Sunday, March 8, 2015

What's Cookin' - Easy Humectant Curl Defining Jelly-Cream

This is based on my Easy Humectant Curl Boosting Jelly recipe and inspired by reader comments, and by the problem some of us have with glycerin in winter or dry weather. It's a light-hold curl and wave definer. This recipe is very easy to make. 

What's new?
-Addition of your choice of emollient blend to make this creamy for softness and lubrication (oil+plant butter or oil+conditioner). 
-Increased acacia gum to keep the definition in waves, curls and coils. 
-Options for humectants for those who avoid glycerin.
-Adjust the amount of emollients (oils, butters, conditioners) to suit 1) your hair's needs and 2) the amount of "hold" you want (see below)

The ingredients:
-Water: Solvent, dliutent
-Xanthan gum: Creates a thick "gel," provides medium hold with humidity-resistance, may slow water loss.
-Humectant of your choice. Glycerin(e), or hydrolyzed protein, or panthenol or Hydroxypropylrtimonium honey (honeyquat) or a combination of these: Humectants bind water, boost curls, maintain hydration. NOTE: Panthenol is sold as a cosmetic additive, hydrolyzed proteins are sold as cosmetic additives but are also more widely available as products like Neutral Protein Filler and Green Beauty Products Real Protein. Hydroxypropylrtimonium honey is sold as a cosmetics additive.
-Acacia gum (gum arabic): Adds a bit of "crunch" for more hold, helps emulsify the oils. This powder is sold as a dietary soluble fiber supplement and also sold as a cosmetics ingredient.
-Emollient: Shea butter (or cocoa butter, mango butter or whichever butter you prefer) OR commercial hair conditioner
-Oil: Jojoba oil OR grapeseed oil OR any oil you prefer (avocado, olive, sweet almond, rose hip, etc.)

I use a double boiler to control the heat for this recipe. 
The gel, before adding any oils or butter blends or conditioner.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
The recipe:
  • 1 cup water (plus an extra tablespoon or 2 which will evaporate as you heat). 230 ml
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons xanthan gum (2% or 5g or 6.15 ml)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon acacia gum (gum arabic) - more for more hold or if you use more emollients (0.6g to 1.25g, 1.25 to 2.5 ml)
  • Shea butter and jojoba oil as your hair requires (see "How much butter blend to use" below) OR oil and commercial hair conditioner blend
  • Humectant options: 1/2 teaspoon glycerin - make this a scant half-teaspoon; more than 1/4 teaspoon, less than 1/2 teaspoon (1% or 2.5 g, or 2.5 ml)
    • Instead of glycerin: 1/2 teaspoon liquid panthenol or 1/4 teaspoon powderedpanthenol, or 1/2 teaspoon hydrolyzed protein or protein additive or 1/2 teaspoon "Honeyquat" (Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey).

1) Make the oil blend (If you are using oil and conditioner instead of butters, skip this step)
Measure out 2 parts liquid jojoba oil (or an oil of your choice) to 1 part solid shea butter. Either combine these in a bowl and place in a larger bowl of warm water to melt, or add to the heated, prepared gel to melt.

How much butter blend or conditioner/oil to use? 
  • To keep the most hold (or for silky, not-dry hair): 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 to 2.5 ml)
  • Hair that needs extra flexibility and does not get oily-looking easily: 1 to 3 teaspoons (5 to 15 ml)
  • Hair that really loves oils and butters: 3 teaspoons to 3 tablespoons (15 to 45 ml)

2) Make the gel
Put water, xanthan gum and acacia gum the double boiler over medium to high heat. When water boils, turn it down. Whisk the ingredients well throughout the heating time. The mixture will thicken right away, but it is not finished yet. Whisk until no more xanthan gum powder is visible and the gel goes from thick and heavy to smoother, less stiff and easier to stir. Turn off heat. 

3) Add the oil/butter blend or oil and conditioner
For oil/butter blend: Add the melted oils or liquid jojoba oil and solid shea butter to the warm gel and allow it to melt as you mix. Mix well with a fork or whisk to combine oil and gel. If you like, use an immersion blender. Once well blended, remove from heat and cool to a touchable temperature.
For oil and conditioner: Add equal parts oil and conditioner to the cooled (comfortable to touch the bowl) gel and mix well

4) Add humectant
Mix the glycerin or hydrolyzed protein or panthenol or honeyquat into the cooled gel.

