Whether you’re wearing your hair loose and tousled, sleek and smooth or in an updo, nothing ruins the look of your hairstyle like split ends. It’s the equivalent of donning a gorgeous designer dress with a hem that’s unraveling.
The Science of Split Ends
Split ends are the result of hair that’s been pushed – literally – to its breaking point. Hot styling tools, excessive friction, chemical processes like coloring or straightening, all weaken the protective cuticle that surrounds the delicate hair fiber. When enough stress is put on the cuticle, it loses its grip on the inner fiber and the ends fray into two or more strands.
If you have thick hair, you’re especially likely to suffer those roughed-up ends. That’s because, as researchers have discovered, the structure of thick hair is less flexible than fine hair, making it more vulnerable to breakage. What’s more, medium and thick hair fibers also rub up against each other more often than fine fibers, and this friction can cause the cuticle to chip.
Want to keep your ends intact? Just follow these five rules.
1. Limit highlighting to only three or four times a year, says Kazumi Morton, a Beverly Hills colorist whose celebrity clients include Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
“Because highlighting is done with bleach, it weakens the hair cuticle and makes it more porous,” Morton says. (Regular color doesn’t create this type of damage.)
2. Use hot tools with care.
“Your hair is technically dead and doesn’t have nerve endings,” says Morton, “so you’re not aware of how you’re burning it by overuse of curling irons and flat irons.”
Don’t let the temperature of your flat iron go above 350 degrees if your hair is thick, or over 300 degrees if it’s fine. Keep your curling iron on a medium setting. When you blow-dry your hair, first rough dry it without a brush – holding the dryer a few inches above your head – until it’s 80 or 90 percent dry.
Then, with the nozzle attached, keep the dryer moving through your hair in a downward direction, so you’re not applying direct heat to any one area for more than a second or two.
3. Handle wet hair gently.
Hair swells when it’s wet, becoming fragile and vulnerable to damage. Brushes can snag your hair, shredding the ends. The best way to detangle knots after you’ve shampooed and conditioned your hair is to use a wide-tooth comb or pick, moving it slowly through your hair.
4. Strengthen your hair’s natural defenses with a fortifying leave-in conditioner. Pantene’s Split End Repair Keratin Protection Crème helps seal ends that are already fraying, protects against heat damage and boosts hair’s keratin structure to prevent future split ends.
Two other split-end smoothers: Pureology’s Essential Repair Split End Correcting Treatment and Alterna Bamboo Smooth Kendi Oil Pure Treatment Oil.
5. Get regular trims.
Chopping off just a quarter- or half-inch every two or three months will prevent already frazzled ends from splitting up the hair shaft. Plus, it will create the smooth, sharp lines that show off your cut and color to its most dazzling advantage.
Shelley Levitt, managing editor of The Style Glossy, is a former West Coast editor of Self and senior writer at People.