No matter your hair type or texture, you can suffer from split ends. And as it turns out, it's a problem with a scientific cause. "Trichoptilosis is the medical term for split ends," explains dermatologist Shari Sperling. "These changes occur in the ends of hair shafts as a result of dryness, heat damage, or chemical irritation. This may occur as a result of using hair ties that are abrasive, brushes with firm, inflexible fibers, overheating the hair from hair dryer, straightener, or curler, damage from dyes or other chemicals, and alteration of the hair cuticles from excessive washing."
Fortunately, there are things you can do to mask and prevent frayed ends and keep hair looking its very best, from getting regular trims to using good-for-your-hair products and strengthening shampoos. We asked Sperling and hair stylist Arsen Gurgov to explain all we need to know about split ends—from what causes them to how to prevent them.
Get a Haircut with Hot Scissors
Have fine, frizzy hair that's no stranger to split ends? Hairstylist Arsen Gurgov recommends getting a haircut with hot scissors, as "they offer a foolproof way to help get rid of split ends permanently without sacrificing the length." He notes that hot scissors utilize high heat to sealyour hair cuticle and cure split ends. "Without the heat from the scissors, the cuticle stays open, whereas hot scissors (with temperatures up to 310º F) help to seal the end of the hair shaft," he says. This is meant to reduce damage and allows the hair to better retain moisture.
Get Regular Trims
The techniques that mask the appearance of split ends are doing just that: concealing instead of treating. According to Gurgov, the reality is that "the longer thehair, the more prone it is to split ends, making it that much more important to keep up with your regular trims." He recommends booking an appointment with your hairstylist every six to eight weeks regardless of your hair's length to keep your ends as healthy as possible. The longer you wait to trim your hair, the farther up the hair shaft your ends will split, ultimately making your hair shorter than what you started with.
Dr. Sperling echoes this tip, saying, "Split ends can be caused by genetics, long hair that has not been trimmed to keep healthy, damaged hair from processing such as heating or coloring. Sometimes a simple haircut can cut off the split ends to allow healthy hair growth."
Wondering how to prevent split ends? Gurgov advises you to be mindful of over-shampooing your hair. "When your hair is wet, it's in its most fragile state, and the daily wear and tear on wet hair (in the form of shampooing) can cause split ends," henotes. "A good tip to avoid over-shampooing is to pull your hair back into a ponytail and use the same amount of shampoo as the diameter of the ponytail."
Invest in Argan Oil Products
Haircare's liquid gold—argan oil—is the closest thing we have to a miracle hair elixir, says Gurgov. He recommends using hair styling products containing argan oil, "whether it's a deep conditioneryou apply towet hair or a shine serum for post-styling." He notes that "argan oil offers weightless hydration, and unlike other oils (like coconut or olive), the oil molecules found in argan oil are small enough to penetrate the hair shaft." The result? Instant moisture that camouflages split ends.
Avoid Super-Hot Showers
It's tough letting go of that cozy feeling hot showers evoke, but the truth is, scalding hot water doesn't allow the hair cuticles to rid themselves of split end-causing buildup. "When showering, try to use lukewarm water or the coldest water you can stand," Gurgov suggests. "Hot water is damaging to your hair since the cuticle swells, makingit more prone to splits." Especially when it comes time for rinsing, he recommends using cold water to close the cuticle to sealthe outer layer of the hair.
Avoid Blow-Drying Your Ends
Let's face it: The more heat you apply to your ends, the more they'll be exposed to damage. For this reason, Gurgov recommends concentrating the dryer on the roots and upper lengths of your hair rather than the ends. He also notes that there's no need to dry your hair completely with the blowdryer—letting some of it air dry will save you from more damage in the long run.
A powerful hairdryer that limits heat exposure is ideal for damage-prone ends. We're big fans of Moroccanoil's Smart Styling Infrared Hair Dryer ($190) because it's lightweight yet powerful, and features ceramic honeycomb heating meant to reduce drying time—your ends will thank you.
Use a Microfiber Towel
Just as microfiber towels are more effective than terry towels at picking up dirt and debris around the house, they're better able to dry the hair post-shower and have the added benefit of being more gentle. "After showering, wrap your hair in a microfiber towel and let the towel absorb the excess moisture,"Gurgov says. "You can patyour hair gently with the towel if you need to." He also adds that brushing your hair when it's wet can cause breakage. "If you must, use a wide-tooth comb to detangle your hair (it's more delicate on strands compared to a brush) along with a spray-in conditioner."
4C curls can especially benefit from using a softer towel for drying as harsher towel textures may cause finer hair to break more easily. If you don't happen to have a microfiber towel on hand, wrapping your hair in a t-shirt is an easy way to protect your hair while it's drying.
Use Metal-Free Hair Accessories
Whether you're donning a topknot, ponytail, or half-up half-down style, the accessories you put in your hair could contribute to damage—metal ones included. Gurgov recommends using hair accessories that don't contain metal, as "the metal piecescan snag and break your hair, causing split ends, broken pieces, and uneven strands." Of course, you'll want to use something that still offers hold for your style, which is why we love these from Scunchi—they're great for all hair types (thick included).
Don't Overheat Your Hot Tools
If you're used to cranking up your straightener to its highest setting, Gurgov recommends taking it down a notch (or two). "Overheatingyour hair with styling tools causes damaged areas and split ends," he says. "Try to use the low or medium setting when possible, and limit the use of hot tools on the vulnerable parts of your hair."
If your hair relies heavily on hot tools, "use heat protectant products to protect hair from heat," Sperling advises. A heat protectant will add a barrier between your hair and the tool, helping to minimize possible damage.
Resist the Urge to Pick
It's tempting to want to break off and pull apart your split ends, but this can wreak havoc on your strands and make room for more split ends to emerge. Picking is no replacement for visiting your hairstylist, and the key is to get ahead of the picking by trimming regularly, even if you're on the path to growing out your locks.
You should also ensure you aren't brushing too harshly, which can break and damage the hair. "Avoid brushing the hair from the top down to avoid causing more damage to ends," says Sperling. "Instead, brush hair starting at the bottom."
Resist the urge to pick at your ends by getting a hair dusting, a method of haircutting that rids your hair of split ends without relinquishing all of the hard work you put in to grow it out.
Disguise Split Ends With a Nourishing Oil
If your ends need a little TLC in between haircuts, hair oil can work wonders at concealing any that are split. Go for one that has moisturizing, nourishing ingredients like olive oil.
Try a Hair Mask
Generally speaking, hair masks are a great way to condition dry locks. "Conditioning hair helps keeps the hair moisturized," Dr. Sperling says. Maria Nila's True Soft Masque ($36) helps to strengthen limp strands and fight off frizz.
What causes split ends?
Split ends result from overlooked hairstyling behaviors that do your ends a major disservice (ahem, hot tools). These are likely the culprit for never-ending tangles, slow hair growth, and—you guessed it—dry ends.
Are there different types of split ends?
Believe it or not, split ends are not all the same. The most traditional split end breaks ends of hair into a "Y" shape. If you have curlier hair, you might have knotted split ends. Another type you might see is the tapered split end which occurs when the outer cuticles of your strands break down to reveal the cortex.
How often should I shampoo to avoid split ends?
Try limiting your shampooing to two times a week. When you do shampoo, avoid scrubbing at the ends—this could lead to more breakage—and focus the cleansing at the roots.
The 16 Best Shampoos for Split Ends