In This Article
Split ends are a common hair issue and one that anyone can experience. Their causes include excessive styling and heat, chemical treatments, and a lack of moisture. The best way to deal with split ends is to eliminate them completely—but this can pose particularly challenging for those with naturally curly and coily hair, for whom identifying and trimming split ends can be more difficult. So while split ends can be masked temporarily, it’s always better to resolve the issue by visiting a stylist to have them trimmed correctly.
But how can you keep yourself from getting split ends in the first place—and, if you do get them, how can you mitigate the damage? We sought out the expertise of trichologist Kari Williams, Ph.D., hairstylists Neil Moodie and Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, and Imbue creative director Michelle Sultan to find out. Ahead, they share everything you need to know about preventing and treating split ends on natural hair.
Meet the Expert
- Kari Williams, Ph.D., is a trichologist, stylist, and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council.
- Neil Moodie is a hairstylist with a career spanning three decades. He is the founder of the Neil Moodie Studio.
- Takisha Sturdivant-Drew is a celebrity hairstylist and Matrix Brand Ambassador.
- Michelle Sultan is the creative director and brand ambassador of Imbue.
What Are Split Ends?
"Split ends occur when the ends of the hair fiber become frayed or split as a result of damage to the hair strand," Williams tells us. "They are a sign that the cuticle (the outer layer of the hair strand) is damaged." In addition to split cuticles appearing in several sections, split ends can be identified by their look: They resemble the end of an unraveled rope.
And why are split ends such an enemy to healthy hair? "Split ends are bad because they cause the hair to split up the hair shaft, and when this happens, the hair doesn’t do anything," Sturdivant-Drew explains. "It just looks dead, dry, and brittle." Split ends may easily go unnoticed, but when they occur, the strands tend to tangle easier, leading to knots and more breakage. "If left untouched, a split end will continue to damage hair strands beyond repair," Sultan explains. "These ends no longer have a smooth cuticle covering them, which is how they naturally catch on and snag on each other and healthy ends. This can lead to even more split ends."
How Should You Treat Split Ends on Natural Hair?
- Get them cut immediately: "See a hair care professional and schedule a trim or haircut," advises Williams. "When hair splits to a certain point and then breaks off, this creates a cycle of breakage that will continue until the hair is cut. Products that seal split ends only provide a temporary solution."
- Condition, condition, condition: "Natural hair is very dry, so using a conditioner in combination with heat (or a heating cap) is a must," Sturdivant-Drew says. "Also, trim the ends once a month to keep hair healthy."
- Avoid any quick-fix products: "Any products that claim to repair split ends are not worth buying," says Moodie. "All they will do is temporarily disguise the ends. The only way to be rid of them is to cut them off."
- Protect your hair from heat: "If you use any heat appliances such as blow dryers or straighteners, use a heat protection mist to protect your hair from... heat styling," Sultan says. "A good heat protection mist will also protect hair from environmental aggressors such as warm weather or freezing cold temperatures."
- Embrace moisture: "Prevention is better than cure when it comes to split ends, so use products that have a high moisture level in them, especially if you live in extremely warm or cold climates," says Sultan.
- Avoid sulfates: "Sulfates, parabens, and heavy waxed-based mineral oils will make hair damage more visible," Sultan says. "I recommend looking for products that are lightweight and nourishing for clean and shiny hair."
- Dye your hair with caution: "Try not to color your hair more than three levels above your natural hair color," says Sultan. "Hair that has been dyed needs moisture and protein. Imbue's Curl Restoring Intensive Mask ($21) provides an equal amount of protein and moisture to the hair, reducing the risk of split ends."
Are Some People More Prone to Split Ends?
According to our experts, all hair types are prone to split ends. "Genetic factors, environmental changes, styling practices, and harsh products can make hair more prone to split ends," says Williams. "They are simply the result of dry, damaged hair."
Be mindful of how much heat you are using, as blow dryers and straighteners can cause the hair to split. Chemical treatments can also cause damaged ends, so reducing the frequency of these or opting for milder treatments may prove to be beneficial. If a change in weather tends to affect the condition of your hair, you might want to adapt your routine to ensure you are giving your curls and coils the additional care and attention they need.
It’s easy for naturals to assume that all protective styles will, well, protect the hair from damage. But excessive protective styling can cause split ends, especially styles that involve adding extensions to hair such as box braids, Senegalese twists, and sew-ins. The friction against your hair cuticle layer is the culprit, so take breaks from protective styling once in a while and let your curls and coils (which are already fragile) breathe. "Afro-textured hair is prone to damage due to the location of its oval-shaped hair shafts," Moodie explains. "It also has a natural retro curvature of hair follicles, slower hair growth, and less hair density—these factors make Afro-textured hair more fragile."
Can Split Ends Be Avoided?
Split ends can be avoided by building and following a hydrating and conditioning routine to maintain hair strength and elasticity.
Make sure to get regular haircuts every six to eight weeks, depending on your hair type. Always ensure any stylists you visit are handling your hair with care, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you are experiencing any discomfort during your visit.
One of the biggest issues naturals have, particularly on wash day, is detangling their hair. There is a lot of guidance out there on how to do this according to your hair type, but one universal rule for detangling hair is to comb as gently as you can. "This will prevent damage to the hair strand," Williams says. And the products you use can impact the success of your routine. Sultan recommends ditching any shampoos that contain sulfates when washing your hair. "Sulfates can strip the hair of its natural moisture, leaving it dry and brittle. Try using Imbue's Sulfate-Free Shampoo ($15) for a really deep clean that doesn’t strip your hair," she says. And of course, conditioners are an essential part of any wash day routine for natural hair. "Always use a conditioner or deep conditioning mask after cleansing your hair, and use a wide-tooth comb or a detangling brush to distribute the conditioner evenly through your hair—this will make it so much easier to manage," Sultan says.
Williams recommends limiting the usage of heat-styling tools. "If you use heat-styling tools, always include a heat protectant to create a barrier of protection that can reduce the potentially damaging effects on the hair," she says. That being said, heat isn’t the enemy, and limiting heat usage does not mean that you have to avoid it altogether—but there are specific situations in which you definitely want to skip the blow dryer or flat iron. "I wouldn’t recommend using heat appliances on hair in between shampoos because it can leave hair dry and brittle," says Sultan, adding: "I know from experience that added heat really does cause my hair to split a lot quicker."
Sturdivant-Drew recommends Matrix's A Curl Can Dream Rich Mask ($19) for natural hair that has been damaged by heat. "It has manuka honey in it, which helps to moisturize and repair hair, leaving it smooth and frizz-free," she says. She also suggests the brand's Instacure collection includes an Anti-Breakage Conditioner ($22), which works to nourish, repair, and strengthen dry, damaged, and brittle hair.