Two words that will ruin any good hair day: split ends. Caused by a disintegration of the hair cuticle, this visible condition can be caused by a number of factors that damage the hair’s protective layer.
So, how does your hair create a split end? According to Unilever’s Peter Bailey, Global Technical Manager, Hair Care, “if the cortex of the hair becomes exposed the hair either breaks (at the mid-lengths) or creates a spilt end (if this happens at the ends).”
Delving deeper into the science behind this hair woe, Peter answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about bad split ends, and how to treat them…
Split ends: Everything you need to know
What is the cause of split ends?
To understand the cause of really bad split ends, you first need to know where they originate from. It’s important to understand that the hair fibre is made up of two key components – the cuticle and the cortex.
The cuticle is the tough outer layer of the hair that is the first line of defence. The cortex controls the mechanical properties of the fibre which control softness, movement and ease of style.
Peter reiterates, “the cuticle is made up of highly cross-linked protein and provides a tough outer layer of the hair fibre which is highly resilient to damage. The cortex is made up of a softer more water swellable protein matrix that is easily damaged.”
When the outer cuticle is damaged, and the cortex is exposed. This causes visible damage and if the cortex is exposed at the tip of the hair, it creates a split end.
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How to help prevent split ends
Peter reveals, “to help prevent split ends occurring, the key is to ensure that the tips of the hair are fully protected during the washing and styling process.” If you have long hair, the ends can be up to 2-3 years old and, as such, have been through many washing, drying and styling cycles.
Each time this happens a small amount of cuticle can be removed. Over time, this incremental erosion of the outer protective layer of the hair can ultimately lead to complete removal of the cuticle – creating split ends.
To help combat this, it’s key to use a shampoo and conditioner that lubricates and protects fragile wet stands. “Silicones – called dimethiconol or dimethicone – and protective polymers such as polyethylene glycols do this,” says Peter.
The less tangling that occurs = the less stress and strain that is put on the hair fibre. Leading to diminished damage to the hair’s protective cuticle.
Editor’s tip: If you do find that you already have split ends but don’t want to take the step to cut them off, then try the VO5 Split End Rescue Balm, which will temporarily hide the appearance of split ends
Types of split ends
The term ‘split ends’ is used quite broadly to describe any hair that’s split or damaged but there’s more than one type of split ends. If you look closely at your hair, you’ll be able to identify what type of split end you’re dealing with and what it says about your hair.
The most common type, baby split ends are when the hair appears to have split in two at the end.
More severe than the baby split, a Y split is formed when the hair fibre has split even further up the hair into two parts – forming a ‘Y’.
Strictly speaking not a ‘split end’, a taper is when the hair fibre has thinned out towards the end.
This type of split end happens when the hair strand weakens at a certain point, yet doesn’t completely split, creating an ‘eye of a needle’ hole in the hair.
This is where your hair ends split multiple times off of the main shaft of hair, resembling the trunk of a tree with branches coming off of it.
Instead of ‘branches’ coming out of the main shaft of the hair, a feather split end occurs when most of the hair remains intact but the ends have split into many different strands, creating a feather-like appearance.
How to visibly repair split ends
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to split ends but there are ways to protect your hair from damage in the first place, in order to help prevent them forming. Plus, a few conditioning and strengthening products to help improve the overall appearance of damaged tresses.
As mentioned, the first step to preventing split ends is to ensure your hair is protected from heated styling tools and getting lots of nourishment. For a big boost of hair TLC, try the Love Beauty and Planet Hope & Repair 2-Minute Magic Masque. Infused with coconut oil and ylang ylang flower oil, and no parabens, silicones or colourants, this mask is everything you need it to be.