Gel can be a girl's best friend. It gives your hair super hold and sometimes even a little shine. However, for some, gel can be harmful to your hair, causing it to dry out and sometimes harden in place, producing the dreaded helmet hair. If you aren't a hair gel fan, there are some substitutes that can give you similar benefits.
If your goal is just to hold hair in place, hairspray can get the job done just as well as gel. The key is to avoid using too much of it or you may end up with crunchy hair, just as you would limit the amount of gel you put in your hair. Hairspray is a little lighter than gel, and a small spritz generally does the trick, which makes this a viable alternative.
Say you want a super funky style for a night out on the town -- you know, spikes, amped-up curls or something similar. Sure, you can use gel to achieve the desired effect, but you may not get the texture you want. Solve that problem with the use of wax, which holds hair in place and gives it a piece-y texture that makes it look extra trendy and chic.
You can get the curl without the crunch by subbing in mousse. Use just a tiny bit to add some texture to existing curls; look for a brand that advertises softness and a textured look without the hard crunchiness that accompany the use of these types of hair products.
Pomade is a trendy hair product that has become a permanent fixture in the bathroom cabinets of savvy fashionistas who know it can be used to create just about any style. Only sub it out for gel when you need to create a piece-y texture. If you need hold, this isn't as good an option.