Split ends: Everyone has had them at some point or another. They’re a natural result of the wear and tear from our daily lives.
“Imagine you have a beautiful vintage Hermes silk scarf. Now think about what would happen to it if you washed it every day, put it in the dryer and dried it, and then put it on an ironing board and ironed it every day. How long would it last? Many women do the literal equivalent of that to their hair, and even if you're using spectacular products, your strands can only handle so much,” explains Adam Livermore, an educator at Oribe. (Point taken.)
And though there’s only one way to actually get rid of split ends (get a haircut), there are a number of things you can do at home that them less noticeable and prevent them from happening in the future. But before we delve into some best practices, let’s talk about where they come from in the first place.
What causes split ends?
“There are two main types,” explains Garren, a celebrity stylist and co-founder of R+Co. “Some occur just at the bottom of the hair, which is usually from heat damage or letting too much time pass between haircuts. Then there are the split ends that happen beneath the top layer of hair that can make it look like it’s growing in different lengths all around the head. This is typically a sign that your hair is stressed out—whether from using certain types of brushes like ones with a metal core or nylon bristles or from repeated use of an overheated tool like a flat iron. It could also signal hormonal imbalances or issues with your thyroid,” says Garren. Knowing the culprit behind the damage can help you determine how to best treat it. On that note, here’s how to get rid of split ends, according to our trio of experts.
1. Shampoo gently
All three of our experts agree: The first place to start is in the shower. “Be sure to only shampoo your roots and use a sulfate-free wash. Products with sulfates can over-cleanse and damage fragile hair,” says Sarah Potempa, a celebrity hairstylist and inventor of the Beachwaver Co.
Your tool kit: Color Wow Color Security Shampoo ($23); Beachwaver Co. Good Vibes Moisturizing Shampoo ($24); Rahua Voluminous Shampoo ($34); Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Super Moisture Shampoo ($36); Virtue Recovery Shampoo ($38)
2. Condition better
“When conditioning, you should apply it from the mid-lengths of your hair through the ends. Then, gently comb it through to detangle your hair easily without running the risk of snapping off any hair fibers,” says Livermore. Just make sure you start combing at the bottom of hair and slowly move your way up. “You can also use a pre-shampoo treatment once or twice a week, which will make your strands more elastic and less brittle overall.”
Your tool kit: Crave Naturals Glide Thru Detangling Brush ($10); Tangle Teezer The Original Detangling Hair Brush ($12); Redken All Soft Conditioner ($17); Biolage Colorlast Conditioner ($19); Julian Farel Haircare Vitamin Condition ($25); Pureology Hydrate Conditioner ($32); Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Replenishing Moisture Conditioner ($52); Oribe Gold Lust Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment ($68);
3. But don’t over-do the conditioner
“People often make the mistake of taking their regular conditioner and leaving it in as a treatment. The thing is, if the conditioner doesn’t say you should leave it in on the packaging and you’re using a regular conditioner as a leave-in, it can harden and cause the hair to break off because of the proteins in it,” warns Garren.
4. Use cold water
“I always recommend doing a quick, cool rinse in shower to close the cuticle of your hair before you step out,” says Potempa. “Hair cuticles are like shingles on a roof. They open in hot water which makes them more likely to break, whereas cool water will close the cuticle and help them lay flat so they are smoother.”
5. Dry gently
“For fragile strands, I’d avoid using regular towels and opt for a microfiber one or even a soft t-shirt to dry your hair instead,” advises Potempa. Use it to squeeze out any excess water and then let your hair air dry as much as possible. “But if you absolutely need to use a blow dryer, use it with a nozzle to direct the air flow, and blow dry in sections so no one part of your hair is getting overly blasted with heat. Finish with a cool shot at end to close up those cuticles.”
Your tool kit: DuraComfort Essentials Super Absorbent Anti-Frizz Microfiber Hair Towel ($11); Aquis Lisse Luxe Hair Turban ($30); InStyler Turbo Max Ionic Dryer ($100); Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer ($400)
6. Protect your strands while you sleep
“To avoid any hair snags at night, I’d recommend changing up the way you wear it. For example, if you always wear it up in a bun, switch up the direction you twist your strands,” says Potempa. “I also like to apply a hydrating balm or cream from the mid-lengths to the ends of my hair before wrapping it all up into a soft bun or loose braids. I’m also a huge proponent of using a silk pillowcase.”
