Split Ends: Everything You and Your Hair Need to Know
Split and Splitting Ends
Trichoptlosis. Split ends. Nobody likes these bad guys, but unfortunately they are a fact of life. Hair gets old, hair gets manipulated, and hair gets damaged. When the hair has experienced a great amount of trauma or has simply reached a certain age, these little nuisances crop up with the intention of destroying our length and hair health dreams. While our hair will never be totally free of split ends, there are certain measures that you can take to ensure that they don't take the beauty away from your crowning glory.
But first, why am I an authority on this issue?
For the last several years, I have been into promoting healthy hair care strategies for women of color, and the Internet has allowed me and many others the opportunity to address these populations that would otherwise remain under-served in traditional media outlets. For me, hair was a problem, turned hobby, turned passion. Because of my experience and undergraduate background in science and health care, I regularly disseminate trusted and valuable hair care information and advice on hair care forums web-wide. Currently, I am in the midst of writing a manuscript for a more comprehensive work on black hair care and I maintain an online hair album that documents my hair success and progress!
What are they?
I like to differentiate splitting ends from split ends. Splitting ends are places along the hair shaft where the cuticle is actively breaking apart and the cortex of the hair is exposed. Splitting ends can occur at any point along the hair shaft, but are the most prevalent near the ends of the hair shaft. Some say that splitting ends that go "untreated" will continue to split up the entire shaft, but such an occurrence is not entirely the case. Depending on the angle of the split, the tear can reach fairly high up the hair shaft, but a majority of splits simply peel away or break off not far from or right where they originate.
Split ends on the other hand, are ends where the main split has already peeled away from the rest of the shaft. These ends are no longer splitting, they are already split and broken off. These ends are the thin "see through" type ends that we are so used to seeing. Split ends can become splitting ends again if not treated with a sharp pair of shears.
Other types of "split" ends are small breaks in the hair shaft known as TRICHORREXIS NODOSA these are areas where the actual hair cortex has swollen and exploded within the shaft. You can tell these types splits by the white dot or node, commonly at the very end of the hair shaft. They can also occur mid-shaft where they will appear as a hairs that bend in hard, unnatural 90 degree angles-- ready to break fully away.
For the sake of clarity, I'll stick with the standard term, "split ends" to refer to all types of cuticle splitting.
Do I Have Split/Splitting Ends?
The best way to check for split ends is by simply inspecting the hair shaft. Most splits occur along the lower ½ to 1/3 of the hair shaft with a majority right along the tip ends of the hair shaft. How else can you tell if you may have a problem with split ends?
When split ends are present, the hair:
1.) does not move well
2.) tends to get caught up on itself
3.) does not hold a curl or straighten well with heat
4.) varies in length throughout the head especially when slow, unchecked breakage is allowed to run rampant over time
5.) shows clear areas of dullness or thinness (transparency) along your hair's hemline
6.) shows an increase in overall hair breakage
7.) is redder near the ends
Anytime a hair is broken, the new end that is left behind has a great chance of becoming a new split end because most hairs do not break cleanly when they break off on their own. This is why it is best to trim split ends with sharp shears before they have the chance to break off by themselves. . If left unchecked, these hair destroyers will tangle with healthy hairs, result in more tangling, and lead to more breakage problems.
WHY OH WHY!
Split ends are caused by many types of hair trauma, but are typically the result of a low moisture balance within the hair strand. When hair is allowed to remain dry, brittle, and under-moisturized for extended periods of time, the cuticle begins to crack and unravel, exposing the cortex of the hair.
Heat use is perhaps the number one cause of split ends because heat rapidly depletes the moisture balance and affects the protein structure within the hair shaft. Improper use can take a perfectly healthy strand of hair and damage it beyond repair in one short session! Frequent use of heating tools increases your chances of cuticle damage because dry, unconditioned cuticles are much more prone to chipping, peeling, and splitting. Excessive heat use is also the main contributor to the trichorrexis nodoosa types of split ends.
