it’s all about finding a balance and not overusing them. Some are raising health & sensitivity issues regarding certain quats. Here are some examples quats you often find in more moisturising shampoos, rinse-out conditioners, deep conditioners & creams, moisturizers, leave-ins & other styling products:

– Behenalkonium Betaine
– Behentrimonium Chloride
– Benzalkonium Chloride
– Cetrimonium Chloride
– Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride
– Behentrimonium Methosulfate
– Quaternium-18
– Stearalkonium Chloride

The list of Quats are actually long and you can also detect them by the ending in ‘um’ and number for example -15. For more about quats you can also check out www.tightlycurly.com with a detailed ingredients dictionary.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Polypropylene Glycols (PPG)
Are synthetic compounds that act as humectants similar to glycerin. Depending on what it is mixed with, they can also be emollients, emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners or gelling agents. Concerns are being raised they could be possible carcinogens and root for health issues. They are also not biodegradable, especially when PEG-50 or PPG-50 and higher in number (molecular size) is formulated into products.

Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP)
Polymer that gives products extra hold by forming a thin coating over hair strands that fixates hair in place. Also known as povidone, it is a synthetic ingredient derived from petroleum (can also be derived from plants), water-soluble and prevents emulsions from separating. Some are raising concerns over its biodegradation. It was the first synthetic polymer introduced to fix hair in the 1950s instead of insect-derived Shellac. PVP acts as humectant and destroys the thin coating while pulling moisture from the air in high humidity and can pull moisture from hair in very dry weather conditions. It can cause sensitivities and allergies for some.

VP (Vinyl Pyrrolidone) / ​VA (Vinyl Acetate) / PVP Copolymer
A modified version of PVP. Water-loving Vinyl Pyrrolidone combined with water-hating Vinyl Acetate creates a film that is less brittle and less sensitive to humidity in the air compared to PVP alone.

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)
A synthetic polymer of vinyl alcohol that acts as thickener, film-forming and binding agent. The alcohol is drying and can cause irritation.

Denaturated Alcohol (alcohol denat)
Just Ethanol with additives not meant for human consumption. Can leave the skin and hair very dry. Formulation & moderation is key. My hair & skin dries out horribly when I products high in alcohol. My skin usually turns into grey ashiness.

Ethyl Alcohol
Another type of ethanol that can dry your skin and hair out.

Isopropyl Alcohol
Very strong chemical compound that can also be very drying to skin & hair.

These types of so-called short chained alcohols including

– Ethanol
– Isopropyl Alcohol
– Propanol
– Propyl Alcohol
– SD Alcohol
– SD Alcohol 40
– SD Alcohol 40 B
– SD Alcohol 38B
– SD Alcohol 39B
– SD Alcohol 40-2

are used to increase the fast drying process of formulas. Downfall is, these alcohols don’t just help your hair dry faster, but they can also suck the moisture out of your hair and skin while evaporating. So if you wonder, why you aren’t able to retain moisture long enough, read the back of your ingredient list. Maybe you’ll find the key you’re missing.

I remember trying out a drugstore hair gel on my hair when I did my first big chop and my hair horribly dried out. A true nightmare experience and I didn’t knew anything about botanical gels in 2010…

But do not confuse yourself and ignore entire products because they contain alcohols. I only listed these three as possible irritants. Long chain fatty alcohols derived from plants and oils act different and don’t dry your hair out. They help with slip, keep hair from dehydration, smooth and moisturise your hair. Here are some examples like Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, Oleyl Alcohol, C12-16 Alcohol along:

Cetearyl Alcohol
Behenyl Alcohol
Lauryl Alcohol.

What makes a botanical or even semi botanical gel a super moisturising gel?

It contains a blend of not only humectants, like glycerin and sorbitol, that draw moisture from the air to keep your hair hydrated and flexible. It contains a blend of film-forming humectant rich ingredients. Here’s a list inspired by science-yhairblog.blogspot that gives you an idea what you should look out for:

  • Agave
  • Aloe vera
  • Cactus
  • Carrageenan (Irish sea moss)
  • Flax Seed Gel (Linseed)
  • Guar Gum (Guaran, polysaccharide derived from guar gum; Guar Gum is a resinous material made from the guar bean, Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba)
  • Hawaiian Ginger
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC, plant-based polymer derived from cellulose)
  • Honeyquat (Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey, cationic quaternary polymer derived from honey)
  • Marsh Mallow Root
  • Nettle Leaf / Nettle Extract
  • Okra Gel
  • Panthenol (Pro-vitamin B5, precursor of Vitamin B5 / Pantothenic Acid)
  • Pectin (Purified carbohydrate product extracted from citrus peels or apple pomace)
  • Slippery Elm
  • Xanthan Gum (Polysaccharide derived from fermentation using Bacterium Xanthomonas Campestris & dried into powder)

Now what are film-forming humectants?

