The Chemistry of Hair Gel


Hair gel is a styling product that acts like hair spray, which makes your hair stay in place throughout the day, but instead of being a pure liquid hair gel is a molasses like substance. I chose to do my project on hair gel because it was the first thing that came to my mind. I also decided to pick hair gel due to the fact that i use hair gel regularly and on the day of the project I had hair gel in. I use hair gel almost everyday so the thick liquid is a very important aspect in my life and appearance. Hair gel is a necessity for many people on this world including me!

Composition of ...

Styling gel is made of mostly styling polymers, which are usually based on vinyl monomers such as PVP (Polyvinyl Pyrolidone) or VP (Vinyl Pyrolidone).

      • Styling is made up of many things and certain types of gel are made with different materials based on what the final outcome is supposed to look like but normal gel is made up of these substances.
        • Water, Carbomer(Thickener), Disodium EDTA(Adjustment Agent), Glycerin(Humectant), Benzophenone-4(Stabilizer),Dazolidinyl urea, or iodoprophynyl butylcarbamate (Preservative), Water(Solvent), PVP K-90(Styling Polymer) PVP/ dimethylaminoethylmethacrylate copolymer(Styling gel), Oleth-20(Solubilizer), Fragrance, and Aminomethylpropanol(Neutalizer)

Are there any chemical reactions involved?

      • In Cosmetic-science and when making hair gel chemical reactions are bad and can be found as a sign of instability in the product. Although that is due to the fact that if the product can’t produce a chemical reaction in the buyers hair because then the gel would not be able to hold the hair still for a long period of time.
    • When forming hair gel the styling polymers like (PVP) or Cationic polymers react with the solubilizer or the water to form the gel like substance. Plus when applying the gel the polymers used to make the gel react with the negative amino acids and the keratin on your skin and that allows the gel to harden and keep your hair the way you want it.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

    • Water- (H2O)
    • Carbomer made from inserting a (C2) unit to a given molecule
    • Disodium EDTA(Adjustment Agent)
    • Glycerin(Humectant)-(C3H8O3)
    • Benzophenone-4(Stabilizer)-(C14 H12O6S)
    • ,Dazolidinyl urea, or iodoprophynyl butylcarbamate (Preservative)-(IPBC)
    • PVP K-90(Styling Polymer) PVP/ dimethylaminoethylmethacrylate copolymer(Styling gel)-(no chemical formula but is most of the time used as powder or clear aqueous solution to form the gel like texture)
    • Oleth-20(Solubilizer)-(C38H76O11)
    • Aminomethylpropanol(Neutalizer)- (C4H11NO)

Main Chemicals Components and Compounds found in Hair Gel.

(Two Main Aminomethyl Propanol, and PVP K-90 or also known as dimethylaminoethylmethacrylate copolymer)

Aminomethyl Propanol (C4H11NO) is a neutralizer. It is soluble in water and has about the same density as water. Now that you have some background information on Aminomethyl Propanol lets see how, what, when, where, why it is used to make hair gel.

How-Aminomethyl Propanol is used in the making of hair gel and cosmetics alone due to the fact it is a neutralizer that acts as a PH adjuster. It is usually colorless liquids or crystalline solids. It is added to mixture of chemicals components and compounds to neutralize the chemical reaction. Think of it as the opposite of a catalyst which speeds up a chemical reaction, only it is neutralizing the chemical reaction by adjusting the PH of the hair gel substance.

What- Aminomethyl Propanol is either a crystalline substance or a colorless liquid. In cosmetics this substance is used quite often to make the cosmetic product neutral. Without it your hair gel or hairspray could do the opposite and make your hair go crazy.

When- Aminomethyl Propanol is used in making hair gel quite often. It is used when the substance that will eventually be the hair gel is unstable. The Aminomethyl Propanol acts like a ref, it stops the chemical reaction from getting to heated like a ref of a basketball game.

Where- Aminomethyl Propanol is used in many things. Such as the formation of creams, lotions, hair gels, hair sprays, wave sets, hair dyes and colors, eye and facial products and many other hair/skin products but overall it is used throughout the field of cosmetology.

