We don’t mean to split hairs here, but let’s face it— split ends are possibly the biggest enemy to maintaining healthy-looking hair. After all, those annoying hair splits can make even the cutest hairstyle look dry and damaged.
So what exactly causes split ends to keep popping up? We all generally know that overheating or over-processing your hair with color can be a culprit. But why is it that even when we take a break from heating and dyeing our hair, we can still get split ends?
Let’s explore the many causes of split ends and what we can do to prevent them from showing up in the first place.
What Causes Split Ends?
To understand why we get split ends, let’s first dive into the “root” of this phrase. The medical term for split ends is trichoptilosis, which means the splitting of hairs.
Trichoptilosis describes the process when a hair shaft (the section of the hair that you can see above your scalp) splits or frays due to excessive heat and misuse. The primary cause of this is physical stress, which either comes from heat or physical force.
For instance, split ends are more likely to occur on already tangled hair that has been pulled or broken by aggressive combing. As such, detangling hair by gently combing it makes it much less likely to experience split ends.
Another cause of split ends is frequent chemical treatments like perms or dyeing. These processes strip the protective layers that surround the hair shaft and weaken the hair.
Certain styling tools, chemical treatments, and general hair habits are more damaging than others.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of split ends and dig into why they can pose a problem for your tresses.
Ah, bleaching. Although most of us know how damaging it can be, it seems that bleaching never goes out of style. Maybe you’re trying your hand at being blonde for the first time, which for dark-haired folks takes quite a bit of time and multiple rounds of bleaching to get the perfect platinum tone. Or maybe you’re bleaching your hair so you can add another color over it, like blue, purple, pink, or even a silvery grey.
All of these colors require hair to be bleached for the purest tone to come through.
Unfortunately, this process is very hard on your hair. Bleaching is done by penetrating hair cuticles with chemicals that completely remove your natural pigment. Not only does it remove color, but it also alters the structure of your hair. That’s why many people who go platinum have limp, dry, and brittle strands that can end up as split ends
Bleaching goes against the nature of your hair. Basically, your hair doesn’t want to change its color but you’re fighting its natural hue and texture to get the look you want.
While there are healthier ways to bleach your hair — for example, seeking a hairstylist’s help instead of doing it at home — there’s no way to get around the damage that bleach causes.
Highlighting and Dyes
Highlighting or coloring doesn’t damage your hair as much as bleaching. However, it still can deteriorate your hair to an extent. Each hair coloring process has a complex way of penetrating your hair to change its color — here are a couple of examples:
- Permanent Dyes: These dyes work by opening up the hair cuticles (the outermost part of the hair shaft) to deposit permanent color into the hair. Once this happens, the dye interacts with the inner layer of the hair (the cortex) and removes its colors. This process can lead to hair damage like split ends because of the texture-changing effects that occur.
- Highlights: Unlike a full-head dye job, highlighting is coloring specific sections or strips of your hair. As such, it might seem like a less damaging alternative. But the dyes used for highlights still contain ammonia, which can damage cuticles and allow moisture to escape. As a result, highlights can cause hair to develop split ends, frizz, and dryness.
Pro tip: Temporary dyes that don’t contain ammonia might be a better option than more permanent treatments that can seriously split your strands.
Perming your hair refers to two methods of changing the texture of your natural hair type: chemically straightening it or chemically curling it. A straightening perm is often done on naturally coarse hair or curly hair in an attempt to achieve a flatter texture. Meanwhile, curl perming is often performed on flat or wavy hair in an attempt to give it a more voluminous curly texture.
Perms break your hair’s inner bonds and reforms them back together in a different way than how they naturally lay. Perms are one of the most damaging chemical treatments to put your hair through and can often lead to hair breakage and split ends.
Heat Styling Tools
Heat damage can result from blow-drying and using flat irons and curling irons as these change the bonds holding your hair together. Research shows that the surface of your hair becomes more damaged the longer and hotter you heat it.
In one study, several methods were used to dry hair: some test groups would air dry and some would use a blow dryer at varying temperatures for varying lengths of time.
Researchers observed that the longer and hotter the hair was treated, the more breakage and splitting appeared on the surface of the hair shaft. Similarly, other hot tools can contribute to damage like split ends if high temperatures are used on a frequent basis.
Brushing and Accessorizing
Treating hair with heat and color aren’t the only things that can cause split ends. According to the same study mentioned above, split ends can also occur when you enforce too much friction onto your hair.
The hair shaft can be damaged by using hair accessories, washing, towel drying, or brushing hair in a way that applies too much physical pressure to your strands. This all can be particularly damaging to wet hair.
Hair habits like ripping through tangled hair too fast, over-brushing, tying your hair ties too tight, and braiding or pulling up your hair when it’s wet can contribute to split ends by bending the hair shaft too much.
How to Prevent Split Ends?
Unfortunately, like Humpty Dumpty, you can’t put the ends of your hair back together again. Once hair splits, the only thing you can do to make it go away is cut it. That’s why getting regular trims is a healthy hair practice to adopt.
Many hairdressers suggest trimming multiple times a year or whenever you start to notice split ends. Doing so keeps your overall texture looking smooth and ensures that any strand of hair that has been split doesn’t continue to grow.
Another way to protect hair from forming split ends? Use a shampoo and conditioner with naturally derived ingredients that can help keep your hair looking and feeling healthier and smooth. Some ingredients to look out for include:
- Black oat seed extract + beetroot extract: Coats hair and builds moisture to minimize future split ends
- Palm fruit extract + rice bran oil: Protects hair from UV rays, prevents dulling and fading, and encourages long-lasting, vibrant color
- Grapeseed oil + linseed extract: Moisturizes heat-damaged hair and revives strands
- Coconut oil + aloe vera: Reinvigorates moisture balance and promotes long-lasting hydration
Take Control of Your Hair Struggles
We all have hair habits that either encourage or prevent split ends. But not all hair types react the same way when it comes to how easy damage can occur. Certain hair types are more susceptible to split ends while other hair types may experience additional hair struggles.
Take our hair quiz to figure out what kind of hair you have and what type of products you can use to avoid issues like split ends, dryness, frizz, or oiliness. You’ll also see what hair-boosting ingredients can help reach your hair goals and send you on a path towards healthier-looking hair.