What Causes Split Ends and How to Deal with This Common Issue

How do you get split ends? We go to the root of this distressing issue.

Whether we like it or not, split ends are something we all deal with. Have you ever wondered what causes split ends? From heat damage to dyeing, you’d be surprised to know how easy it is for your hair to splay out into two (or, gulp, more) parts at the tips.

What are split ends? Split ends are the frayed tips of hair that have, yes, split into two or more parts due to dryness or damage. This kind of damage can happen to any hair type. It’s easy to get rid of split ends by cutting them off, but it’s also important to know what caused them in the first place.

Read on to discover how to prevent split ends, how they form in the first place and get inspired to learn what you can do about them.

different types of split ends
Types of split ends.

There isn’t just one set way your hair can split, so it’s important to understand what type of damage you should be looking out for.

1. Classic Split Ends

The most common type, classic split ends are when hair separates in half at the tip. It looks like a fishtail!

2. Incomplete Split Ends

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’ appearance.

3. Tree and Feathered Split Ends

This is where your hair ends have split multiple times, resembling that of a tree branch or a feather. This also means it’s high time for a trim. The presence of this means that your cuticle literally can’t keep it together.

4. Single Strand Knots

These split ends are more common with ladies that have naturally curly hair and are also known as ‘fairy knots,’ or by their technical name trichonodosis. Single strands curl back on themselves and create small knots, which cause hair to become easily tangled. You can identify one by gliding your fingers down a strand of your hair until you come across a solid bump on your strand.

5. Y-Split

This type of split end is very common. The Y-split is when your strand of hair splits evenly into two parts, forming a Y-shape.

6. Taper Split End

The taper split end isn’t exactly a complete split like other types. This is when your hair doesn’t split but rather thins out towards the end compared to the rest of your hair. This is a good sign that it’s time for a trim.

1. Using rubber bands for your ponytails

How do you get split ends from a hair elastic? Have you ever noticed just how many strands can get yanked out with a rubber band when you undo a ponytail? If you’re not using proper hair ties, headbands, or hair accessories, you’re most likely doing more harm than good to your strands.

split end causes
Causes of split ends.

Rubber bands, in particular, can damage your hair due to the friction the material places on a hair strand. This can be one of the causes of gnarly split ends. Consider using a padded or fabric-covered hair tie, or better yet, a spiral telephone cord tie or scrunchie to prevent breakage.

2. Heat-Styling

We love our precious blow-dryers and flat irons, but those heat stylers can be culprits for damage and breakage. How to prevent split ends with the use of heat styling tools and mechanical stylers? With a proper hair care routine and the use of a thermal protectant, that’s how. Use a heat protectant, like TRESemmé Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray to shield your strands from the damaging effects of heat.

What we love about this heat protectant is that it not only prevents your hair from the damaging effects of heat and mechanical styling, it also infuses hair with lightweight conditioning nourishment. It prevents frizz, static, and flyaways—factors that may contribute to dryness and damage.

3. Chemical and Color Treatments

While you may have gotten that perfect color, that straight hairdo, and/or curly style you’ve been craving, it can come with a cost. These treatments generally use a lot of chemicals that can deplete and strip your hair of its natural moisture, leaving it dry and prone to splitting. Chemical processes damage the hair from the inside out and make the cuticle weaker, making it severely split end-prone.

Consider using a wash and care system that nourishes hair with every use, while also prolonging and extending the vibrancy of your new color. Love Beauty and Planet Blooming Color Murumuru Butter & Rose Shampoo and Conditioner is a duo that is naturally derived and helps keep your new hue vibrant!

4. Overwashing

While it’s important to keep our locks clean and scalps healthy, excessively washing hair can cause it to lose its natural oils. This results in a dryer, rougher ends.

As a general rule, shampoo and conditioners should be used as a system, which makes hair less prone to breakage and split ends. TRESemmé Pro Pure Damage Recovery Shampoo and Conditioner is a great set to use because it’s gentle on your hair and helps repair visible signs of damage.

5. Over Manipulation

Just like shampooing, combing, and brushing our hair is essential, but overdoing it can certainly lead to some breakage. Ease up on the overbrushing! If you feel that your hair needs something to help with the detangling process, use a leave-in conditioner like The Good Stuff Complete Repair Balm after towel-drying to minimize knots and friction on the strand when combing.

6. Towel-Drying

Even your beloved towel-dry technique can be causing damage to your locks. Post-shower, use a micro-fiber towel on your hair to dry, or better yet, a clean t-shirt! This is a lot more gentle on your strands and won’t cause friction.

We’re sorry to break it to you, but unfortunately, there isn’t a way to fix or get rid of split ends. The only way you can actually get rid of split ends is by cutting them off.

Trim or Dust Your Hair

girl with long brown hair dusting her hair
Hair dusting gets rid of all the split ends.

Getting your hair trimmed is the easiest way to get rid of split ends. It’s best to do this every 6-8 weeks. Anywhere from 1/2 inch to an inch is a great starting point for a trim, especially if you have long strands and want to keep the length.

However, if you really don’t want to risk losing any length on your hair, hair dusting is a technique you can do yourself, right at home, which will remove your split ends without losing length.

products for how to care for split ends
Products that help prevent split ends.

Since the most effective “cure” for split ends is to cut them off (a remedy that can be quite drastic for those who want to keep their length), the work then lies in a diligent everyday hair care routine.

Read on to see how you can prevent damage and what causes split ends from even forming in the first place:

1. Use a Hair Mask

Treat your strands right by infusing them with much-needed moisture and hydration. This is especially important if you have color-treated hair or you do a ton of heat styling. Try the super moisturizing (and handy!) Dove Nutritive Solutions Anti-Frizz Oil Therapy Hair Mask, which, as the name suggests, helps prevent frizz and makes hair feel smoother and softer after just one use.

Formulated with nutrients, protein, and Buriti oil, it helps nourish rough, coarse hair and leave it manageable. Bonus: We love how the sachet packaging makes it especially travel-friendly.

2. Get Regular Trims

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to keep your length intact is to get regular haircuts. Doing so ensures your tips are neatly trimmed straight across the cuticle, and that any budding splits at the very tips are, yes, nipped in the bud. Ed’s note: The sooner you book that appointment, the better (six to eight weeks is ideal). Split ends only worsen with time since the “break” can rise up the strand, potentially eating up more length.

3. Take a Break

As any style-savvy gal can attest, heat, color, and chemical treatments are all parts of a regular hair routine. Over time, any combination of these processes accrues and piles on the damage, paving the way for frayed, fried locks. We suggest taking a break (even a short one!) to allow your hair to recover. Why not air-dry or do some heatless looks for a week each month?

All in all, what causes split ends has a lot to do with how you care for your hair. With the proper products, habits, and cuts, split ends will be a thing of the past.

Next Read

Stay inspired

Sign up to the newsletter and get exclusive hair care tips and tricks.
Hair Quiz
All Things Hair
All Things Hair US
Hey! I'm Athena, your personal Hair Assistant. Got a question about your hair?
Chat with All Things Hair in Messenger