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How to Identify Split Ends and Treat Them

Written by Alexa Adler
How to Identify Split Ends and Treat Them

Having split ends can happen, and it’s not an uncommon event. Your hair can appear frizzy, dull, lifeless, damaged, and even a bit unruly, which can mean the dreaded bad hair day. But perhaps the most frustrating ailment is split ends.

Below are ways to help you identify split ends, details on why it happens, and what they look like. You can also understand what to do to support and maintain your hair health journey. Read on; your healthy, frizz-free hair awaits!

How Is Hair Structured?

Well, first things first, it is so important to understand the structure of the hair strands before diving into what causes split ends. For starters, you have the hair follicle and the hair shaft. These are the two main structures that make up your mane.

The follicle is attached to the follicle bulb underneath your skin, and it’s the living part of your hair that receives the nutrients that support the health and growth of your hair. 

The hair shaft is what you see above the scalp. It is made up of a protein, which is a non-living keratin.

The hair shaft has three layers of keratin that are held together by chemical bonds. The three keratinous layers are:

  • Cuticle: The cuticle is the protective outer layer of each hair strand.

  • Cortex: The cortex lies underneath the cuticle.

  • Medulla: The medulla is the soft, thin inner core of transparent round cells.

The cuticle also consists of flat, overlapping cells that react to humidity, pH, and temperature. It protects the inner layers that are the most fragile from damage. 

The cortex contains long, twisted protein fibers that are held together by hydrogen bonds. This includes the hair’s pigment, or melanin, elasticity, and, last but not least, the shape. 

The medulla can be found in thick or coarse hair. Fine hair types and hair that is naturally blonde do not have these layers of cells. 

What Causes Split Ends?

Split ends can happen when the underlying fibers of the hair strand separate, usually the oldest parts of your hair at the end of the shaft. What do split ends look like? They can look and feel dry, brittle, and frayed. Some say they resemble an unraveled rope. 

The disruption in the balance of the cells and fibers that make up a hair strand can cause damage to the cuticle that protects your hair, making it appear brittle and fuzzy. When the cuticle is damaged, it can leave the cortex vulnerable, resulting in breakage. With the cortex unable to repair itself, the split ends must be trimmed. 

Some physical damage that can cause split ends might include:

  • Exposure to extreme weather conditions

  • Heat tools

  • Hair dye or bleach

  • Tight hairstyles

The cuticle, medulla, and cortex rely on chemical bonds to hold them all together. Repeated use of heating tools, hair color, and other chemical processes can weaken the bonds. Damage to the hair’s bond can cause brittle, damaged hair, resulting in a loss of elasticity of the cuticle and very often, split ends.

Treating those damaged areas at the first sign is extremely important to prevent any future breakage. So, let’s explore and talk about these magnificent bonds that bind your strands together.

How Are Hair Bonds Broken?

There are three distinct types of chemical hair bonds. When these types of bonds are strong and healthy, they create healthy, shiny, and strong hair strands. When these bonds are broken and weakened, the hair can appear brittle, frizzy, dry, and damaged. 

The three bonds are:

  • Covalent Bonds: Covalent bonds, also known as disulfide bonds, are strong, permanent bonds that determine the hair’s shape and texture. These types of bonds are accountable for the strength of your hair. Damage to the covalent bond can result in brittle hair.

  • Ionic Bonds: Ionic or salt bonds are temporary and stronger bonds created between the amino acid chain's positive and negative ends. Ionic bonds make up one-third of the hair’s strength. 

  • Hydrogen Bonds: Hydrogen bonds are temporary. They are weaker than covalent bonds and ionic bonds. They can be morphed by heat and water and are responsible for the elasticity of your hair and its ability to change shape. Hydrogen bonds are responsible for frizzy hair because they often  become damaged by heat and moisture.

So, how can strands quickly take shape with a curling iron so fast, you ask? The answer is hydrogen bonds! Isn’t the science of hair interesting?

Heat Styling and Chemical Treatments

Though heating tools like blow dryers, straighteners, and curling irons are popular when getting ready for a night on the town, a special occasion, or everyday life, they can cause some damage to your hair, especially the hair cuticle and inner layers. 

High heat changes keratin's shape and structure, weakening its strength and elasticity. Consistent use of heat tools can result in those pesky split ends. So, remember to go easy on that heat. 

Chemical hair treatments can cause damage to the hair bonds. Bleach, relaxers, perms, hair color, hair straighteners, and salon treatments can all be contributing factors to brittle, weakened hair strands and split ends. It’s important to seek out safe, professional chemical hair treatments to ensure you’re minimizing the potential for damage.

