Gel is a recent newcomer to the mattress space. It is being used as both a standalone layer and an infusion into foam. Gel benefits mattresses by retaining less heat than memory foam. Also, newer gels compete against memory foam by being more responsive and less toxic.
Gel is similar to foam because it is a polymer made by blending plastics and other chemicals.
Because of gel's heat diffusing properties, it is generally found in the top layer of the mattress under the cover.
Pros: Cooler sleeping surface vs memory foam. More responsive feel when not combined with foam.
Cons: Similar to foam, it is a synthetic blend of chemicals.
Latex is made from the sap of a rubber tree. Over generations, people have learned how to tap the trees without having to cut them down. This means that it is one of the most eco-conscious and sustainable ways to create bedding.
After the latex is harvested from the rubber tree, it is treated to create foam. The two most common ways of treating latex for bedding is Dunlop and Talalay. The result is a high response and heavy piece of foam that can be used for bedding. By changing the density, the latex can be more or less responsive.
Those that are used to a memory foam feel (a slow response) will be surprised to know that most latex is highly responsive, meaning that although it will react to ones body, it has a natural bounce. Some sleepers prefer this, though others not so much.
Recently, there has been an explosion in latex bedding with the higher demand for eco-conscious foam alternatives. Though latex is natural, there are some that mix it with memory foam. For those that are looking for pure latex bedding, be careful to do your research on the entire bed.
Pros: High response, differing firmness options.
Cons: High expense vs memory foam, some don't like the latex responsive feel.