When it comes to beauty, “split ends” is practically a four-letter word. They stand in the way of great hair, making otherwise glorious manes appear dull, dry, tangled, and more difficult to style.
That’s because when a piece of hair “splits,” it’s rarely a clean, even break. If you put a split end under a microscope, it looks like a piece of fractured wood, with multiple jagged ridges and edges.
Image via workman.com
Before we get into your best bets at preventing split ends, let’s be clear on what they are and what causes them.
What Are Split Ends & What Causes Them?
Split ends, otherwise known as trichoptilosis, are the splitting or fraying of the hair shaft due to various reasons. Even though they’re called “split ends,” splits in your hair can happen all the way up to the top of the shaft, near the root.
No matter the color, length, or texture of your hair, we’re all susceptible to split ends because hair naturally begins to fray and break every 3-4 months. This is why some people just can’t seem to grow their hair past a certain length.
Unless you keep your hair under wraps, breakage from chemical processing, heat styling, and everyday wear and tear is inevitable
However, external factors can cause extra breakage, speeding up your hair’s tendency to split—these are what we’re going to go over to help you prevent future splits.
Why should you bother?
Because, when it comes to fixing split ends, you can’t ever fully repair frays. That means the only real cure for split ends is trimming them off—which is why stylists recommend that you come in for regular trims, to snip of splits before they travel too far up each strand.
Since even the most expensive strengthening solutions can’t compensate for bad habits, here’s how to prevent split ends:
1. Try not to blast your hair with hot water.
Super hot water isn’t good for your skin or your hair. Aside from being linked to spider veins, too-hot water dries out everything it touches, including hair, which results in weakened follicles.
However, we know that it’s near impossible to say no to the rapture of a steamy shower on cold mornings. If you insist on taking a hot shower, at least turn down the temperature when you wash and condition your hair. The cooler water causes your hair’s cuticle to lay down flat, helping it appear shinier and sealing in moisture.
2. Don’t scrub shampoo from root to tip.
Hair is weakest when it’s wet—something to remember when you’re in the shower. While you might think the most effective way to clean your hair is by clumping it all on top your head into a big pile, doing so forces hair to bend when it’s at its most fragile state.
Instead, let your hair hang down normally and limit lathering to your scalp. The length of your hair will be cleaned by second-hand suds as your shampoo is rinsed out and heads to the drain.
3. Make sure you apply some kind of moisture.
Conditioners are a tricky product. Some stylists swear that you must never go without. Others claim that you can condition before you shampoo for extra body. At the end of the day, if your conditioner causes too-flat hair—making you compensate with extra heat styling—then it might be time to look for another product. Alternatives include a leave-in conditioning spray or moisturizing product you apply to ends post-shower.
4. Stop using a towel to scrub your hair dry.
Just like scrubbing in shampoo is a fast-track to breakage, so is rubbing damp hair with a towel. Doing so forces vulnerable strands to crease and twist in unnatural directions, promoting more breakage. Instead, wrap a towel around your hair and squeeze in different areas to draw moisture out.
5. Use only wide tooth combs with wet hair.
As we know by now, wet hair is very vulnerable to damage. Unfortunately, a normal brush with a thick head of bristles can damage shower-fresh hair. Instead, be kind to sensitive locks by using only a wide tooth comb while hair is wet, lightly gliding it through to loosely manage locks without causing breakage.
6. Learn to work your brush correctly.
First, pick the type of brush you use wisely. For daily brushing, choose a cushioned paddle brush with flexible bristles. This will work with your hair to detangle with ease. What should you steer clear of? Hard plastic bristles will tug and rip your hair apart, and shouldn’t be used for daily brushing or on particularly knotted strands.
When you brush, be sure not to drag bristles through from root to tip on your first pass. Like pulling on a tangled necklace, doing so will instantly push every knot down into tightened, tangled clumps. Instead, work end to root, brushing carefully.
7. Add heat protectant while your hair is still wet.
If you’re going to use one hair product, it should be something to protect your hair from the heat. The ingredients in thermal protectors absorb into the hair shaft to nourish and create a barrier between your hair and hot tools, and blow dryers. But, are you giving your thermal protectant time to go to work?
Instead of spritzing your strands with a thermal protectant right before styling, apply protection while your hair is still mostly damp, allowing it to fully absorb.
8. Blow dry with a purpose.
If your blow dryer is to be the only heat styling tool used, do your best to avoid placing direct heat on hair ends until absolutely necessary. Once the roots and upper lengths of your hair are dry, then lead the blow dryer through your ends with a brush.
