Why Do I Get Split Ends?

Split ends occur due to breakage and damage in the hair cuticle. Many factors are responsible for this including chemical, environmental, physical and nutritional. Race, ethnicity, genetics and certain health conditions can also increase one’s risk of developing split ends.  

Read on to find out examples of each contributing factor, tips and tricks on how to conceal and even prevent split ends, whether or not split ends can be treated, and how high your risk of developing split ends is compared to the general population.

What are split ends?

Much like an unravelled piece of rope, split ends refer to the frayed bottom ends of hair that have come apart due to excessive damage and dryness in the hair cuticle.

Hair consists of two major parts: the hair follicle and hair shaft.2 The hair follicle is the living part that resides beneath the skin surface and functions to promote hair growth. Hair shaft, on the other hand, presents the non-living part located above the skin surface. The hair shaft is fully coated with keratin proteins and is further divided into three main layers: the hair cuticle, hair cortex and hair medulla. The hair cuticle, in particular, acts as a protective layer against physical and chemical damage. That is why, when damaged, as a result of multiple factors that will be discussed shortly, hair will start to lose moisture and eventually dry out and break, resulting in split ends. 

Causes of split ends

Split ends have multiple causes, including chemical, physical, environmental, and nutritional. These can be summarised as follows:

  1. Chemical: repetitive hair exposure to chemical treatments such as:1,3 
    • Bleaching
    • Colouring (hair dying)
    • Heat styling via blow dryers, hair straighteners, curling irons or wands and hot brushes
  1. Physical: 
    • Engaging in poor grooming habits by overbrushing, brushing hair too roughly and most importantly, brushing hair when wet.1,3 In fact, wet hair has been demonstrated to have a higher combing friction that dry hair, meaning that it is more easily stretched and more prone to breakage3  
    • Following harsh hair care practices by: wearing hair extensions regularly; tying hair too tightly; drying hair too roughly especially when wet; not trimming hair often; not using conditioner; using shampoos and/or conditioners not suited to one’s hair type; and using hair products with harmful, irritating ingredients such as alcohol and perfume1,3
  1. Environmental: excessive hair exposure to one, or all, of the following:1,3 
    • Sunlight
    • Pollution 
    • Humidity
  1. Nutritional: eating a restrictive, unbalanced diet with insufficient:
    • Calories  
    • Protein 
    • Vitamins 
    • Minerals 
    • Essential fatty acids

Treatment for split ends

Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment available to repair or cure split ends. The only way to effectively ‘’treat’’ split ends is by getting rid of them via trimming and/or cutting. It is worth noting that, the longer one goes without trimming split ends, the higher the damage and breakage the hair experiences, resulting in impeded hair growth.1 That is why the main aim is to avoid getting split ends in the first place by following effective prevention strategies and hair care habits.


Who is more at risk of split ends?

Split ends affect everyone and most of us are bound to get split ends at some point in our lives. However, some of us are more at risk than others in developing split ends. In fact, research suggests that people with very curly hair, particularly those of African descent, have a higher risk compared to Caucasians with straight hair.1,3 This is because, in contrast to Caucasian hair, African hair has less hair density - approximately 3000 less hair follicles - and less active sebaceous glands. Located within hair follicles, sebaceous glands function to secrete sebum, an oily substance which acts as a lubricant, effectively working to moisturise the scalp and prevent it from drying out. 

People with hypothyroidism who have an underactive thyroid are also at risk of thinning hair and split ends.5 Shaped like a butterfly, the thyroid is a small gland at the front of the neck which produces thyroid hormones. When secreted, thyroid hormones influence metabolism as well as the growth and development of almost all organs in the body, including hair. People with hypothyroidism produce very little to no thyroid hormones, making them more prone to developing split ends. 

Menopause is another hormone-related health condition that increases the risk of developing split ends.According to research, oestrogen production is significantly lowered during menopause, causing a reduction in both hair growth and hair strength. As a result, the hair becomes drier, thinner and weaker, leading to the development of split ends and even hair loss. 

Finally, genetics can also increase our risk of developing split ends. Studies show that people with genetic diseases such as trichorrhexis nodosa7 and trichothiodystrophy8 have a higher predisposition to split ends compared to the general population. Both diseases are associated with brittle, dry and fragile hair; however, the way the split ends develop differs. For example, split ends in people with trichorrhexis nodosa develop due to white nodes that form along their hair shaft, hindering proper hair growth and decreasing hair strength.7 Trichothiodystrophy, on the other hand, gives rise to split ends by decreasing the amount of sulphur in hair, significantly decreasing hair strength and making it more prone to breakage.8

Can I conceal split ends?

Yes - although split ends cannot be treated without fully cutting them off, they can be concealed. Concealing or hiding the appearance of split ends will not make them go away, but can improve one’s hair appearance and overall hair health as well. It could also provide one with the confidence boost they need until they get their hair trimmed. 

The most effective way to conceal split ends is by applying the following to the hair shaft:

  1.  Hair masks and intensive leave-on hair conditioners: opt for those containing poly-quaternium polymers, dimethicones, and gum extracts as these help enhance moisture in the hair cortex and restore damaged hair.3  

 Tip: Try not to concentrate most of the hair mask/conditioner on the scalp as this will give off a greasy look and worsen overall hair appearance

  1. Mineral oils: coconut oil, in particular, represents one of the best oils to conceal and even prevent split ends as it has been shown to effectively move into the hair shaft and decrease protein loss from damaged hair due to its low molecular weight.1 

Tip: Coconut oil has a thick, heavy consistency and therefore, a small amount goes a long way! 