Being too harsh on your hair while styling, whether wearing tight braids, buns, ponytails, or hair extensions, can also cause damage. Brushing and combing wet hair can also add stress to the hair, causing issues down the road. Consider air-drying your hair whenever possible, it will cause less damage to your hair in the long run. 

So, What Does Damaged Hair Look Like?

Your hair is made up of keratin chains, which make your hair’s structure and strength. The hair loses its healthy appearance and resiliency when these chains are broken or weakened. The results can make your hair a bit lackluster. 

Damaged hair can include:

  • Dry locks

  • Frizzy strands

  • Flyaways

  • Split ends

  • Brittle ends

The damaged cuticle layer causes the cells to rise, leaving your hair looking and feeling frizzy and dull. The result can lead to structural weakness and split ends. 

Split ends can happen when the underlying fibers of the hair strand separate, usually the oldest parts of your hair at the end of the shaft.

How Can I Manage My Split Ends?

Though there is no way to repair hair once it has been broken, using the right set of products in your routine is a great way to prevent damage from happening in the first place. After your next trim, these helpful products and tips can support hair health and prevent your split ends before they start: 

  • Leave-ins

  • Conditioners

  • Treatment masks

  • Dietary supplements

  • Trimming the ends often

You may have both physical and chemical damage to your hair; however, the best thing to do is to know the difference between the two, so you can figure out the best strategy to prevent further splitting. 

There is no timeline for exactly how long it can take to repair drab and lifeless hair, but with a little time and patience, you can be on your way. 

So, find the best fit for your hair and scalp to support and maintain your hair’s health. Let’s explore some of the helpful products in keeping your hair nourished. 

Leave-In Conditioners 

When applied to clean, gently towel-dried hair, leave-in conditioners are a great option. Wet hair can be especially prone to breakage, and adding stress to hair in that state can cause it to break. If you comb your hair after you shower, towel-dry your hair and apply the leave-in before attempting to detangle it. Wide-toothed combs are a great option.

Daily Conditioners 

It’s important to have a daily conditioner in your routine that adds much needed moisture back to your hair and scalp. Always remember that healthy hair starts at the scalp - anything you can do to keep the skin on your scalp balanced, moisturized, and healthy is imperative in supporting healthy locks. We’ve included colloidal oatmeal and probiotics in our Nourishing Conditioner to support silky smooth locks and a moisturized scalp.

Hair Masks

Hair and scalp masks are deep conditioning treatments that can help to restore and maintain the moisture in the hair, strengthen the hair shafts, and keep the scalp healthy. Our Purifying Mask uses volcanic ash to gently exfoliate the scalp and biotin and argan oil (among others) to moisturize and restore the hair strands.

Heat Protectant

Apply a leave-in heat protectant on your strands before styling to protect your hair's cuticle from heat damage. Leave-in conditioner and oil can help support your strands by adding moisture to the cuticle layer.

When it comes to split ends, prevention is key. Although you may not want to eliminate your styling tools completely, using them less and keeping your hair well-conditioned may help prevent future hair breakage.

Dietary Supplements

Did you know that vitamin deficiencies can impact the health of your scalp and hair? 

Since prevention is the name of the game for split ends, it’s paramount to ensure you maintain proper levels of key vitamins and nutrients to ensure your hair is at its healthiest. Most of us struggle to do so with our standard diet, so the best way to ensure you’re getting the appropriate amount of vitamins, minerals and nutrients is with a daily dietary supplement. Our plant-based capsules are formulated with key hair-healthy ingredients like Biotin, zinc, and aminos to promote healthier, thicker hair and prevent breakage.

Tips And Tricks

To achieve the healthiest hair possible, and be on your way to a healthy scalp and mane, make sure to keep your regimen consistent, prevent breakage through healthy hair care routines, and use the best products for your scalp and hair - check out our sets

Though it can be tricky to prevent split ends, here are some of the key tips and tricks that you can try:

  • Get regular haircuts, every six weeks

  • Remember to use a daily conditioner, even if you don’t wash daily

  • Use a leave-in conditioner

  • Use a wide-tooth comb to detangle damp hair after washing

  • Use a heat-protective spray, and minimize the heating tools

  • Supplement vitamin deficiencies that can lead to hair breakage with our, Daily Scalp Essential.

Summary

You now know how to identify split ends, what causes them, and how to support strong hair growth.

Keep in mind healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp. Consider all the above factors regarding hair treatments, techniques, and salon professionals and you’ll be on your way to a healthy scalp and your luscious locks again! 

Do you want to aim to achieve the healthiest hair possible? Take our quiz for your personalized regimen and say goodbye to split ends.

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.