Why- Why is Aminomethyl Propanol used so often in the formation of hair gel and cosmetic products altogether? It is used to stabilize a substance. It is a unique substance that is a PH adjuster. It also allows the the product to stay fertile and fresh so the company can keep it on their shelves for long periods of time.

PVP K-90 also known as dimethylaminoethylmethacrylate copolymer is the main ingredient in making hair gel. It is the styling gel itself and makes the hair gel what it really is a substance to hold hair in the same place for many hours or even sometimes (if you don’t shower…. EEEEWWWW) for days at a time.

How- The K-90 PVP is the hair gel’s backbone. K-90 pvp is not only the substance that creates a hold in the gel and the hold is what allows your hair to stay the way it is when you apply the hair gel, but K-90 PVP is also soluble in water which makes it easy to come out of the hair when you shower or just wash your hair.

What- K-90 PVP is the a styling polymer, which gives hair gel its texture.

When- K-90 PVP is always used in the process of making hair gel. It is also known as a thickener for the substance. It is so important to use in the hair gel making process due to the fact that it is compatible with many anionic, cationic and nonionic cosmetic polymers.

Where- K-90 PVP is used in many cosmetology substances like hair mousses and hair gel. This is because of its characteristics like its strong hold, and high viscosity.

Why- K-90 PVP or dimethylaminoethylmethacrylate copolymer is used because it is the building block of most hair products and very imperative in most cosmetology. Like I stated earlier K-90 PVP is used in hair gel due to the fact of its impressive characteristics, such as its ability to act like a thickener, its high viscosity, its compatibility with many anionic, cationic and nonionic cosmetic polymers, its solubility in water, and the best characteristic is how K-90 PVP creates the hold in gel and how it makes the gel be able to stay in your hair and keep your hair stable throughout the day.

Chemistry's Role

Hair Gel is man made and can also be made in a factory. It is a process of pure chemistry. The Carbomers in the hair gel react with most of the styling polymers which are soluble in water and give the gel its characteristics of a great hair holding agent. One main component of Hair gel is the PVP K-90, which was first synthesized by Walter Reppe, mailing this component man made. Chemistry is involved in making this component of hair gel because Walter Reppe first used extracting methods with many chemicals such as a dispersant so he could extract the glue like powder or liquid that is now a day called PVP K-90.Another main component of hair gel is Aminomethyl Propanol. This component is synthesized from many sources of vitamin E. Which means that through chemistry chemists can extract this form of a glue which is in the form of crystalline solids or colorless liquids.

Background Research

    • Hair gel is a hairstyling product that is an aid to creating the hair to stay in a position for a long period of time.
    • Hair gel comes in three forms gel consistency, liquid consistency , and spray form.
    • Gel provides a “wet look” in the hair and is very compatible with air dry hair.
    • To apply gel you can simply use your hands to style your hair the way you want it to look, it has chemicals in the substance that clumps the hair together and holds for most of the day. With spray gel it acts just like hair spray, you just spray your hair and style it the way you want
    • certain types of hair gel can create hair follicles, but that problem can be fixed by shampooing after every gel use!
  • gel can come in all types of strength or hold! From maximum hold to light hold, it just all depends on what type of hair or hairstyle you are searching for.


explains my background information and what gel is, made for, and used for

A chart of a recipe of hand made hair gel. Helped me to find all components of hair gel.

Describes the chemistry involved in hair gel. Also helps to create a good sense of background information about all cosmetics.

Basic search of the word hair gel. It explains its history, where it was founded, what it is, cationic polymers, and the types of hair gel.

Deals with all PVP k-series and how it is used in cosmetics like hair gel.

defines aminomethyl-propanol and what its used for.

Explains the ingredients in aminomethyl-propanol why it is used in cosmetics and what it is.

This website explains why k-90 is so important to hair gel and chemistry

Search of one of the main components in hair gel. It gives me a good sense of why hair gel the way its is and how it got to that point in which a store can sell it.

About the Author

Clay Smith is a junior at billings senior high school. He has been a varsity wrestler for all three years of his high school career and has placed at state twice. His sophomore year he took fourth and this year he took third. He maintains a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the National Honors Society. School is his main priority and when he’s not at school some of his hobbies are fishing, driving around, and chilling with friends.