How to prevent split ends

Preventing split ends is a task that is not always successful or easy to achieve. However, one could decrease their risk of developing split ends as well as the number, severity and frequency of the split ends themselves by adhering to the following prevention strategies: 

  1. Having regular trims 
  2. Applying hair masks and intensive leave-on hair conditioners regularly3
  3. Applying conditioner after washing hair with shampoo1 
  4. Applying shampoo mainly on the scalp and conditioners at the hair ends1
  5. Using a shampoo and conditioner that are both free from irritating ingredients and suited to one’s hair type and hair needs9  
  6. Applying hair oils regularly, particularly coconut oil1
  7. Applying a heat protectant when using heat styling treatments to avoid heat damage
  8. Minimising the use of hot tools and heat styling treatments. Use them every 4-6 3 or 12 1 weeks, mainly on freshly grown hair to decrease the risk of hair damage 
  9. Engaging in gentle hair brushing/combing, towel drying and shampooing1
  10.  Washing hair less often9
  11.  Giving hair a break from hair extensions and replacing tight elastic hair ties with looser and comfier ones like scrunchies 
  12.  Avoiding hair exposure to harmful chemicals such as chlorine by wearing a tight-fitted swim-cap when swimming and/or applying conditioner before swimming9
  13.  Avoiding overly restrictive ‘’fad’’ diets and instead, focusing on consuming a healthy diet rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids4


Split ends arise when both ends of the hair split apart due to damage and dryness in the hair cuticle. Split ends are very common, affecting people of all races, ethnicities and sexes. However, some people are more prone to develop split ends than others, with research suggesting that African people with very curly hair having a higher risk compared to Caucasian people with straight hair. Additionally, compared with the general population, people with health conditions that are associated with changes in hormone production including hypothyroidism and menopause, have a higher risk of developing split ends. Genetic disorders that weaken and dry out the hair - such as trichorrhexis nodosa and trichothiodystrophy - are also associated with a high predisposition to split ends. 

The risk of developing split ends also varies depending on one’s: grooming habits; hair care practices; diet and nutrition intake; level and length of exposure to both environmental and chemical factors like sunlight and bleaching, colouring and heat styling. Generally speaking, the longer one has engaged in harsh hair care practices and neglects proper hair care, the higher the number, severity and frequency of the split ends they will develop. 

Unfortunately, no treatment for split ends exists to date and the only way to get rid of split ends is by trimming/cutting them. Thankfully, split ends can be concealed and even prevented mainly by taking regular trims, but also engaging in healthy hair care practices as mentioned above. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is also essential in maintaining hair health and preventing split ends. After all, our hair requires plenty of nutrients and vitamins to grow properly and repair itself. 


  1.  Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: An overview. International Journal of Trichology [Internet]. 2015;7(1):2. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
  1.  Erdoğan B. Anatomy and Physiology of Hair [Internet]. www.intechopen.com. IntechOpen; 2017. Available from: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/53880
  1. Sinclair RD. Healthy hair: what is it? J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2007 Dec;12(2):2-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jidsymp.5650046
  1. Almohanna HM, Ahmed AA, Tsatalis JP, Tosti A. The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019 Mar;9(1):51-70. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) [Internet]. [cited 2023 January 17]. Available from:  https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyroidism#symptoms
  1. Goluch-Koniuszy ZS. Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause. Prz Menopauzalny. 2016 Mar;15(1):56-61. doi: https://doi.org/10.5114/pm.2016.58776
  1. Gari SA. A case of acquired trichorrhexis nodosa after applying new hair spray. Journal of the Saudi Society of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery. 2013 Jul; 17(2): 73-75. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jssdds.2013.01.001
  1. Faghri S, Tamura D, Kraemer KH, Digiovanna JJ. Trichothiodystrophy: a systematic review of 112 published cases characterises a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations. J Med Genet. 2008 Oct;45(10):609-21. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jmg.2008.058743
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. TIPS FOR HEALTHY HAIR [Internet]. [cited 2023 January 16]. Available from: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/hair/healthy-hair-tips
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Haajar Dafiri

Bachelor of Science with Honours – BSc (Hons), Biochemistry, University of
Wolverhampton, UK

Haajar Dafiri is a recent First Class BSc (Hons) Biochemistry graduate from the University of Wolverhampton with over 4 years of academic writing experience.
She has professional experience working in both labs and hospitals such as LabMedExpert and the NHS, respectively. Due to her ‘’outstanding undergraduate’’ academic achievements, she was awarded both the Biosciences Project Prize and the Biochemical Society Undergraduate Recognition Award.

From a young age, whenever words and science were involved, Haajar eagerly followed. Haajar particularly enjoys diving deep into intricate research articles and interpreting, analysing and communicating the scientificfindings to the general public in an easy, fun and organised manner – hence, why she joined Klarity. She hopes her unique, creative and quirky writing style will ignite the love of science in many whilst putting a smile on their faces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818