What Causes Split Ends — & What You Can Do To Get Rid Of Them

What Causes Split Ends? 5 Common Culprits (Plus 4 Ways To Prevent Them)

December 14, 2021 Updated January 11, 2022

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Split ends aren’t exactly the stuff hair dreams are made of. But it’s something we all deal with whether you have short hair, long hair, curly, or straight hair. What are they, exactly? Split ends are the frayed tips of hair that have split into two or more parts. No doubt you’ve wondered what causes split ends in hopes of transforming your breakage into a brilliant mane. Before you reach for those scissors (and potentially do further damage to your hair) or head to the salon for the umpteenth time, it might be helpful to know why you have split ends in the first place.

So, spoiler alert? There are various factors, including everything from dryness to diet to dyeing, and knowing what’s at the root (no pun intended!) of your split ends can help you maintain those luscious locks you want and deserve. Here’s what you need to know about what causes split ends and how to prevent them.

What Causes Split Ends

First thing’s first: What causes these split ends anyway? Surprisingly, many everyday things we think might be helping our hair — or at least helping it look good — actually hurt it instead. Here are some of the most common culprits.

  • Wearing elastic bands. Putting your hair up quickly with an elastic band while on the go? No bueno! Those seemingly innocuous little loops easily yank out strands, so it’s essential to wear the proper hair accessories — like cloth-covered headbands and scrunchies — to protect your hair from being damaged.
  • Styling with heat. Straightening, curling, and blow-drying your hair might be a vital part of your hairstyling routine, but the bad news is these tools are responsible for damage and breakage. So, what to do instead? Air drying hair is best. You might want to braid your wet hair overnight for a more wavy look. And if you must use a heating tool, be sure to use a heat protectant spray or serum to guard your ends.
  • Using hair dyes and chemical treatments. Who doesn’t like a new hue or newly straightened or curled hair done by your professional stylist? While your new ‘do looks fab, it comes at a price: split ends. These treatments typically strip hair of its natural moisture, which means it’s more likely to suffer from breakage. Either cool it with the treatments or ask your salon for the best hair care products to help protect your mane.
  • Washing your hair too much. Yes, washing your hair too much does more harm than good since it’s stripping your hair of natural oils. It’s best to wash your hair with shampoo and conditioner every other day or even less (helloooo, dry shampoo).
  • Brushing your hair a lot. Whoever said you need to brush your hair 100 times for beautiful hair was dead wrong since overbrushing your hair can cause damaged ends. Use a leave-in conditioner after washing your hair and comb through with your fingers instead of grabbing your hairbrush to get rid of those tangles.

How to Remove Split Ends

Now that you know what causes split ends, how do you remove them? The only way to truly remove split ends is by cutting them. Alas, there’s no one correct answer when it comes to how often you should cut your hair. That depends on factors like your hair texture, your go-to style, and your hair goals. However, a good rule of thumb is to look at your ends about a month after getting a haircut and ask yourself if you see any damage. You may need to get your hair trimmed every four to six weeks if you do. If your hair still feels and looks relatively free of damage (including split ends), you can stretch that out longer.

If you want to remove your own split ends, you can learn how to trim your hair at home, including hair dusting. Hair dusting is a trimming technique that gets rid of damaged ends. It’s done by sectioning off your hair in coils from roots to end. This allows the damaged ends to pop up and expose the hair you need to dust. When you see a split, trim just enough to remove the damaged end (approximately 1/4 of an inch). As always, you run the risk of a hair catastrophe when you take a DIY approach, so it’s advisable to either skip that step and go straight to your stylist or have their number handy in case you need to book a follow-up appointment.

And if you ever wondered how bad can split ends get? You’re not alone. Like, could a split travel all the way up to the root of your hair? Although that is a valid question, the answer is no. The split usually only travels up no more than three inches. That’s still quite a bit of damage, but it’s very unlikely to split all the way to your scalp.

How to Prevent Split Ends Naturally

While there’s no way to guarantee a split-end-free life, you can be proactive in how you approach your haircare. The following tips should help minimize noticeable flyaways and splitting.

  • Protect your hair from the sun. Just like your skin, those rays can damage and dry out your hair. Whenever you’re exposed to the sun, make sure to cover your hair with a scarf or hat or use a UV-protectant spray.
  • Wash your hair with cold water. Hot water strips your hair from its natural oils, while cold water keeps your strands looking healthy.
  • Stay hydrated. Water is the gift that keeps giving to your body, including your hair. Make sure you’re drinking eight glasses of water a day to keep your hair shining.
  • Apply oil to your hair. Any organic oil — olive, coconut, jojoba, argan — will do. Gently massage a handful of oil into your scalp and leave on for 30 minutes. Then rinse off with shampoo.
  • Make a homemade mask. A mask using yogurt, honey, or eggs (along with a dash of oil) can help smooth your hair, adding extra moisture to your locks.