On the other hand, if you’re going to follow up your blow dry with another form of heat styling, do your best to avoid direct contact with your ends altogether. Instead, concentrate most drying around the roots and upper lengths of hair, allowing ends to catch the “second-hand heat” of the air blowing through them.
9. Use hot tools sparingly and wisely.
When styling with a flat iron or curling wand, the best choice is often the lesser of two evils. To choose wisely, you should know a little about how your hair behaves.
If your hair takes to the shape you want easily, then take thicker sections of hair into the iron all at once. Doing this means heat is being applied directly to fewer individual hair strands, reducing the amount of heat stress in the process.
If you can’t seem to make your strands take a curl or get straight, go for smaller sections. Doing so means that hair is exposed to more heat. However, it’s better than doing a double pass.
Another great way to diffuse that split end-inducing heat: Keep your heat tools moving as much as possible, no more than 15 or 20 seconds before moving on to the next section. It's better to repeat than to hold on too long since strands have a second to cool down in between passing.
No matter what kind of hair you have, keep your hot tools on the lowest possible settings. Yes, a super-hot iron will make your hair straight and smooth right away, but do it a lot and you will soon encounter dried out, split ends that won’t ever go smooth and straight again until you’ve cut off the damage.
A general rule of thumb is:
- Fine or damaged hair: 180-220 F or the lowest possible setting
- Medium or average hair: 300-350 F
- Coarse hair: 350-400 F
Remember, the finer the hair, the lower the temperature of your tools should be. So, if you’re styling baby-fine strands, there’s zero reason to turn that dial up to high.
10. Learn to work slightly dirty hair.
Daily showers don’t mean that you have to shampoo—or even get hair wet. Letting hair go a day or two in between washing allows natural oils from your scalp a chance to make their way down to your ends. These oils keep strands hydrated, flexible, and more resilient against breakage.
By shaking a little dry shampoo in at your root, no one will be the wiser. Besides, you might even find that some styles work best with a little grit to help keep them from slipping.
Use Heat Sparingly To Prevent Split Ends
Short of aggressively yanking a hard-bristled brush through tangled strands, heat styling is pretty much the primary cause of split ends. However, it’s also the most common way we style our hair.
The solution? Pick your hairstyles with your hair’s health in mind.
You might love beachy waves or corkscrew curls, but if your hair is naturally straight, the styling process is sure to cause some splits.
Instead, avoid subjecting your hair to heat styling every day of the week. Remember, a well-executed straight blowout will last you three days. And it's likely to look even better on the second or third day because your hair will be less susceptible to frizz and flyaways. So there’s no need to blow dry every day. If you’re curling your hair, remember rollers are a superb way to introduce brilliant, bouncy curls without the heat of a curling iron.
Cleaning Your Hot Tools Can Help Prevent Split Ends
When was the last time you wiped down your flat iron? How about your curling wand?
If they haven’t been working as well as they used to, the answer is probably eons ago. The product buildup may not be visible, but it’s doing some serious damage to your tools—and your hair.
That’s because the buildup of the polymers in many styling products is essentially melted plastic material that can adhere to your hair. That residue not only encourages split ends, but also creates a barrier of gunk that makes it harder for your tools to create polished curls or a smooth, straight finish.
How to clean your hot tools correctly?
The best method is to plug in your tool to let it warm up, and then unplug it and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, dampen a washcloth with some rubbing alcohol, and wipe the plates or wand clean while the tool is still warm—the heat will make it easier to clean, so you’re not picking and scraping at buildup that has cooled and hardened.
Bottom Line? Prevent Split Ends By Picking Your Battles
Whether excessive dryer heat or dryness from the hot summer sun, many of the factors that make hair vulnerable to split ends are easy to minimize. However, what fun is hair that you can’t style, tease, and shake?
Bottom line: Unless you keep your hair under wraps, breakage from chemical processing, heat styling, and everyday wear and tear is inevitable. Regardless of how you developed split ends, once you have them, they won’t just disappear.
That’s why needing a trim is inevitable. If you handle your hair with care, you won't have to get these as often. Taking proper precautions will allow you to stretch trim appointments to every six to eight weeks—maybe longer. Just keep watch.
One final note never to do: If you notice a random split end along the way, don’t just grab a pair of scissors or yank it out at the root! Tugging can permanently damage your follicle. Whereas a stylist’s shears are sharpened so as not to cause extra damage. However, your kitchen scissors are far too blunt to make a clean cut, and may just cause another split end to appear where the last one was cut.
Instead, the best way to take care of a split end on the spot is to call your stylist to book a trim. By doing so, you’ll be rewarded with hair that looks healthier, and is easier to style, in the long run.
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