Scoop into a sterilized bottle and refrigerate immediately - or add preservative according to manufacturer specifications. Xanthan gum is anionic; check that preservatives are compatible with anionic ingredients.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Recipe Variations (other additives and ingredient substitutes)
  • Magnesium sulfate (1/2 teaspoon) - this is a humectant and curl enhancer but it can be drying to hair.
  • Aloe. Replace up to half of the water with aloe vera juice - the edible/drinkable kind, not a pre-thickened gel.
  • If shea butter makes your hair look dull and waxy, skip the butter and use liquid oils only. 
  • Agave nectar - provides hold, especially in dry weather. Adds shine. Use 1/4 to 1 teaspoon.

Need more hold?

Mix equal parts of this curl definer with your favorite stronger-hold styling gel. It has mixed well with the gel I mixed it with, which is a basic hair gel similar to Ecostyler or LA Looks or Salon Care gels.


  1. Ooooh sounds so good! :D How long does this last though without preservatives?

  2. Hello Maicurls,
    If you sterilize all tools and containers which have contact with the gel with either isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) or bleach solution, it may last up to 2 weeks *in the refrigerator.* If you freeze part of the batch, that will still be good to use months later unless there is a very large amount of conditioner (which may or may not separate when thawed). Good luck!

  3. Would this humectant solution be a good way to re-texturize my curly hair that has become too airy and soft? I'm starting to suspect a product in my hair routine, because over the past year my curls have become too smooth and don't hold. (It's funny to complain about hair being "too soft", but I'm hoping as a fellow curly girl you understand what I mean!)

    1. Hello Birdy,
      This is a thick gel, it has to be applied to wet hair or diluted with a LOT of water to apply to dry hair. I'm not sure it could correct overly soft hair. If your hair is chronically too soft and beginning to not hold a curl that has been there in the past - it may be that you are over-conditioning it with too much conditioner or oils or there is some product build-up of conditioning products that is over-softening your hair. If you're using conditioner, conditioner, and more conditioner - you might need to back off on the conditioner. Or try diluting the conditioner with water. If there is a product you suspect is over-softening your hair, try avoiding it. If you feel you have product build up, you might try a chelating and clarifying shampoo like Ion Hard Water shampoo (in the US) or Malibu Wellness Hard Water Treatment.
      If those don't work, your hair might need some protein to put the bounce back.

      I have noticed that some people who follow the conditioner-only curly hair care "systems" can sometimes have their curlier curls loosen up. We all have more tightly curled and loosely curled individual hairs on our heads. Unless you have a very strong, springy curl pattern, a lot of conditioner will force the "median" curl pattern to take over. Hair that acted curlier when it was shampooed becomes more elongated when conditioner-only washed and using conditioning styling products. Maybe you need less-conditioning styling products? Less conditioner? Occasional chelating/clarifying shampoo? You can probably find a compromise between whatever you are doing to your hair now that gives you a a result you like and whatever you used to do to your hair and use in your hair that gave you a better-holding curl. Best wishes!

  4. Absolutely love yoru science blog. I grew up a G.E.M. and studied engineering. Science is my love. I love this recipe and immediately experienced the curl definitiond. I think the pinch of magnesium sulfate did it. But i am not getting any moisturizing affect. I thought about the conditioner option but it seems to make my hair hard when its used as a leave in. Now i only used a smidge of the glycerine and small amout (maybe 2 tbsp total of the oils) what do you suggest as a way to bring that moisture to this fabulous gel. Thank you for insight.

    1. Hello Vonnluv,
      Options for a more-moisturizing product: You made the version with oil only and not conditioner? You might use just a little bit of conditioner - the reason being that conditioner (even a tiny bit) can give a "powdery soft/silky" feel to the finished product that oils don't give and that can help hair feel moisturized.

      Glycerin is not my favorite moisturizer for styling products. When I make homemade gels, I like to use hydrolyzed protein (my hair can handle that) or aloe (occasionally). Beyond that, you get into buying cosmetics ingredients - which are not that expensive themselves, but the shipping can get high. Lotioncrafter,, IngredientstoDieFor are just a few you can order from which don't have high minimum orders.
      For really great moisturizers, look for sodium lactate, sodium PCA, Honeyquat (hydroxypropyltrimonium honey), glycine betaine (VegeMoist from IngredientstoDieFor). Ingredients like sodium lactate can have an emollient feel, so you have to take care you don't use too much and end up with a weird feeling product.

