A beginner’s guide to split ends: Expert tips on how to prevent and treat them

Damaged tresses? ATH explain everything you've ever wanted to know about split ends.

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…

Blonde hair split ends
Split ends hair treatments decoded. Credit: indigitalimages.com

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.

Editor’s tip: Using a leave-in oil such as the Dove Advanced Hair Series Regenerate Nourishment Serum-In-Oil strengthens brittle hair against breakage. Making it less susceptible to surface damage, and in turn, split ends. You can also use the TRESemmé Biotin+ Repair 7 Primer Protection Spray which is a lighter option if you don’t need the extra nourishment or prefer not to use an oil.

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: Use the TRESemmé Biotin+ Repair 7 Shampoo and Conditioner when washing your hair to help strengthen and protect it. Formulated with Biotin & Pro-Bond Complex, the shampoo and conditioner contain a patented blend of molecules that penetrate deep inside the hair. Restoring broken bonds caused by hair damage.

Split ends: All Things Hair infographic displaying the different types of split ends and what they mean
There are different types of split ends which can reveal different things about your hair.

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.

Baby split

The most common type, baby split ends are when the hair appears to have split in two at the end.

Y split

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.

Blonde woman holding hair split ends
How to repair split ends. Credit: Verity Jane Smith

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.

It’s also important to protect your hair from heated styling tools that may cause damage to the cuticle. Use the VO5 Damage Protect Primer Spray on damp locks (concentrating at the tips) before you brush or style them, to help safeguard against heat damage.

In order to combat the appearance of dry or damaged tresses in general, make sure you’re using a hair mask for split ends in your grooming routine. The TRESemmé Biotin+ Repair 7 Intensive Mask will help visibly repair seven types of damage in just one use, giving you healthier-looking tresses when used together with the shampoo in the same range.