I’ve been having lots of fun with gel-type things recently, and that got me to thinking about hair gels. That led to me wondering why hair gels are almost always focussed on hold. Gels are a great format for delivering mostly hydrous ingredients in an easily steerable manner—we can use them to add lightweight viscosity to products so they aren’t too drooly or runny. So, why not make other hair gel things—like a gelled hair conditioner? A sort of conditioning hair serum in gel form? As you’ve probably guessed, that’s what we’re making today!

How to Make Sweetgrass Conditioning Hair Gel Serum

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On their own, gels aren’t a serious hold-giving thing. A simple gel made with carbomer or a natural gum isn’t going to do much for locking a hairstyle into place—that’s why hair gels typically feature something like vinyl acetate copolymer to offer that stylable film-forming/fixative power we need to convince our hair to do new things. Since this product is conditioning & smoothing focussed rather than hold focussed, I’ve built out our gel base with different ingredients.

 

The gel base itself is hydroxyethylcellulose, which gives beautiful carbomer-like gels without the electrolyte sensitivity carbomers typically have. To that base, I’ve added some polyquaternium 7, which brings the most beautiful conditioning feel to our products (and hair). It is indulgently rich and silky without the fishy smell honeyquat has. I’ve also included some Olivem 300 for a bit of richness. My type 1B hair is not very oil tolerant, so I’ve kept it to 4%; if your hair loves oil you could dial that up, reducing the water to make room for it.

On the moisturizing front, I’ve included some vegetable glycerin and panthenol (vitamin B5). Our scent comes entirely from some beautiful sweetgrass hydrosol. You could easily alter the scent by choosing a different hydrosol (or blend of hydrosols). If you want to include some essential or fragrance oils start with 0.5%; Olivem 300 does have some solubilizing powers, but you’ll need to test your specific scent blend with it to ensure everything stays solubilized.

Making is simple but does require some sitting time so the hydroxyethylcellulose can fully hydrate and create the gel. There’s no heat required, so you can more or less stir, wait, and stir some more. The end result is a smooth, silky gel that will leave your hair lightly conditioned. Lovely!

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Sweetgrass Conditioning Hair Gel Serum

0.6g | 2% hydroxyethylcellulose
1.2g | 4% vegetable glycerine

1.2g | 4% Olivem 300 (USA / Canada)
0.6g | 2% Polyquaternium 7 (USA / Canada)
0.6g | 2% panthenol
0.15g | 0.5% liquid germall plus (USA / Canada)

16.65g | 55.5% distilled water
9g | 30% sweetgrass hydrosol

Weigh the hydroxyethylcellulose and glycerine into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or beaker and whisk to combine. Add the remaining ingredients, one at a time, stirring between additions.

Cover the beaker and leave it overnight to fully gel. Once it’s jelled, stir thoroughly until the mixture is uniform. After that all that’s left is to package it up—I used a 30mL (1fl oz) jar from New Directions Aromatics. To use, work small amounts of gel through your hair as needed. Works on wet or dry hair.

Because this serum contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.

Substitutions

As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.

  • As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 30g.
  • To learn more about the ingredients used in this recipe, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
  • Do not substitute the hydroxyethylcellulose.
  • Water-soluble shea butter would work instead of Olivem 300. Do not use Olivem 1000.
  • You could use honeyquat instead of polyquaternium 7, but be aware that honeyquat smells pretty foul—to my nose, at least.
  • If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
  • You can replace the hydrosol with more water or a different hydrosol.
  • If you want to include some essential or fragrance oils start with 0.5%; Olivem 300 does have some solubilizing powers, but you’ll need to test your specific scent blend with it to ensure everything stays solubilized.

Gifting Disclosure

The hydroxyethylcellulose was gifted by Essential Wholesale. The sweetgrass hydrosol was gifted by Plant’s Power.

 

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