      You could also make the gel with marsh mallow root - which needs to be boiled in water and then strained and the water used to make the gel.

      If that sounds too specialized, flaxseed gel tends to be more moisturizing than xanthan gum gel alone. We have to use less xanthan gum in flaxseed gel or it becomes too stiff. The curl definition is very good with flaxseed gel thickened with 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of strained gel. There is a recipe for basic flaxseed gel (a link) on the recipes page of this blog.
      Good luck!

    2. I forgot panthenol. I really like a combination of panthenol and Honeyquat for moisturizing.

  5. Science-y, I do my flaxseed gel with your recipe and add xantan gum and coconut oil; I want to know if I can add aloe vera to the flaxseeds gel by boiling the seeds in the aloe vera and water or should I do the flaxseed gel first and add the aloe afterwards...

    1. You should be able to add the aloe to the water and flax so you needn't dilute the gel later on. It will denature any enzymes in the aloe, but they're not going to do a lot in our hair anyhow.
      It's worth trying it both ways, though (adding aloe before and after boiling) in case you find you get a noticeably better result with one method. Good luck!

  6. Thanks for such an informative blog. I hope you can help me. I have short to mid-length, fine, thin hair that is has loose curls that FRIZZES very easily (and drives me crazy living in the humid climate of NC). It's about 30% gray, which I color auburn, using a semi-permanent Clairol Beautiful Advanced Gray Solutions which I use twice a week when a shampoo (only shampoo my twice a week). I leave it on about 3-5 minutes. This color seems to work better than a permanent color, which the reds fade quickly on my hair and cause more damage. However, I am concerned that this semi-perm color is taking it's toll on my hair, but not sure. I will post a link to it's ingredients, and would greatly appreciate if you think this is harming my hair.,default,pd.html
    My hair is the bane of my life. It's curly, ringlets underneath with little frizz, but the "canopy" or top layers are frizzy, don't hold a curl pattern well and seem fried, being fine/thin, not much body either. When exposed to humidity, it frizzes, loses it curl definition and goes limp. I've spent a small fortune on products.
    I tried the over-night coconut oil treatment you recommend. It made my hair soft, but made my hair less curly. Which I don't want. I've made the Flax gel recipe using 1 TBSP of heavy conditioner and a few drops of EVOO mixed into the whole batch. I didn't have Xanthan gum, but used Guar Gum that I had. It gave some curl formation and helped with frizz, but it didn't give me enough hold. Next time I added a small amount of Neutral Protein Filler and Garnier Extra Strong Curl gel to it, about half flax gel, half Garnier gel, and there was a bit more hold, but not much. I need more lift at the roots, more body. I Gave myself the Knox Gelatin treatment you list. It gave me more body with more curl definition, the frizz was better, but when exposed to humidity, the curls were nearly gone and not quite as droopy.
    BTW, a while back I mixed up a Epsom Salt, plus a bit of leave-in conditioner spray. It makes my hair curlier, but feels yucky the next day. No idea why it makes my hair curlier. Also concerned it may dry out my hair.
    I would appreciate immensely any help you can offer. Thank you!

    1. Hello Jeanne,
      It sounds like your hair does well with protein if it responded to the gelatin treatment with less frizz and better-defined curls. Coconut oil can be heavy and over-softening for some hair - some people with finer hair that isn't damaged need shorter oil treatments - 2-4 hours - to avoid over-softening and/or very little oil.
      Flaxseed gel, even when it's thickened with xanthan gum has light to medium hold. And in really high humidity, it does tend to fall apart (poof up, get frizzy, curls lose definition). If you add oils or conditioner to flax gel or use a leave-in conditioner, it has less hold. I find that a ratio of flaxseed gel to strong-hold gel for high humidity is to use a little more strong hold gel than flaxseed gel. When it's less humid, 50:50 is ample.
      For protein, you might use the gelatin treatment once per week, or maybe every 3 shampooings - or whenever the benefits of the previous treatment have faded. You might also look for a conditioner that has some protein in it (keratin is great) to use as a leave-in conditioner or to mix into your flaxseed gel.