Your tool kit: Living Proof Perfect Hair Day 5-in-1 Styling Treatment ($16); Aveda Brilliant Universal Styling Cream ($22); Alaska Bear Natural Silk Pillowcase ($23); Beachwaver Co. Braid Balm Pre-Braid Prep ($24); Ouai Finishing Créme ($24); Slip Slipsilk Pure Silk Pilllowcase ($85)
7. Get regular trims
“In general, you should trim your ends every two months, even if it’s just a dusting,” says Garren. “But if the client has very damaged hair, I would recommend getting a trim every six weeks. People with already healthy hair can go up to 3 or 4 months between trims. And for any of you who are putting off a trim because you’re trying to grow out your hair, Garren assures that “by trimming your hair, you’re making sure it stays healthy and it will get stronger in time.” Stronger hair means less split ends and breakage, which means more length in the long run.
8. Skip the at-home trim
“If you have long hair that is mostly one length, you can get away with cutting off your split ends at home better because the ends of the hair will all more or less blend together. However, I really, really don’t recommend doing this if you have a specific haircut (i.e., any style that isn’t one length all around), because you’ll need to make sure everything lines up properly,” says Garren.
Livermore agrees: “You're better off going to a stylist who can not only give you a beautiful haircut, but also help you establish the correct styling routine at home, which products to use, and the frequency of haircut appointments you’ll need, so you don’t get split ends to begin with.” And please, while we’re on the topic of at-home habits, please don’t peel away at your ends—however tempting it may be. That’s how you end up with scraggly strands.
9. Pay attention to the scissors
According to Garren you should avoid thinning shears (those thick, comb-looking scissors stylists sometimes use to remove bulk from your hair) at all costs. “Thinning shears are the worst. They are literally shredding at your ends. Plus, there are different ways to lighten up your hair and get movement in it, like using a razor,” says Garren.
10. Be wary of DIY concoctions
Livermore cautions against using anything in your hair that you can also use as a cooking oil—especially if you frequently use hot tools like flat irons or curling irons. “You will literally pan fry your hair,” he says. “If you use styling tools, you’re much better off using a proper heat protectant that is lab tested to protect your hair from further damage. “If you don't heat style, using a natural oil like jojoba oil can be beneficial for dry ends.” Bottom line: Any treatments (DIY or otherwise) can help smooth things over but won’t fix frayed ends altogether.
Your tool kit: Now Solutions Organic Jojoba Oil ($8); Cliganic USDA Organic Jojoba Oil ($10); Drybar Hot Toddy Heat Protectant Mist ($13); Phyto Phytokeratine Repairing Thermal Protecant Spray ($32)
11. Mask regularly
Once a week, coat your hair in a thick, hydrating mask to smooth the strands and cuticles. This is especially important if you have curly or processed hair, which tends to be drier and can split or break when there isn’t enough moisture. “You can also try a split end mending product that temporarily binds split ends back together. Though it’s not a permanent fix, it can protect your ends from splitting any further up the shaft until you’re able to go in for a proper trim,” says Livermore.
Your tool kit: TGIN Miracle Repair X Deep Hydrating Hair Mask ($18); Joico K-Pak Color Therapy Luster Lock Mask ($22); Klorane Mask with Mango Butter ($26); DevaCurl Deep Sea Repair Seaweed Strengthening Mask ($36); R+Co Television Perfect Hair Masque ($42); Oribe Split End Seal ($48)
12. Reevaluate your diet
“You need to make sure you eat enough protein and fats like the ones found in avocado and nuts because it helps build the hair and keep it strong,” advises Garren. (For more hair-healthy foods, here’s a nutritionist-approved guide.)
13. Consider a salon treatment
“A keratin treatment can temporarily help to seal split ends,” says Livermore. Again, they aren’t meant to substitute cutting or trimming your hair, but they can prevent the situation from worsening. Each treatment uses keratin, which is a naturally occurring protein in your hair, and heat to reinforce compromised strands that are prone to peeling or splitting. And whereas keratin treatments of the past used to flatten hair into pin-straight strands, newer iterations (like Goldwell Kerasilk) can be customized to retain your natural curl or wave pattern. Bonus: A keratin treatment also cuts down on styling time and gives your hair a smoother texture and more shine.