Making your own hair gel is fun and pretty easy – let’s have a little play shall we?

Lots of internet recipes suggest using gelatin as the “hold factor” in home made hair gels. I don’t really like the sound or thought of that as gelatin has a pretty dodgy smell and in my experience also tends to be hard to get to the right consistency. Xanthan gum on the other hand, is just right!

Xanthan gum is produced through a fermentation process using the bacteria Xanthomonas Campestris. This bacteria digests the glucose or sucrose from plant material  turning it into a biopolymer that has great thickening properties.  This natural wonder of science is often used in cooking as well as in many consumer cosmetic brands – you can buy it from health food shops or even your average supermarket, try the baking section.

The two features of Xanthan gum that this hair gel utilises are as follows:


Xanthan has what we call “Yield” strength. That means that when the xanthan gum polymer is fully hydrated (wetted) it forms a structure rather like a house of cards. The structure has enough strength to enable it to hold smaller stuff such as glitter, loofa particles or pigments.  Our recipe uses Xanthan gum’s yield strength to suspend (or hold) glitter. This looks pretty, shows off some neat chemistry (and physics) and makes your hair shine!

Thickening and Stickening Power.

Xanthan gum is a bit sticky and has a rather gloopy rheology (flow behavior). This doesn’t stop it being used in body creams and lotions but it does make it less cosmetically appealing than say silicate clay thickeners or the synthetic family of carbomers. However, this stickiness is great for hair gel and gives some natural hold.

The “hold factor” that you can achieve with Xanthan gum isn’t as good as the hold that you can get with say Polyvinylpyrrolidone or PVP-VA copolymers but it does work, is very cost effective and is fun to play around with.  It is also a great way to explain some rather tricky science concepts to kids who just want to look funky at their next party!

We tried this on our model Morticia and she gave it the big thumbs up (or would have if she had thumbs). Let us know what you think.

hair gel fun

funky hair gel recipe