      Styling techniques tend to be best for root volume - applying styling products while doing a forward bend, using spring-type jaw clips or 2-prong clips to lift the hair while drying.
      I don't see terrible drying potential in your hair color, but I may be missing something, there are solvents and those can always dehydrate.
      It might be best to try using protein regularly as protein treatments (gelatin or whatever you like), use a shorter-time oil treatment occasionally and see if those things help with definition and frizz. If you can get your hair very well hydrated and in good condition - it may tolerate coloring better.
      Epsom salt is a humectant and that helps hair grab water from the air around it when the air is not too dry. It also adds a little surface texture to hair that gives it some "grip" or "traction" so that curls don't drop out easily. The yucky feeling is dried-on salt residue. On the second day, a little conditioner/water spray often helps and sometimes you need less salt than some recipes call for. It definitely can be drying and friction can be somewhat damaging. Using conditioner mitigates that somewhat.

      Are you moisturizing your hair between washes? With a homemade conditioner/water spray or a commercial hydration spray? That can help a lot in keeping your hair looking defined and staying hydrated. It sounds like the top layer of your hair needs extra care because it's protecting the under-layers from damage. When you use conditioner or protein or oil treatments - make sure the top layer is well-coated. It may be dehydrated.
      Another issue is haircut. If your top layer is less curly than the under-layer, it should be cut a little bit shorter so it doesn't stick out over the under-layers or grow out over them, looking disconnected. That will make it look more frizzy if the curls push it outward.

  7. I tried the flax seed gel and thickened it with xanthan gum. I measured 1 cup of finished flax seed gel and added 1/2 or 1 tsp of xanthan gum (don't remember the measurement) to it. Other than that, I added 1 tsp of coconut oil, 2 tbsp aloe vera juice and 1/2tsp of glycerin. This gel gave me good curl definition and clumped hair but hair looked very dry and dull after a few hr. It was soft to touch but the finish was dull. So, my question is, does xanthan gum give the dull look when used as a thickener?

    1. Kavya, Xanthan gum doesn't usually cause dullness. If you use too much xanthan gum, you get a stiff "gel" or if you used too much in your hair, you would probably get flakes and visible clumps of gel.
      I think your "problem ingredient" might be the glycerin. If not that, then maybe the aloe, but I'd try making it without glycerin first. Glycerin can cause dull-looking, dry-feeling hair for some people.
      Good luck!

  8. I really like using DIY natural products but my problem is my hair drys to a crisp and then I flake like crazy. I read somewhere that with plant based products you need to use a co-solvent and then you won't get flakin. . However I can't find info on what to use as a co-solvent or in what proportion. Any ideas you have would be helpful.

    1. Hello Crispy in Toronto,

      Water is your solvent for any thickeners like xanthan or acacia gum. I don't know what ingredient you are trying to get into solution, so I cannot speculate on whether or not you need some other solvent.
      Gels made from things like starches or gums tend to flake 1) when you use too much starch or gum, 2) when you apply too much gel or 3) when those products don't get along with other things in your hair. Maybe add 4) when you don't give ingredients enough time to hydrate or don't heat those which need heat to fully hydrate.

      If you tell me what ingredients you're having a problem with, or how you are preparing them - I might be able to help.

  9. Great recipe! What preservatives would you recommend if I use all these ingredients (including xanthan gum)? I would like to avoid having to make this every 2 weeks...Thanks!

    1. Hello Unknown,
      Probably "Optiphen Plus" or a combination of Gluconolactone and Sodium benzoate or Benzyl alcohol - added according to the manufacturer specifications. A preservative used with Xanthan gum needs to be compatible with anionic ingredients.

  10. Hi again Wendy, I’m writing again this time to tell you that I made your Curl Defining Jelly-Cream this morning using only four ingredients: Water, Xanthan Gum, Acacia Gum, and ¼ tsp Avocado Oil. Wow, this stuff is absolutely phenomenal! Just a little bit of this gel to my usual regimen made my wavy, porous hair look shiny, smooth, even in color, and ultra-defined, with no crispy crunchiness whatsoever. A few weeks ago your oil pre-wash with added shea butter gave me the best hair I’ve had in years. Add this gel to the mix, and I truly can’t remember it ever looking so good. Your blog has been such an exciting discovery! Thanks so much!

    1. Hello again,
      Delayed response - but I'm delighted to hear that you had such a good result! I hope it's still working as well. -Wendy