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Split Ends: Why Does Our Hair Split?

I’m bored… *picks at split ends* Whether you notice them a few weeks or a few months after your last haircut, you’re not alone in having hair that splits at its ends. These splits tend to show up on the strands of most people, especially on dry or damaged hair. In order to understand why your ends split, it’s important to understand how your hair functions, from root to tip, in order to get a better idea of what your locks are doing — and why.

Super quick hair anatomy lesson:

You probably know about hair follicles, and you probably know about pores, but did you know that these two are one and the same? A lot of our pores don’t actually have a hair growing out of them, but each one has a hair follicle within it.

So these pores, or hair follicles, anchor each strand of hair — whether they’re on your head, brows, legs, or elsewhere. These visible strands are known as the hair shaft and are comprised of three parts: the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla.

The cuticle is made up of layers of dead cells that lay on top of one another to protect and strengthen the hair shaft.

The cortex — found just beneath the cuticle — gives our hair its thickness and color.

The thinnest, innermost layer is called the medulla, and it’s located in the center of your hair shaft.

In order to keep your hair healthy and strong, you want to keep the outer layers of your hair in the best shape possible.

So why do we get split ends?

Split ends, also known as trichoptilosis, are quite simply a form of hair damage that results from mechanical stress.

Mechanical stress meaning — friction, grooming, and styling. That means heat (i.e. flat ironing or blow drying your hair every day), chemical treatments, brushing through tangles, and pretty much anything that will compromise the health of the cuticle, or outer layer of the hair. That can include anything from using rubber bands in your hair to harsh climate conditions that wreak havoc on your locks.

Most people tend to notice the very tips of their hair splitting into two (or more) sections when they’re overdue for a haircut. That’s usually around the three or four-month mark post-trim, but for people who style often, split ends may appear even sooner.

Image courtesy of Rachel C. Photography.

I’ve got a head full of split ends… Can I treat them?

If your ends are already split, it’s no real cause for panic. The best way to get rid of them is to head to your favorite hairdresser for a trim.

But if you want to wait a bit longer until your next cut, try this two-part tip from stylist Sam LaBella.“My go-to tip is to fatten up first, then apply a band-aid,” she says. We know it sounds weird, but we trust her expertise! She likes to treat strands by running a leave-in conditioning cream through the hair. If you don't have a hair conditioner in your cupboard, your skincare products could come in clutch  apply some hyaluronic acid serum to your locks. The trick is to start about halfway down the hair and apply all the way to the ends. Then, blow dry your hair, but stop just before the hair feels really done — say about 75% dry. The goal is to leave in a little moisture. 

 

Any other ways to prevent split ends?

Here are some easy tips that can help reduce your chances of seeing splits in your hair.

Dry your hair gently.

Vigorous rubbing with a terry cloth towel can lead to friction, tangles, and broken strands, so dry with a gentle hand. You can also try switching to a microfiber or terry cloth towel created specifically for absorbing moisture from your mane.

Invest in better tools.

Cheap, synthetic bristles on brushes can lead to major damage, especially if you’re running them through wet hair. Try opting for one with natural fibers or, use a wide-tooth comb on wet locks instead. The same goes for heat and styling tools — cheaper irons may get too hot and burn your hair. Research better tools that reduce excessive damage and have proper heat controls.

Tie back with care.

Sweat pants, hair tie, chillin with no makeup on! Trust us, we get it. If you constantly keep your hair pulled back, try hair ties made of nylon or other cloth fiber instead of rubber to reduce snagging, pulling and breaking.

Give your hair some time off from heat and chemicals.

The same way that we need to unwind our minds and bodies from time to time, our hair can also truly benefit from a break once in a while. Giving your hair some time off from heat and chemical treatments can keep the cuticle hydrated and in its best shape. This will, in turn, reduce split ends as well as dryness and overall damage.

Keep your scalp healthy.

While those splitting ends may be seen on the far tips of our tresses, hair health really begins with scalp health. While it’s important to keep your scalp clean, you’ll want to take care not to over-wash, which will only lead to more shampooing and ultimately, dryer strands. When it’s time to wash, keep the suds on your skin (aka up top at your scalp), and save conditioning for the ends.

The bottom (hair) line…

Chances are, if you wash and style your hair regularly, you’re going to end up with some split ends. Splits are normal and inevitable so moral of the story — try not to worry about them too much! Regular trims, a gentle hand, and some high-quality tools can go a long way in keeping your ends intact.

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