What are Split Ends and Why are They Such a Big Deal?

Whether you visit a hair stylist regularly or take care of your hair at home, you’ve probably heard about the dangers of split ends. Split ends are nuisances at best and the cause of major hair damage at worst. But what exactly does it mean to have a “split end”? And how do you get rid of them?

Split ends—otherwise known by the scientific term trichoptilosis—occur when the hair shaft splits at the end of an individual strand. The splits are most commonly found in two parts and look like a “Y” at the end of your hair, but it’s also possible to have multiple splits or even layered splits on a single strand. Split ends are also extremely common—almost everyone has them at some point.

The worst part about split ends is that they’re irreparable. Because the ends of your hair aren’t living, they can’t repair themselves, meaning those splits are here to stay until you cut them off. Trimming is the only way to remove split ends from your hair and should be done regularly to avoid further damage. If you don’t cut away the split ends, the split will continue to travel up your hair shaft. In some cases, splits can reach all the way to the root, causing even more damage.

The root of the splitting

There isn’t just one cause of split ends. Many things can lead to your hair splitting. The key to avoiding split ends is to avoid damaging your hair as a whole—the healthier your head of hair is, the lower the chance you’ll have split ends.

Excessive heat styling is one major source of split ends. Using a flat iron, curling iron or blow dryer on high heat may seem necessary for your everyday hair routine, but all that heat will dry out your hair and leave it damaged, making your ends particularly susceptible to splitting.

Chemical treatments like bleaching and dying will also dry out and damage your hair. Brushing too hard, especially if your hair is wet, can stretch and break the ends, as well.

Additionally, internal issues like nutritional deficiencies, stress or hormonal imbalances can all affect the health of your hair and make it more susceptible to damage. In this case, getting the right mix of vitamins and nutrients and taking a supplement may help produce stronger, healthier hair.

Avoiding split ends

If you get a split end, there’s no hope left for that hair—you’ll have to get a trim to remove the broken ends. If you need to mask the split ends between appointments, you can try rubbing some serums or hair oils on the ends to hydrate them, making the ends stick together and helping them look less damaged.

Once the damaged hair is gone, there are many things you can do to avoid split ends in the future. Not only will most of these suggestions mitigate split ends, they’ll improve the overall health of your hair, as well:

  • Get regular trims: Even if you don’t have split ends yet, it’s a good idea to have your hair trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks to remove the beginnings of any splits and get rid of any damaged, soon-to-be-split strands. Cutting a half-inch to an inch should be sufficient to keep hair healthy.
  • Cut back on heat: Try to avoid using heat styling tools as much as possible, and make sure to use a heat protectant spray if you do. If you need to blow-dry your hair, use the coolest setting and keep the tool at least 6 inches from your hair to minimize damage.
  • Avoid over-washing: You might think it’s a good idea to wash your hair every day, but this is usually excessive. Over-washing strips hair of its natural oils, leaving it dry and unable to repair itself at the roots. Try to wash every other day or even every third day, if possible.
  • Shampoo the scalp only: On hair-washing days, don’t pile hair on top of your head and shampoo vigorously. Instead, only lather shampoo at the scalp, where most oils and dirt build up, and rinse it out before applying conditioner to the ends.
  • Comb wet hair: A lot of people brush their hair to remove tangles when it’s wet. But, brushing wet hair can actually cause a lot of damage and split ends more easily. Use a wide-tooth comb to de-tangle hair if you need to, or finger-comb your hair after a shower.

By taking better care of your hair overall and minimizing the damage done to it, you’ll start seeing far fewer split ends and more healthy, beautiful hair. If you do get split ends, don’t panic—everyone does at some point. Just trim the ends yourself or schedule an appointment for a haircut to remove the pesky strands before they get worse.

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