Recipe

Phase 1

  • 426.5g Distilled Water
  • 3g Carbomer 940
  • Few drops of Triethanolamine (TEA)

Phase 2

  • 50g Distilled Water
  • 5g Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP)

Phase 3:

  • 10g Glycerine
  • 5g Hydrolysed Wheat Protein
  • 5g Preservative Eco (or preservative of choice)

Method

  1. Measure out your phase one ingredients: Distilled Water, Carbomer and TEA, as well as your phase two ingredients: Distilled Water and PVP.
  2. Hydrate the carbomer: In a large container mix the water and carbomer together until most of the powder has absorbed and no large clumps remain. Feel free to use a whisk as this might take some time.
  3. Thicken the hair gel base: Once absorbed, test the pH and add a few drops of TEA via syringe to increase the alkalinity of the solution. When the pH is 8, whisk continuously as the gel forms and starts to thicken. To increase the thickness as a couple more drops of TEA.
  4. Hydrate the PVP: In a separate container, mix the phase two water and PVP together until it is absorbed and no crystals are visible (this might take some time)
  5. Measure out your phase three ingredients: Glycerine, Hydrolysed Wheat Protein and your preservative of choice.
  6. To your now thickened gel base, pour in the PVP solution, glycerine, protein and preservative. Mix thoroughly until the liquids have been fully incorporated.
  7. Store your gel in a tub-style container for easy access. The gel will continue to thicken slightly over the next 24 hours.

This recipe makes 500g of hair gel and will last for approximately 6 months, see the formula calculator to adjust amounts.

DIY Eco Styler Gel

Eco styler is a firm favourite (pun intended) amongst naturals for its strong hold, coil enhancing & curl defining abilities! Clocking in at under $5 dollars a tub - it’s one of the most affordable hair gels around. But I’m curious to see whether we can achieve the same gel-like consistency at home?

If you haven’t tried my all-natural curl defining hair gel, then seriously give that recipe a try! As good as it is, natural hair gels tend to resemble jellies rather than the traditional “dry touch” commercial hair gels. Today we’re going for a robust, ultra-thick hair gel that has both hold and stability. So here’s how to make Eco Styler Gel at home!

How to make thick hair gel

Most commercial hair gels are made from the same base ingredients, there may be variations in colour and “active” ingredients but ultimately the basic hair gel formula remains unchanged. And the key to that is the thickening agent: Carbomer.

Carbomer in Hair Gels

Carbomer 940 (polyacrylic acid), also known as Carbopol, is the thickener used in the eco styler formula to obtain that signature crystal clear, thick and glossy hair gel. It’s the thickener of choice for almost all commercial hair gels.

Carbomer is a synthetic polymer that comes as a white fluffy powder in various molecular weights, you’ll often see codes (i.e. 910, 934, 940, 941 and 934P) next to its name to indicate the specific polymer.

Unlike xanthan and other gums that we’ve used before, carbomer doesn’t immediately thicken when it comes into contact with liquid.

Instead, it needs a solution to be alkaline with a pH of at least 8. For this reason, carbomer is often paired with a pH adjuster like TEA or Sodium Hydroxide to raise the pH in order to make thick stiff hair gels.

But considering there are several natural gums to chose from (xanthan, guar, agar etc) you might be wondering what’s so good about carbomer? Well…

Benefits of Carbomer

  • Makes crystal clear and glossy hair gels
  • A weightless application that dries clear and doesn’t leave residue on the hair
  • Can create free-flowing as well as ultra-thick stiff gels for a variety of different hair products
  • Has a signature “dry” feel as opposed to natural gels that can feel wet to touch

pH Adjuster

pH adjusters are simply ingredients that are highly acidic or highly alkaline in nature, they are used to alter the final pH of a solution. Up until now, we’ve only included acidic pH adjusters such as citric acid, apple cider vinegar or lactic acid to change the pH of a product (usually to bring it closer to the hair or skin’s naturally slightly acidic pH).

But for this particular hair gel, we’ll need to use alkaline pH adjusters to raise the hair gels final pH. Typically it would not be necessary to include pH adjusters in a hair gel recipe, but the unique composition of carbomer requires an alkaline solution in order to thicken a liquid.

As such this is a crucial component to recreate eco styler hair gel.

Alkaline pH Adjusters

  • Triethanolamine (TEA) - a clear, colourless, thick liquid that is an ammonia compound used here to raise the pH of a solution making it more alkaline
  • Sodium Hydroxide - also known as “lye”, commonly used in the soap-making industry, but can also be used as an alkaline pH adjuster

Balancing pH

This is an optional step but you can adjust the final pH of the hair gel by adding in a small amount of either citric or lactic acid. The optimal pH for hair and skin products is within the range of 4.5 to 7.

How to make strong hold hair gels

PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) is a key ingredient in providing hold and stability to hair products. This is the secret ingredient that provides fixative powers to hair gels, enabling them to not only define hair, but crucially maintain hairstyles for longer periods of time.

It comes in unassuming crystal white grains that closely resemble granulated sugar, and much like sugar in a recipe - you’ll notice if it’s not there! By adding just 1% to this DIY eco styler recipe, it will make a dramatic difference in how long your coils and curls stay defined. It also works well to prolong twists, braids and any other styles that require sleek hair.

Again this is not a natural ingredient by any means, in fact, it is a petroleum-derived chemical. But any product that boasts hold or style prolongation is likely to have PVP hidden somewhere amongst its ingredients. It’s not essential to include but if you find eco styler to perform better than other hair gels - this inclusion of PVP in their formula is likely the deciding factor.

DIY Hair vs Store-bought

Eco styler gel is already pretty affordable so it’s going to be hard to beat it on price in the short term - however, it’s the quality where this DIY eco styler gel shines!

Not only does it hold its own, (and dare I say) outperform the original, but you also have so much more control over its final consistency and benefits! You can easily create a more moisturising or stronger hold gel just by adjusting the quantities of the ingredients.

There’s also the option of adding additional ingredients to really boost the moisturising properties that have always been somewhat underwhelming in traditional styling gels. Unfortunately, the flexibility you have is by and large due to both the carbomer and PVP which aren’t natural ingredients so for those who wish to keep the recipe PC, my original curl-defining hair gel will likely be a better option. However, if you are willing to experiment with these new ingredients, it is more than possible to make professional-grade hair gels from the comfort of your own kitchen!

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