Split (Ends) Happens: How to Keep Hair Healthy

Split ends are basically unavoidable—and people with fine hair are especially prone to them. Unless you're super vigilant about seeing your stylist for regular haircuts (every six weeks or less), never dry or curl your hair without using a protective product first, and committed to avoiding common styling mistakes that weaken and break hair, split ends are bound to crop up in your head. Here's what causes split ends and what you can do to prevent them.

Why Hairs Split

Hair that is damaged or weak frays and breaks resulting in split ends. If you use chemical straighteners, hair color or get perms, you've likely got them. Heated styling tools like flat irons, hot curlers, hot combs and hair dryers can also do damage.

Another no-no is washing your hair too often (can you say every day?), which strips the natural, protective oils from your head, or using conditioner infrequently. Living in extremely hot or cold environments is also tough on hair, as is salt water and chlorinated pool water. Even using the wrong kind of comb and brush can leave you with frayed, frizzy, split ends. How do you prevent all that from happening?

Since standard grooming and styling involves many of these split end culprits, use the best products possible for the least amount of time and try these five tips:

1. Use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner that's alcohol and sulfite-free, but only as often as necessary.

Most people don't really need to wash their hair every day, but if you do, use only small amounts of shampoo and don't skip the conditioner. Invest in occasional deep conditioning treatments, hair masques, and hot oil treatments either at the salon or use at-home treatments. The softer, more flexible your hair is, the less vulnerable it is to breaking.

2. Detangle wet hair with a wide-toothed comb.

That's when hair is most vulnerable to breakage. If your wet hair is full of snarls and tangles, it's easy for a brush to become snagged and pull hair to the breaking point. Instead, comb gently and untangle big knots with your fingers.

3. Get a great haircut and frequent trims.

Every six weeks is best for medium to long hair. This eliminates those dead ends and leaves your hair less vulnerable to tangling. Consult with a good stylist about the best cut for your hair type that requires the least amount of styling. The best way to avoid the damage caused by dryers, rollers and straighteners is to invest in a great wash-and-wear haircut.

4. Air dry as often as possible to avoid exposing hair to heat.

If you must use a hair dryer, let your hair air dry as long as possible then "finish" your style on a medium to low temperature. Use a heat-protecting product before a dryer, iron, or curler touches your hair and avoid using more than one heated product at a time. For example, don't use a hair dryer plus a flat iron or curlers during the same styling session. If your hair is already dry, but needs smoothing or shaping, use the styling product that does the most with the least amount of heat and in the shortest amount of time.

5. Apply chemical treatments as infrequently as possible and never use more than one at a time.

If you chemically straighten your hair, don't apply color at the same time. Consult with a professional stylist about staggering chemical treatments to prevent damaging your hair. The key to making color last as long as possible is to use colors close to your natural hair color and use cleansing and styling products made for color-treated hair.

What can you do if you have already have split ends, but don't want to cut it all off? Many serums, oils, moisturizers, glossing agents, and creams will smooth the outer surface of your hair temporarily to give it a smoother appearance. Start treating your hair more gently, trim more frequently and before you know it your hair will look healthier.

Craig Kraffert, MD, reviewed this article.