Trichoptlosis, aka, Split ends. Nobody likes these things, but unfortunately they are a fact of hair 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.
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.
One other often overlooked cause of split ends is your pair of shears! Make sure that your hair shears are just that, HAIR SHEARS. Trimming your hair with just any regular pair of scissors will damage your freshly cut ends before they even have a chance! You want to find shears that are made specifically for trimming the hair as these will tend to be sharper than other types of scissors. This sharper cutting surface will give you a more precise, cleaner cut to your ends. They are the ultimate in split end prevention. Sharp scissors and straight across trimming are imperative. If you trim splits with dull scissors, or trim your splits at an angle, you will damage the ends further and cause more splitting.
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.
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.
How to Trim Your Split Ends
Always trim the hair straight across the top of the split, at least 1/8 to ¼ above the problem. Never trim the hair at an angle! Trimming at a slant will expose more of the bottom and interior of your hair shaft to damage and increase its chances for re-splitting under pressure in the future. Perfect example, slice a stick of celery or banana at a slant rather and straight. What do you notice? You have just exposed more surface area of the objects interior. This is not what you want! If you have a tiny knot or split hair where the hair has already peeled off of the main strand, cut ¼ inch above the knot or where the irregular angle begins. For hair that is damaged and full of high shaft split ends, you can use your areas of hair transparency as a guide for trimming.
Simply allowing your split ends to break off is not good for your hair. As explained earlier, the broken strand of hair that remains on your head will not be cleanly cut. This will eventually produce another splitting end later on, except on a shorter piece of hair. Secondly, splitting ends do not allow the hair to move or flow freely. When you attempt to style or detangle your hair, your splitting ends will catch the other hair and possibly tangle in them further, leading to even more breakage.
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.
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.