Split ends scientifically known as Trichoptilosis occur due to chemical and mechanical stress on the hair strand. Chemical stressors include relaxers, bleach and keratin treatments. Examples of mechanical stressors are combing, styling and rubbing against rough fabrics.
Types of Split Ends
The type of split end on your head can tell you a thing or two about the exact damage you’re putting your hair through.
There are, in fact, multiple types of split ends out there, and the type you see in your hair is like a roadmap to your damaged hair. Here, we’re breaking down the basics of what each type of split end means and what you can do about it.
The Basic Split
The basic split is the most common type of split end you can encounter. It looks like a Y. This is one of the early stages of damage. In this type of split end, the cortical cells are still mostly held together, but large sections are beginning to separate.
This is most often caused by dryness, friction from clothes, rough styling and combing and infrequent trimming.
How to prevent or minimize: Try tucking your hair away in protective styles to prevent Y-splits and make sure to seal your ends with an oil-based product after applying your favorite moisturizer.
The Single Strand Knot
These knots are very common for those of us with curly, coily, and kinky hair, and happen when a single strand wraps upon itself forming a knot. The single strand knot is not quite a split yet, but it generally leads to breakage during combing and styling. The breaking or snapping of the strand/s during manipulation lead to damaged and splitting ends.
These knots come about from manipulation of the hair during shampooing, letting the hair shrink upon itself, and improper moisturizing.
How to prevent or minimize: It’s nearly impossible to completely avoid single strand knots however, we can prevent and decrease the number of knots we have. Before shampooing your hair, make sure your hair is fully detangled beforehand and then place into about 6/8 twists before washing. When washing your hair use the praying hands method to help smooth and cuticle in a downward motion allowing the hair to remain tangle free. Always follow up with a deep conditioner and moisturizer after and keep your hair STRETCHED. Many naturals find that stretching their hair by banding, twisting, or braiding after wash day helps to minimize the knots in their hair.
The Mid Shaft Split (Incomplete Split)
These splits can occur anywhere on the hair shaft and look like a hole in the hair shaft. They are generally formed on the curved loop or bend of the hair strand (kinky and coily hair has a ton of bends). Then some form of abrasion or rubbing of the hair shaft causes the inner cuticle to separate longitudinally.
These splits happen can happen from wet combing/brushing, wearing hair in a too tight styles for extended periods of time- (think puffs and buns and the friction from the hair tie), excessive heat styling and chemicals, which strip the cuticle of moisture.
How to prevent or minimize: Try finger detangling your hair first removing as many knots as possible before using a comb/brush in your hair. Always be gentle and never rip through your strands/knots.
Switch up hair styles from high buns to low buns and make sure the hair tie is not excessively tight, pulling and damaging the hair.
When it comes to heat and chemicals. Keep away or seek professional help when using chemicals (dyes/straighteners) in your hair. If you must use chemicals, make sure you use protein treatments or reconstructors on your hair to prevent further damage. When it comes to heat, minimize heat use and always use a heat protectant and ceramic heat styling tools.
The candle or taper is another example of significant hair damage. If your hair looks like the end of a candle (the end of the strand is thinner than the rest, like a candle wick), this is an example of significant loss of the outer cuticle. Though there isn’t yet a split end, any weather of the strand can lead to severe splitting.
This type of damage comes about from hair that is using chemicals and excessive heat.
How to prevent or minimize: Limit the use of heat on hair. Heat is the hair’s worst enemy. When the hair is dehydrated, the cuticle starts to rise, leaving the hair vulnerable to harsh elements. So always use a heat protectant and ceramic heat tools when styling.
Opt for rebuilding or deep conditioning treatment instead of chemical treatments. If the hair already has split ends, getting hair colored, bleached, permed or straightened will only cause more harm than good. Deep conditioning and using a rebuilding protein treatment is a must in hair that is chemically treated. Additionally, frequent trims are a must when using heat and chemicals in your hair.
The Tree and or Feather
Following the trend of ascending damage, a tree split is a sign that your hair needs some serious TLC. This split will look like a tree or feather. The end will look like a fork split, but there may also be splits further up the strand, especially on one side.
This is a sign that one side of your hair is more damaged than the other, and it means that several branches of cortical cells have begun to separate. By the time you see tree splits, you’re more than likely going to see the basic split and other forms of splits.
How to prevent or minimize: Identify what in your regimen you aren’t doing, this is a sign of excessive weathering and it means you have several unhealthy hair care practices or have not developed a regimen that includes enough protein and proper moisture or trimming. Perhaps you may be forgoing trims or trimming with dull scissors that leads to choppy ends and more damage. If you want to learn how to build a hair regimen based on your hair’s porosity then check out my porosity series here.
If you are not confident in your ability to care for your hair, I recommend visiting a stylist to help you identify and build a regimen that will suit your hair’s needs.