How to treat split ends: we sort fact from fiction
With damaged hair, it's best to cut your losses
The only way to get rid of split ends is to cut them off
The straight answer: Yes
There is nothing like dry, brittle split ends to ruin a good hairdo. If you don't get rid of them you risk damaging your hair further, but it's simply not true that you can seal them back or fix them with hair products. Some conditioners, creams and serums on the market claim to be able to treat or repair split ends, but if you want to eliminate them permanently, the only solution is to snip them off.
According to Leonica Kei, director and senior trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Centre in Singapore, split ends occur when the hair cuticle becomes extremely dry and damaged as a result of extreme heat from blow-drying, excessive styling, UV exposure, chemical treatments, air conditioning, and frequent brushing.
"Hair consists of three layers - the medulla, the cortex and the cuticles," says Kei. "The medulla is an empty space in the middle of the hair shaft and it does not have a specific function. The cortex is the main bulk of the hair. It is made out of a fibrous structure and its layers contain hair pigments. The cuticles, which are arranged much like tiles on a roof, form the outer layer of the strands. This protective layer is what holds the cortex together."
When the cuticles are smooth, they reflect the light, resulting in a healthy, shiny look. Rough, damaged cuticles, on the other hand, make hair look dull and unhealthy. Damaged cuticles expose the inner layers of the hair's fibrous cortex, leading to the appearance of split ends.
"I would personally avoid using hair products that claim to seal split ends. It is difficult to imagine how a product could do such a thing anyway," says Kei. "Haircare products that are not water soluble will eventually lead to a build-up in the hair. This build-up affects chemical processes such as colouring, perming and rebonding because these processes take place inside the cortex. In addition, product build-up can make hair look very dull. The only way to really get rid of split ends is to cut them off."
If you want to prevent split ends from occurring in the first place, it is important to take very good care of your hair. Kei suggests using a hair mask once a month to nourish your strands. A deep hydration treatment two days before and three days after any chemical process will also help protect and rehydrate your hair. If you are going to be under the sun for prolonged periods, she advises protecting your locks with a good-quality sunscreen product made just for hair or covering your head with a hat. Wear a swimming cap or protective cream when swimming. If you have to subject your hair to excessive styling, such as before a big event, you may want to apply a pre-shampoo hydration hair mask when you get home. Styling can dry out the cuticles, and a mask can help moisturise and nourish them back to health.