Your hair may look good from afar, but up close, you could have split ends in your hair. Split ends are often a sign that it’s time to visit the hair salon, but wouldn’t it be nice to not have to go to your hairdresser as often? Why does hair split anyway, and why do you have so many split ends sometimes? Here’s more information about just what are split ends, the most common reasons for split ends, ways to prevent them from happening and how to get rid of split ends when they occur.
What Are Split Ends?
Split ends are just what they sound like: the frayed ends of your strands where the hair shaft is no longer a smooth whole but has spliced into two or more pieces. You can see if your hair has split ends by looking closely at the tips of your hair.
Split ends can happen for a few reasons. The scientific explanation is that if the cuticle (the outermost protective layer of the hair) becomes damaged, hair becomes vulnerable to cracks and splits. This is more likely to happen if your hair is weathered and artificially dyed. The hair strength depends on the amount of water in the hair cuticle.
While dying your hair or using other chemical treatments can weaken it, that’s not the only reason for split ends. Several different things can contribute to your hair splintering apart and fortunately, you can make a few simple changes in your hair care routine to help preserve your locks so they last longer without splitting.
Common Causes for Split Ends
Heat. Since the main factor for split ends and broken hair is the lack of moisture, heat tools will damage your hair and shorten the amount of time you can go between cuts. If you use heat tools frequently and don’t use a heat protectant, split ends will occur faster than if you let your hair dry by itself. Excessive sun exposure can have the same effect. Try to turn down the temperature on your hair dryer, straightener, curling wand or other heat tools to give your hair a break. Tackle your hair in smaller sections and be willing to take more time to work at a lower temperature. It may be more time-consuming, but it’ll extend the life of your hair and help you avoid split ends.
Chemicals. Using hair products with a lot of chemicals, or bleaching and dyeing your hair, can also increase the strain on your hair and dry it out faster, leading to split ends.
Over-washing. Try to not wash your hair every day, and use a gentle, natural shampoo free of sulfates and parabens. This will help ensure you don’t strip your hair of too much of its natural oils. Another tip is to only shampoo the scalp and only condition your ends. This helps distribute the product in your hair only to the areas where it is needed, so you don’t end up with a greasy scalp from too much conditioner at the roots or split ends that have had too much moisture stripped away by shampoo.
Brushing. Brushing your hair when it is very tangled can also cause your hair to break off or split at the ends. Forcefully combing through knots strains the hair and can lead to breakage and split ends. What can you do differently to prevent split ends caused by brushing? Detangle your hair carefully with your fingers before using a brush or comb. Once you start brushing or combing, move gently and carefully through the hair, tackling knots at the end of your hair first instead of trying to force your way through from above.
If combing or brushing is proving difficult, move your tool further down and try again. It’s also important to make sure you’re using the right kind of hair brush or comb for your hair to avoid split ends. If your hair is proving too difficult to comb or brush, apply coconut oil, a detangling product or leave-in conditioners to your strands before brushing it out.
Genetics. A condition called trichorrhexis nodosa, which is when nodes around your hair shaft grow thicker or weaker than usual, causes the hair to break more easily and could also be the cause of your split end woes. Sometimes this is an inherited condition, but it can also be caused by iron deficiency, hypothyroidism, too much ammonia in the body or because of another syndrome.
Styling. Some hairstyles, like a tight ponytail or bun, cause a lot of pressure and friction on the hair shaft and can lead to breakage and split ends. Loosen your hair elastic or opt for a more gentle scrunchie material to reduce the force on your hair.
What Can I Do About Split Ends?
Unfortunately, once a hair strand has a split end, you can’t just put the pieces back together and restore things to the way they were. Split end damage is permanent and irreversible, and can only be hidden or removed. Eventually, you’ll need to remove the split end to prevent it from becoming further damaged or even harming neighboring strands, but there are a few tricks you can use to hide the damage — and to help prevent split ends before they start.
Cut it. If your ends are already split, a fresh start is the best way to go. Cut the damaged parts off and start taking better care of your hair to prevent ends from splitting again. Split ends can snag on your other hair strands, leading to a domino effect of damage, so it’s better to trim off split ends ASAP. Even if you don’t notice a lot of damage to your hair, it’s a good idea to get a maintenance trim of ¼ to ½ inch at least every 4 to 6 months to keep your ends healthy.
Oils. Scientific research shows that coconut oil actually helps prevent breakage and split ends. In a 2009 study, researchers found that treating hair with oils reduced the formation of split ends. The study tested oils from passion fruit seeds, Brazilian nuts, palm oil, mineral oils and more. Considering that extraction of palm oil takes a huge toll on the environment and mineral oils could be harmful for our health if not sufficiently purified, we recommend Brazilian nut, olive oil or coconut oil. For a deep moisture treatment, warm the oil and apply it allover your hair and scalp. Leave it in for as long as you want and then wash it out. For a quicker oil finish, apply a small amount of oil to your ends after washing, or whenever it feels dry. This added moisture can help strengthen your hair and prevent split ends from forming.
Hair Masks. Keeping your hair moisturized can also help prevent split ends. Use a hair mask or other moisturizing treatments once a week to penetrate your hair shafts and protect strands. After washing it out, apply a leave-in conditioner or hair cream. Make sure to use a heat protectant in your hair if you decide to style it with conditioner or cream left in, because the moisture from those products can amplify the heat you apply to your hair, creating an opportunity for heat damage and split ends.
Protect the Hair From the Weather. If it’s really sunny and hot outside or very cold — basically, if temperatures are extreme in any way — wear a hat or scarf, or use a sun protection spray. Make a loose braid if it’s windy, or gently tuck your hair up inside a hat to prevent excessive tangling. Never leave the house with wet hair when it’s cold outside. The change in temperature and climate can put stress on your hair and cause split ends. Follow these tips and your hair ends should stay healthier and stronger, for longer.
Featured photo: Arianne Leishman via Flickr