Ask a Beauty Editor: How to Get Rid of Split Ends
Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. In our weekly series, beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, hair care, and makeup questions, all submitted by Real Simple readers. Tune in every Tuesday and submit your own burning beauty questions here for a chance to be featured.
Reader question: How can I get rid of split ends from hair damage? —Paula Turentine
First, some bad news. One of the biggest misconceptions in hair care is that you can "reverse" split ends—unfortunately, the only way to fix a split end is to cut it off (sorry).
Some better news: You can keep split ends from getting worse, lessen the appearance of them, and prevent future breakage from happening. But before we delve into some best practices (stick around until the end for those), it's helpful to know where they come from in the first place.
What are split ends?
A split ends is exactly what it sounds like—one hair strand that has split into two. You can think of it like a rope that has frayed over time. "Split ends occur at the very end of a hair strand. The hair strand fractures and divides in two, creating a small 'Y' shaped tip at the end of your hair," says Trey Gillen, hairstylist and artistic director of education at SACHAJUAN.
Although having some split ends in your hair is totally normal, they're dangerous in large amounts. When you get a split end, it runs up the hair fiber like a rip in your stockings. If you don't snip it ASAP, the breakage will either snap the strand completely or travel all the way up to your roots. Not only can this make your hair look damaged and frizzy, it can result in severe hair breakage throughout your strands and overall brittleness that leads to hair thinning.
"I always explain to clients that split ends in the hair are like roses on a rosebush. When the rosebush is in bloom, the plant itself looks weak and withered—all the nutrients are going to the rosebud so the plant can reproduce—but when the rosebush isn't blooming, the leaves and the plant itself looks healthier because the nourishment gets distributed evenly throughout the plant," says Gillen. "The same is true with split ends—once there's a split on the end, all the nourishment coming from your scalp is going to try to repair that split, but since the split can't be repaired, the hair gets weakened throughout."
What causes split ends?
While genetics play a role, split ends are mostly caused by weathering and heat damage. "These fractures or 'split ends' are usually caused by environmental elements (like hot water, wind, etc.) or by mechanical friction and heat styling," says Gillen. For most people, exposure to split end-causing culprits is inevitable, which makes it all the more important to take regular preventative care of your hair. Which leads me to my next point…
How to prevent split ends
Much like anti-aging (where the best skincare is preventative skincare), the best way to avoid split ends is to prevent them from happening in the first place. The key is moisture—well-hydrated hair is less likely to break and snap when you're brushing or styling.
The shampoo and conditioner you're using regularly are very important, but there's a third player that should be part of your standard hair care. Incorporating a hair mask into your routine once a week will provide long-term moisture and make the hair look and feel softer, always a good thing. Try looking for overnight formulas, like Amika Dream Routine Overnight Hydration Treatment ($28; sephora.com), with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, coconut water, and polyglutamic acid.
"The best way to prevent split ends is to minimize heat styling and mechanical damage with gentle brushing and handling," adds celebrity hairstylist Clariss Rubenstein. Tip #1: When brushing, make sure to hold onto the hair closest to the scalp to gently detangle without causing pressure. Tip #2: Never brush your hair when it's wet—wet hair is the most vulnerable to stretching while being pulled, so you're risking unnecessary breakage if you brush straight out of the shower.
And the most surefire way to prevent split ends is to get regular trims every six to 12 weeks. The exact number will vary depending on factors like heat styling and color-treating, along with your hair shape, which might require more or less maintenance to upkeep. Consult with your stylist to pinpoint the ideal turnaround for you.
How to fix split ends
It's very hard to actually undo hair damage once it's done, but a growing category of products promise to do exactly that. "They use certain ingredients—predominantly silicones—to temporarily mold split ends back together and prevent them from splitting any further," says Gillen. Many of these products are called serums or finishing creams that help 'seal' the split end."
While these are great for short-term results, Gillen notes that they are temporary solutions to hold the frayed ends together. "To reap the benefits, you have to reapply the serum or cream each time you wash your hair, and buildup of these ingredients can weigh down your strands," he says. "To counteract this, consider the quality of ingredients when looking for one of these products, as you don't want hard silicones in your hair. Refined silicones are healthier and much better for styling." Try ghD Advanced Split End Therapy ($15; amazon.com), which acts like a cast for split ends, temporarily uniting broken hair fibers to make them less noticeable.
And lastly, you have bond-building treatments, like Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector ($30; sephora.com), which work by targeting the broken disulfide bonds that break when hair is damaged. It relies on various proprietary ingredients, like Bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate (a mouthful, I know), to reconnect bonds both ionically and covalently. This will reduce the appearance of existing split ends and prevent them from climbing further up your hair strands.