Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/25/2021
While split ends come in a variety of different forms, the general definition refers to them as the splitting of the shaft of hairs giving them a frayed or feathered appearance.
So, whether you’re sitting at your desk at work twirling the ends of your hair, blowing it out for a night out with friends or brushing it through before bed, we’ve all looked down in horror at some point to find these ugly splits.
The good news is that not only are there several split-end treatments, we’ll also be going over the root of the problem — no, not hair root...but actually, maybe? — and sharing how to prevent split ends before they even happen in the first place. And before you ask — no. Pulling them apart from the tip to see how far you can get before it breaks is not a good treatment option. Though it is satisfying as hell. But we digress…
Before we get into all the various ways to fix split ends, let’s get into what they are, what causes them and the different types of split ends you need to look out for — because of course there are different types. Why should any part of hair care be simple?
Split ends happen when hairs become damaged through any number of external or internal forces.
When the hair cuticle is removed or damaged it creates the conditions that lead to cracks and split ends.
Healthy hair and hair strength rely on cuticle strength, as well as the amount of water in hair fibers. So, when this balance is off, it can cause the appearance of split ends.
Some of the major causes of dry hair with split ends could be any of the following:
Daily grooming like combing, brushing and styling can cause different types of split ends to form.
Ultraviolet exposure — sun exposure — can increase inter-fiber friction and cause hairs to become dry and brittle.
Heat exposure from hair dryers and heat styling.
Friction — especially to wet hair — from hair accessories or washing and towel drying your hair.
Chemical damage caused by bleaches, dyes and straightening or styling products.
There’s even some evidence that shows that combing your hair dry causes more split ends versus combing wet hair.
We promised good news, so here it is. With all that we do on a daily basis to damage our hair with everything from hot styling tools and elastic bands, to sun exposure and chemical treatments, it’s no surprise that hair experts have developed a number of split-end treatments over the years.
And while the best way to get rid of split ends is to simply cut them off, there are several conditioning products you can try to improve the overall look of your hair and reduce the appearance of split ends.
We all know that conditioner is a staple in any hair care routine. It's the last step after you lather, rinse and repeat, but it can be difficult to find one that works for your hair, specifically.
From ingredients like amino acids, oils and proteins, to specific product types, such as anti-breakage, color protection or leave-in conditioner, there are almost too many options to choose from.
The good news is you can narrow it down simply by focusing on your specific needs.
Conditioner moisturizes hair strands while providing nutrients like proteins and vitamins, which help keep our locks strong and improve hair health.
And since we’ve already outlined the many ways in which we damage our hair, it’s important to find ways to counteract the overall loss of moisture and nutrients.
Mineral oils and vegetable oils have long been a hair care staple for some women, dating back to the early 1900’s, respectively.
Some studies suggest that certain oils can play an important role in preventing hair damage.
Overall, it’s been shown that regular application of oils enhances lubrication of the hair shaft and helps keep hairs from weakening and breaking.
While there are dozens of different oils that hair care manufacturers claim have positive benefits, we’ll be focusing on just a few to keep your head from exploding.
Coconut oil has become a popular choice over the years and has been shown to be one of the only oils that can reduce protein loss when used as both a pre- and post-wash treatment. And once you’re done, you can add coconut oil to your butternut squash soup for a nice nutty flavor.No? Not here for cooking tips? Well, that’s fair, but you don’t know what you’re missin’.
Anyway, while sunflower oil doesn’t help reduce protein loss from hairs, it may be absorbed into the surface of the hair cuticle, enhancing shine and improving the overall look of your hair, while also protecting it from further damage.
In one study, a treatment using Brazilian nut and mineral oils reduced the formation of split ends in the hair, and tresses treated with Brazilian nut and mineral oils showed the lowest formation of split ends.
Synthetic oils like silicone have been shown to be even better than natural oils when it comes to reduction of film formation and promotion of shine and luster, so if you’re okay with not going the au naturel route, this could be a good option.
Now that you’re familiar with some of the split-end treatments available to you, let’s take some time to go over some of the ways to stop them from happening in the first place — prevention is the name of the game!
Excessively washed hair is stripped of its natural oils and becomes dry, difficult to manage and dull.
Since many people shampoo daily as part of their daily hygiene routine, their natural hair oil secretions — also known as sebum — don’t have time to build up and nourish the hair.
Whatever your hair type there’s likely a shampoo formulated for your specific needs. From dry hair shampoo and damaged hair shampoo, to oily hair shampoo and medicated shampoo, finding the right one for you should be fairly simple.
Below are two common examples.
Conditioning Shampoos: Because some folks tend to over-wash, many shampoos have been formulated to include conditioners to combat dry, damaged or chemically treated hair. These conditioners also act to make the hair easier to style while improving shine and reducing static.
PH Balancing Shampoos: Many shampoos contain detergents that cause hair shaft swelling, which alters the hair’s protective cuticle and makes it more vulnerable to damage. pH altering shampoos can help to restore this balance and are great for chemically treated hair.
Enough studies have been done at this point that it’s almost become common knowledge that a healthy scalp leads to healthy hair.
In addition to regular shampooing, this study showed that the application of coconut oil aided in maintaining a healthy scalp and in regulating the scalp microbiome. In this case, “scalp microbiome” refers to all of the bacteria, fungi, and viruses and more that live within the scalp.
In other words, keeping a clean scalp and treating it with coconut oil can help improve your overall scalp health, which in turn may lead to healthier hair.
Having said all that, there’s nothing conclusive that says how much shampooing is “too much,” what the ideal shampooing schedule is or how often to use coconut oil as a scalp treatment.
Not to mention, with so many different hair types, there’s no true one-size-fits-all solution. Our suggestion? Talk with a professional about your hair type and let them know you’re trying to prevent split ends from forming. They’ll be able to take a look at your hair and give you their recommendations based on your needs.
We should also note that we’re only recommending hair stylists for issues like split ends. If you’re experiencing any other obvious hair woes — balding, thinning, dandruff, etc. — it’s best to speak with a board-certified dermatology professional.
As we said earlier, the best way to get rid of split ends is to simply cut them off.
Some of these products come on their own or in combination with a light lotion and results have been shown to stand up to both washing and combing.
While very common, split ends don’t have to be an inevitable part of your hair care life.
When all’s said and done, the best things you can do to treat split ends and prevent them from happening in the process is to maintain proper care of your hair and scalp with regular washing, periodic haircuts and any number of hair products like hair masks, scalp scrubs and formulated shampoos and conditioners.
Also, don’t be afraid to speak to a professional about your hair care concerns.
Your trusted stylist will know what kind of hair you have and should be able to recommend some pretty straightforward tips and tricks to help you keep your hair looking its best.
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