I highly recommend the use of ceramic or tourmaline heating tools. These tools provide an even, controllable heat, allowing them to straighten your hair with more efficiency in fewer passings. There are also no "hot spots" on the plates to contend with, so styling is fast and easy! Always be sure to use a heat protectant or high temperature serum before any application of heat. Also, only use heat on clean, freshly deep conditioned hair. Do not forget to clean your iron plates after your heat session because products can build up on them and snag your hair as it passes through.
Blowdrying the hair should be kept to a minimum. Hooded dryer heat takes longer to dry the hair, but it is much safer and healthier for the hair than blowdrying. However, if you plan to blowdry your hair, only use the high heat setting if your hair is dripping wet. Once your hair is semi-damp, decrease the temperature to low or use your cold shot button (if your dryer has this feature) to finish the session. Maintain the nozzle of the dryer 8-12 inches away from the hair, and direct the air down (not at) the hair shaft at all times. The closer you get to your hair, and the more you blow the air AT the hair, the more damage you are likely to inflict.
Aside from the frequent usage of heat implements, faulty, poorly made styling tools can also cause our hair to become more susceptible to cuticle damage. Cuticle damage is a precursor to split ends. Serrated combs, rubber bands, metal clasps, hard brushes, cotton headbands and scarves, and sharp hair pins all put the hair in danger of splitting at all points along the shaft.
Combs and Brushes:
I highly recommend the use of handmade, bone and seamless combs for styling. These combs are much easier on your hair than their seamed counterparts. Nylon brushes are also a huge split end maker. If you must use a brush, opt for a natural, boar bristle or baby brush. A final note on brushes: Do NOT brush wet hair! Yes, the hair looks so much sleeker when brushed while slightly damp-- but this practice is extremely difficult on the cuticles.
Relaxing and Coloring
Relaxing and Coloring the hair are processes that breach and degrade the cuticle in order to perform their specific functions properly. When the cuticle is broken down, weakened, and compromised, splitting of the hair will soon follow. These culprits are perhaps a major factor in mid-shaft splitting of the hair. Always exercise caution when subjecting your hair to these chemical processes. More protein and moisturizing deep conditioning treatments will need to be done (and more regularly) in order to protect this hair against split end problems.
Shampoos that are too harsh on the hair will zap the hair of its precious moisture content. Frequent usage of these "cuticle stripping" shampoos may cause the hair to become more vulnerable to splitting over time. Always use gentle shampoo formulations, preferably sulfate free lines like Creme of Nature. If hard water conditons or frequent swimming require you to use clarifying and chelating shampoos regularly, make sure your protein and moisturizing deep conditioning regimen in on point to counteract the cuticle wear and tear.
The Elements (Sun, Wind, Cold, Arid Air)
According to Johnson (1997), "chlorine weakens the hair by forming distinctive Allworden sacs or bubbles of dissolved protein which burst through the cuticle . . . forming splits and cracks" (p. 67). The salt that is left behind on the hair from the chlorinated water dries into hard crystals which also degrade the cuticle. Always clarify or chelate the hair after swimming in pool water. Better yet, drench your hair in conditioner prior to entering the water so that the hair is already saturated and pool water cannot enter.
Solutions and Prevention: What More Can I Do?
The best way to cure split ends is by preventing them in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, spit ends CANNOT be repaired, glued back together, or eliminated. The only means of repairing them involves a pair of shears. Products can temporarily seal the ends of the hair shaft and "glue" the split ends back together, but this "glue effect" is lost once the hair is exposed to water through washing. These products will buy you time, but ultimately your split ends will need to be trimmed away.
Cuticle Flattening Rinses
Rinsing the hair periodically with an acidic rinse will help keep the cuticles flat and intact, staving off the proliferation of split ends. Ideally these rinses should be done every 2-3 weeks as preventive maintenance against splitting or for combating problems with hair porosity. A popular acidic rinse is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) in water. My personal dilution for this rinse is 2 cups of cool water to 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. After you have washed and deep conditioned your hair as normal, pour the apple cider vinegar rinse over your hair. Rinse in cool water. Rinsing the hair in cool water following a wash will also help to mechanically close down the cuticle layers, preventing splits from forming. Your hair should be gleaming and nicely detangled now! If you still detect the awful smell of the ACV rinse on your hair after the initial rinsing, continue to rinse in cool water until you cannot smell it. If the rinse makes your hair hard and tangly, reduce the amount of ACV in your rinse next time around.
