What to Know About Split Ends

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on August 12, 2022
5 min read

Split-end hairs can happen to anyone at any time—they do not discriminate when it comes to race, age, or gender. While hair is generally strong, it is still susceptible to damage from wear and tear. This damage, known as split ends, occurs at the end of your hair since that is where the oldest and most fragile strands of your hair reside. 

In an attempt to maintain beautiful-looking hair, you may end up using products that claim to promote healthy-looking hair but, unfortunately, may end up doing the opposite instead. When damage occurs to your hair, it results in your hair becoming weak and prone to breakage or splitting. This can lead to unhealthy or frizzy-looking hair. Eventually, thinning of the hair and bald spots may occur as a result of the continuing and untreated damage. 

There are several factors and habits that can lead to the development of split ends. These factors and habits include: 

  • Rubbing shampoo throughout your hair during the washing process
  • Not using conditioner 
  • Allowing your hair to come into contact with harsh chemicals such as the chemicals in swimming pools 
  • Using a towel to rub your hair dry
  • Brushing your hair after a shower while it’s still wet 
  • Using blow dryers, hot combs, and/or curling irons frequently and on high settings
  • Applying long-lasting hair styling products 
  • Securing your hair in a tight ponytail, bun, braids, or other updos 
  • Wearing hair extensions and weaves 
  • Using professional hair treatments such as perming, coloring, or relaxing your hair 
  • Overbrushing your hair 

Aside from those factors, split ends can also occur from environmental, nutritional, and genetic causes.

Although split ends are all primarily the same, occurring when hair becomes split at the tips or ends, there are a few different types that have slight differences. Not only are there different types of split ends, but each type has its own causes, and it’s important to understand those reasons. 

  • Double Split: The most common type of split end, and the one that is the easiest to recognize, is the double split. These splits happen when the tips of your hair split in two, creating a Y-shape, and occur due to the hair’s cuticle being worn or damaged, oftentimes by the friction created from over-styling or overbrushing your hair.
  • Partial Split: A partial split is similar to that of a double split but occurs on a smaller scale. Fortunately, partial splits are not that serious—usually occurring when your hair is dry and has sustained some damage. With a bit of care and a limit to heat exposure, you can fix your hair up before the partial split causes the damage to your hair to worsen. 
  • Tree Split: If you notice that your hair has strands that are split into several different places and look similar to a tree with branches sticking out, then you have what is known as a tree split. These split types signal that your hair is damaged and requires proper trimming.
  • Fork Split: The fork split resembles a fork shape with three splits that stick out similar to that of a pronged fork. This type of split occurs when your hair has not received proper hydration.

Regardless of what type of split end has occurred, there should be no mistaking it when you see the obvious signs of damage. 

Split ends are generally bad and signal a problem with your hair that should be addressed. Split ends also can prevent hair growth and may even cause your hair to snap.

Split ends also point to hair that has become damaged, weakened, and unhealthy.  

Despite the fact that there are products marketed and geared toward fixing split ends, they do not provide enough help. Since there are no treatments or cures for split ends, the only way to get rid of them is to get your hair cut or trimmed. By trimming your hair, you’re able to prevent your hair from splitting further up the strand, avoiding further damage to your hair.

While there is no treatment for split ends other than getting your hair cut, there are several ways that you can prevent split ends from occurring. 

  • Avoid washing your hair daily: When you wash your hair, you’re getting rid of natural oils that are there to moisturize your hair. Instead of washing your hair every day, wash it once every two or three days.
  • Change how you brush your hair: Be mindful of the type of hairbrush or comb that you use to brush your hair. You’ll want to use a brush with flexible bristles or one with a cushioned paddle. As you’re brushing, first work on detangling the ends before continuing up the strands at a slow and careful pace. Additionally, you’ll want to brush your hair prior to using heated products like flat irons and only brush wet hair with a wide tooth comb.
  • Avoid scrubbing shampoo into your hair: Apply the shampoo to your scalp and scrub. As you rinse the shampoo away, it will make its way down throughout the rest of your hair, providing your hair with plenty of shampoo.
  • Make sure to condition your ends first: Apply conditioner to the ends of your hair first before applying conditioner anywhere else. Allow the conditioner to remain on the tips for a few minutes in order to allow it to soak up.
  • Be careful when towel drying: To avoid damaging your hair by twisting or scrubbing it when drying with a towel, carefully squeeze or scrunch the hair in the towel instead.
  • Don’t use heat to dry the ends of your hair: Since the tips of the hair are the most fragile, it’s important that heated products such as blow dryers are used to dry the midsection of hair only and never the ends.
  • Change how you style your hair: It’s important to ensure that when using styling accessories like curling irons you don’t allow the tips to receive too much heat. Instead of wrapping your hair from root to tip around a curling iron, position the iron at the root and then proceed to carefully wrap your hair around it.
  • Receive regular trims: Receiving regular trims is important to keeping your hair healthy and removing any split ends that have started to form. As such, regular trims should be done every six to eight weeks.