Many of the hairstyles of the last few decades would have been completely impossible if it weren’t for the addition of a little hair gel. This liquid product can be applied wet and then left to dry (or occasionally to stay wet) and keep hair exactly where it’s meant to be. But when we use hair gel, are we asking for trouble? Is hair gel a fire hazard that we need to be aware of?
As a general rule hair gel is not flammable. Some cheaper types of hair gel may contain flammable ingredients , especially once the gel has dried. It’s always best to read the packaging and if it’s not made explicit, you might want to assume your hair gel is flammable.
While most hair gel doesn’t seem to be a threat for catching fire, that isn’t always the case. Let’s take a look at what you need to look out for with hair products and fire safety.
Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
What Is Hair Gel Made Of?
There is no official “hair gel” recipe and thus, we can’t give you a full list of ingredients for the product that you use.
There will be a lot of variation in this but, for the most part, the key ingredient in the vast majority of hair gel products is water.
This, of course, explains why hair gel isn’t normally flammable.
Water extinguishes fires, you can’t burn it (well, you can – at the right temperature – reduce water to hydrogen and oxygen and then burn them all over again but this isn’t burning water, it’s burning hydrogen and oxygen).
You’d expect 70% or more of the volume of hair gel to be water and that means you’re going to find that it simply won’t burn when wet.
Other Ingredients In Hair Gel
In addition to the water, you will probably find:
- Polymers (this helps the hair gel form a film in your hair)
- Emulsifiers (this allows for additives that don’t dissolve in water)
- Thickening agents (hair gel is a viscous fluid thanks to this)
- Fragrances (many hair gels have some kind of perfume in them)
- Preservatives (you don’t want the hair gel to rot, do you?)
- Additives (mainly designed to modify the visual properties of your hair or to add UV light protection).
Some of these ingredients are flammable, but in wet hair gel – this is never going to be an issue. The volume of water present will extinguish any potential flame long before it starts to propagate.
Is It Flammable Once It Dries?
However, if the gel is of the type that dries out, then it is possible that some of these ingredients could be flammable. Does this matter?
No, not really. The thing is your hair, when dry, is already flammable. Ask any smoker who has been foolish enough to bend over their lighter closely enough to let their fringe brush across it. Hair burns and it burns pretty easily.
So, though the dried compounds might catch fire in the presence of a flame, so does your hair. All this means is that the compounds would burn as well as your hair does.
Check it out here:
Does It Release Flammable Vapors?
Now, is it possible that as your hair gel dries these compounds are released as flammable vapors?
Yes, it is. But this too doesn’t really matter. Nearly all of your hair gel is water.
The other products in the hair gel are there in such small quantities that even if they did produce a flammable vapor, it would most likely disperse before it could catch fire, and even if it didn’t there would be so little present that the fumes might flame for less than a fraction of a second, that’s not long enough to present any risk to you.
However, some super cheap hair gels may contain a different base such as alcohol and this is flammable.
So, while as a rule of thumb – hair gel is not flammable and it won’t burn when wet and when dry, it’s no more of a fire hazard than your actual hair – you cannot rely on this rule of thumb, always check the packaging and make sure the product is not flammable before you opt to use it.
Also read: Is Deodorant Flammable? Will it Catch Fire?
What About Hair Oil?
Hair oils and, indeed, hair mousse may be flammable. Again, without an exact definition for a “hair oil” it’s impossible to be more precise about this.
However, “oil” is a big clue that these products contain much less water and more flammable oil than hair gel and we’d tend to assume that they were flammable rather than assuming that they were not. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Aerosolized products such as hair spray are VERY flammable, and you should never use them in the presence of a naked flame or near the potential source of an electrical spark (such as your hairdryer).
This video does some testing on just how flammable hair spray can be (do not try this at home):
What About Liquid Shampoo?
Again, there’s no specific recipe for “liquid shampoo”.
The shampoo itself, at a base level, is soap and soap is flammable. But most liquid soaps contain quite a lot of water and thus, they won’t burn thanks to their water content.
That doesn’t mean, however, that your liquid shampoo conforms to the standard and it’s important to read the ingredients properly and investigate the flammability of the exact product that you use.
In the vast majority of cases, there’s nothing to worry about but it’s always better to take precautions than to find yourself on fire.