Moisturizing, Sealing, and Conditioning
Moisturizing the hair with a water-based moisturizer and sealing the hair with oil will help the hair strand fight all types of splitting and breakage. It provides a daily protective barrier for the cuticle from the sun and other types of elemental breakage and keeps the cuticle pliable and soft to prevent against breakage from styling tools. Always have your hair lubricated with something! Never attempt to "dry style" your hair.
Deep conditioning the hair with moisturizing conditioners, and treating the hair with protein reconstructors can also help improve the appearance of the hair and fight split ends. Protein supplementation reinforces the cuticle and helps it resists chipping, unravelling, or breaking. Please understand that these treatments cannot fix, repair, or stop any splitting or damage that has already occurred. They can improve the hair's appearance and fight any future problems before they happen.
Decrease Overall Manipulation
This is very important! Simply decreasing the manipulation your hair experiences by your combing, brushing, and styling will decrease your number of split ends. Protective styles that keep the hair up and off of the shoulders and out of the elements are great for keeping your ends healthy as well. When washing the hair, avoid manhandling and roughly towel drying your hair. Wet hair is very fragile. Towel drying roughs up the cuticles and causes more tangling problems than you can imagine! Gently squeeze the hair in a "milking" fashion to release any excess water from the hair. You may gently pat your hair with your towel to catch the extra water, but do not rub or towel scrunch the hair to dry it.
Johnson, D. (1997) Hair and Hair Care. New York: Marcel Dekker.
How Split Ends Can Be Prevented
If you do not want to deal with split ends later on, the main key is preventing them to begin with. One of the most important things that you will want to do is use a moisturizing conditioner, which will help keep your hair looking both beautiful and healthy. Another one of the things that you should do is use protective serums when you are using heat treatments, such as the flat iron or curling iron. Only using these treatments minimally will also help you reduce your chances of experiencing split ends later on.
What to Do Once You Have Split Ends
While you may hear about some of the things that you can do in order to fix or repair your split ends, there is really only one thing that you can do if you really want to get rid of them. This is cutting your hair. Not only will this get rid of your split ends, but it will also help prevent any further breakage. It is recommended for you to get a hair cut at least every six months. One very common belief that is not true is that split ends will prevent your hair from growing out in the future. While your hair will still continue to grow, chances are that it will not look healthy if you have split ends. For the best looking hair without getting a haircut, your best option is to keep your hair moisturized.
Products Designed to Treat Split Ends
There are many different products which are out on the market that are associated with split ends. It is important to know which ones you might want to think about using, so that you know what you should or should not be investing your money in. Products that claim to repair split ends, even if it is temporary, are not worth your money. These products are completely fake, as the only way to truly repair your split ends is to cut them. Products which claim to offer you protection against split ends may be worth your money, but it is important to keep in mind that a moisturizing conditioner will provide you with the same results. Overall, you probably will want to avoid products designed to provide you with protection or treatment of split ends.
How to avoid and treat
One thing to do to avoid hair breakage and split ends it try to avoid using vent brushes that have plastic bristles. These types of brushes can damage the hair by ripping it. Use a dry wide brush on dry hair. If your hair is wet try to use a wide toothcomb. One thing to do is not to shampoo every day. You can condition every day but shampooing every day can dry out hair therefore making it more likely that split ends and breakage will occur. Use leave in conditioner as this will help moisten the hair.
When you blow dry your hair make sure the hairdryer is at least 4 inches from the hair to allow for the hair to breath and not get to hot. Trimming the hair periodically is very important in the treatment and prevention of hair breakage and split ends. A razor should not be used to trim the hair as it can cause further damage to the hair. In between haircuts you should also try to minimize the stress on the strands of the hair. Try not to use a metal or plastic clip to pull back the hair, as they can cause damage, but instead use an elastic band or fabric.