Let’s go back to the basics if you’ve ignored the part about humectants. Humectants attract and bind humidity (water vapor) from the surrounding air when there’s enough of it. But if there’s no or low humidity in the air, humectants tend to pull moisture directly from your hair. Consequences are dry & frizzy hair. So something you think is doing your hair good is actually drying your hair out too fast. And this is not the end. Too many humectants and completely saturated moisture in the air is bad as well.


It’s because they tend to draw too much moisture into your hair, raising the cuticle, and hello frizz, again. Long time no see. So it doesn’t matter where you live, humectants and extreme weather conditions work against curly and wavy hair. Extreme dryness and extreme humidity is not doing a favour, when you use styling products that contain large amounts of for example glycerin. And that’s the main reason your wash and go sets aren’t holding up. You’re using the wrong blend of formulations, not properly customised to your weather needs. You can spend all the money on this earth trying to layer 20 layers of anti-humectant stylers on top or trying to use as much water as possible to work the humectant rich gel in, it won’t work out great. And will end with frustration.

Sea Moss Gel

Now film-forming humectants act different and are the true OGs of moisturisers you’re looking for your entire life, because they don’t just pull water from the environment or your hair, but they form a protective film over hair strands that help to slow down moisture loss. The molecules of film-forming humectants are larger and more complex than simple humectants. The natural cast they create around hair strands acts like a barrier for water to evaporate and for extra water to enter the hair shaft, which make them the ideal sealant. Using products containing them works well on all hair types from low to high porosity, because of the protective cast they create. And they work well in all weather situations.

So there you have it. All the answer on why botanical gels work so well and that’s why you rarely hear complaints about hair strands drying out too fast when styled with them. Just adjust them to your own hair needs and pair them with a few drops of oils, whipped butter or cream based styler/leave-in and you won’t need to put any products inside your hair for at least 7 days. That’s how they work with a consistent hair care routine and a hair wash of once a week.

So yes, I’m telling you to ditch the LOC/LCO method or at least modify and reach out for botanical gels, water based humectant rich leave-ins or lotions to do the job, cream based moisturisers aren’t able to deliver alone. Rethink and relearn what you’ve been told to use before. And ask yourself if truly makes sense what you’re doing. Always use a humectant rich product underneath and a cream based styler/leave-in on top of your hair. The higher the oil/butter content in a formulation, the more it forms a water repellent layer on your hair strands.

So you want the humectants and film-forming humectants underneath to slow down water loss. And it actually doesn’t matter if you are a low porosity or high porosity head. Both extreme cases are suffering from not enough moisture, so it makes more sense to coat these hair strands with ingredients that provide moisture first, before even trying to think about oil/butters first.

Or think about it like this: Everything that provides moisture with a high water content no matter if it’s a leave-in, lotion, gel, jelly or spray. It should be used FIRST. Or rename your creamy leave-in into a leave-out to understand what makes more sense when it comes to curls, coils & waves no matter how silky, cottony, tight or loose. Don’t we apply serum or toner first, before cream based moisturisers or face oils? Technically, for hair, it shouldn’t be different. But funnily, most of us use leave-ins first, and then the gels. I want to experiment to see what order provides me with the best moisture retention results in the future.

Aloe Vera gel

Btw my 4c & b hair strands are doing so well, because I tend to focus on brands that formulate their products with as many film-holding humectants as possible. My detangling sessions before shampoo include aloe vera and my clay masks always have glycerin in them.

If you’re especially interested in brands that formulate botanical gels and semi botanical gels, watch my Youtube video. I’ve used all of the gels mentioned there as my primer, leave-in or base as many call them. And the wonderful thing is that you can mix & match most of the gels mentioned in the video according to your own preferences. Just make sure to find a balance, especially when it’s humid. Too many humectants will kill your hairstyle and cause a lot of frizz. Better pair them with anti-humectants stylers or find that one styler that does it all with less humectants for those rainy days.

My favourite Gel of this Year has become Ecoslay’s Jelloshot (plant based, but also contains carbomer, a synthetic thickening agent: series of polymers that are made of acrylic acid). It gives me everything I want and is humid weather proofed by me. I only have to adjust the amount of water based leave-ins to get a more soft or hard gel cast.

Many are raising concerns about the use of botanical gels and other gel or mousse related styling products on naked hair in the tight wash&go hair community. People doing the 30 Day Hair Detox by BGC are dealing with damaged hair, especially the ones that followed with this hair care method by heart.

Watch this video first & then read here to see my observations & opinion about using water based styling products on naked hair with & without leave-ins.


1 Comment

  1. MS
    2023-04-05 / 1:49

    Excellent article. Thank you!

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