Telling apart split ends from healthy hair is not usually difficult, especially if you are experiencing dry, brittle hair. And it is normal to be annoyed by your locks’ frizzy appearance.
However, not all split ends are easy to spot, as hair damage can sometimes be subtle and fine vertical fractures can be difficult to see with the naked eye. Moreover, even the healthiest of hair has a few split ends, due to everyday wear and tear.
The best way to be sure whether you have split ends or healthy hair is to ask a trichologist to examine your locks. But if that is not an option, there are a few tricks you can use, such as documenting your hair baseline, checking the appearance of your hair fibres thoroughly and questioning your hair care routine.
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Split ends are scientifically known as trichoptilosis (a common form of trichoclasis) and they represent the longitudinal splitting and fraying of hair fibres. While, as its name suggests, this type of hair fracture usually occurs towards the lower end of your strands, it can also appear higher on the hair shaft.
Your hair strands are composed of an outer protective layer known as the cuticle, a thick, keratin-rich layer called the cortex and a centre, known as the medulla. Split ends occur when the protective hair cuticles are damaged or removed, as this makes the cortex more vulnerable to developing cracks.
The size of the medulla may also play a role in end splitting, as hair types with more medulla tend to be softer and more fragile. This creates a weakness in coarser hair types which have a larger medulla .
Whether straight, wavy or curly, a healthy strand of hair is normally smooth-textured, shiny and has clean cut ends or tapered tips .
When placed under a microscope, the cuticle that protects the hair fibre is packed tightly around it, not raised and there are no signs of nodes, fraying or fractures around the hair shaft.
Split ends, however, can have various appearances, due to the fact that they can split into several patterns, as a result of the way the hair was damaged and the extent of the fracture:
An incipient split end, not yet fully developed
Traditional Y split
The most common form of split end, is when the hair shaft splits in two
Double Y split
When one segment of the split also forks
When the hair strand becomes very thin and fragile towards the end, after a split fragment breaks off
When the hair shaft end splits into multiple frayed ends
When the hair strand splits in several places and some of the segments also fracture, branching out
Especially in curly, textured Afro hair, split ends can become knotted, making them difficult to brush without breaking
When the strand starts splitting but does not fully do so
When examined under a microscope, a split end looks frayed, with segments shooting off from the hair shaft.
Nobody has perfect hair with no split ends whatsoever. However, many frayed hair strands are often problematic, as they will give your hair a frizzy, dull look. Moreover, split ends are not only a cosmetic problem but a sign of underlying hair damage, which can lead to breakage and hair thinning.
There are several things you can do to tell if you have split ends or if your hair is healthy:
look for signs of dull, brittle hair, frizziness, uneven strand length and thinning towards the lower section of the strands.
It is a good idea to take a picture of your hair right after you’ve trimmed your ends, to have a baseline look to compare to.
If you can see even incipient split ends in many strands, it is a good idea to get ahead of the problem and get them trimmed or take steps to prevent further breakage.
Use a magnifying glass to see your hair ends properly. If you don’t have one on hand, you can use the zoom on your phone camera.
The frayed ends of shorter strands will stick out from your braids and become easy to spot.
Helpful tip: If your braid has smooth, even outer edges, your hair may be healthy, while if it resembles an ear of wheat, it is a sign of broken hair and split ends.
If your braid has smooth, even outer edges, your hair may be healthy, while if it resembles an ear of wheat, it is a sign of broken hair and split ends.
If you have permed hair or natural curls, it can be more difficult to notice split ends so gently extend the end-portion of your curls to look for split ends.
Some hair loss is normal in the shower or while brushing your hair. However, if you are losing more than 50-100 strands a day, it could be a sign of damaged hair, which often has split ends.
It is best to see a trichologist at the first signs of hair thinning or balding, as hair loss may also be a sign of a common scalp problem or a condition which causes your hair to fall out, such as androgenetic alopecia.
Put a piece of gauze over your shower drain and collect the strands caught in it after washing your hair. Check them for split ends and compare their number and appearance to those collected after your next shower.
There are several reasons why your hair ends might be splitting. The most common of them are as follows:
Friction is one of the most frequent causes of split ends. This happens when hair is brushed too vigorously, scrubbed too hard when washed or simply rubbed against your clothes or other strands of hair .
Some of the chemicals used to relax, perm, bleach or dye your hair can penetrate deep into the hair shaft, causing structural damage and making your hair more fragile and susceptible to splitting . Moreover, frequent use of dyes contribute to hair loss.
Overexposing your hair to the sun without UV protection is not only at the root of summer hair loss, but can also cause split ends. That is because UV radiation causes morphological changes in your hair strands, making them duller, rougher, more brittle and prone to splitting and breaking .
Applying high heat to your hair on a regular basis dehydrates it and affects its capacity to retain moisture. Moreover, exposing wet hair to heat of over 125C can lead to the formation of gas bubbles within the hair shafts. This makes them dry, brittle and prone to fractures . It can be difficult to fix heat-damaged hair if it has already split so it is best to prevent this by using heat styling sparingly.
Some types of hair get split ends more easily than others, due to their structure and texture. For example, curly and kinky hair is more likely to fracture when washed or brushed, due to the small angle of the curls .
Moreover, some inherited hair conditions, such as trichorrhexis nodosa, can cause structural abnormalities in your hair strands, making them more likely to break and split .
If you don’t have split ends yet, you’ll be happy to learn that there are a number of things you can start (or stop) doing to help your hair remain happy and healthy. Here are some of the best advice for keeping split ends away:
While even the healthiest hair has a few, barely noticeable split ends, if you have enough of them to wonder whether your hair might be damaged, it is likely that you have too many.
Excessive split ends are usually a symptom of more extensive damage to your strands. That means they don’t only make your hair look frizzy and lacklustre, but they also indicate your hair is fragile and prone to breaking, which can result in hair thinning.
If you have split ends, it is not at all a good idea to pick at them. While it can seem like this reduces your hair frizz, it can, in fact, lead to further hair fracturing. Strands which have split ends are already damaged and fragile, often due to being handled roughly. Pulling and tugging on them will make them fray even further or break off entirely. It may also make the hair shaft split all the way to the base, damaging the hair follicle and leading to hair loss.
If you notice that picking your split ends happens more often when stressed or anxious or that you are experiencing a sense of compulsion to do so, it is best to see a mental health specialist. That is because, on rare occasions, it can be a sign of trichotillomania .
While there are certain hair products which promise to repair split ends, they only make your hair seem smoother but do not fix the fractures. And since your hair is fragile and damaged, it will just keep splitting unless the root cause of the fractures is removed. The only surefire solution is to trim your split ends and engage in preventive hair care to keep your hair tips healthy in the future.
If you are looking for natural ways to conceal your split ends before you can get them trimmed, here are some of your best options:
Split ends can be a symptom of more extensive hair damage, which, if left untreated, can worsen over time, weakening your strands and leading to hair thinning. So when you notice a concerning amount of split ends, it is a good idea to get your hair health professionally assessed.
Book a consultation now with one of our leading hair specialists and they will give you a complete report of the condition your hair and scalp are in. They will also be able to provide you with the best-personalised advice and treatment for happy, healthy, luxuriant locks.
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