What hope is there for split ends, really? I’m not sure if I’ve got actual split ends, or if they’re just frazzled and wispy, but I seem to have permanently naff-looking lengths. I don’t think I’m too rough with my hair (I always use heat protection and I don’t have bleach, just tinted highlights) but I find it hard to get it all looking smooth and uniform. What can I do – apart from chop them off?
Suffering with split ends is pretty much universal. My Italian grandmother has never once dyed or heat-styled her hair, and still she complains about ‘forchette’ (forks) in her hair. Don’t beat yourself up too much about the highlights and the hair-drying – they're nigh on impossible to avoid. There’s not a huge amount of difference between a split end and a dried-out end, but a split end is one that divides out, whereas a frazzled end will most likely look very wiggly and feel dry. As you said, the only way to remove a split end is to cut it off – but you can make them less noticeable.
"A split end, the kind that’s divided into two or more at the end, is more common on Caucasian and Asian hair than Afro-Caribbean hair," explained David Felstead, director of Daniel Galvin Hair & Scalp Clinic. "It’s a little down to the curl pattern of afro hair making them less visible, but also because the delicate nature of afro hair means the hair is more likely to simply break, rather than divide out." David’s seen his fair share of troubled tresses in his 20 years at the salon. "Obviously I would always advise people to come in for regular trims, but I think a lot of the time, people are really putting their hair through the wringer while thinking they’re doing the right thing."
Brushing and combing is a good example of this. "It’s very easy to be overly aggressive when brushing your hair," cautioned David, "especially if it’s long, it’s all too easy to get a really fierce motion going. Combing the hair fresh out the shower isn’t advisable, as when your hair is wet, it lacks elasticity and so the downward pulling motion just makes the hair break." If you’re like me, not brushing your hair when you’re about to blow-dry or style it isn’t an option, so David suggested switching to a gentler comb. I like Tangle Teezer (though I’m aware the Wet Brush also has a diehard fanbase so I’ll let the two groups duke it out, West Side Story -style, in the comments below), and I always brush from the ends first, gradually working my way up to avoid snagging. Go gently, and don’t be tempted to keep combing for the sake of it.
In terms of colouring your hair, or other chemical processes, it’s not necessarily the product that causes split ends, it’s the state it leaves the hair in. "Any chemical process, or heat, or even environmental factors like UV rays weaken the hair and make it more susceptible to damage," explained David. "That’s where a split end comes in, when the hair has been compromised somewhat and lost that elasticity. It just tears." Being six years deep into a love affair with Majimèches, I’m not about to tell you that you shouldn’t dye your hair or use tools on it. It’s a case of accepting the damage you’re willing to put your hair through, and finding products to help mitigate it. "It’s like going to a fancy restaurant and speaking to the sommelier," added David. "You wouldn’t just blindly pick any wine – you’d tell them that you're eating fish, like something dry, and want to spend about £30. Then they’d come back with some suggestions. Your hairstylist is there for that guidance." David’s right – part of what you pay for in the salon is one-on-one, bespoke counsel with a professional. They’ve seen your hair up close, know exactly what’s gone onto it and how much you’re willing to spend on it, fiscally and time-wise.
But let’s imagine you can’t get to the salon right now. David said Kérastase Ciment Thermique is one of his go-tos for improving the appearance of the hair, and I would suggest Percy and Reed No Oil Oil for 'tucking in' any frizzy bits. There are plenty of products on the market that imply they can repair a split end, but they can’t. At best, they can temporarily mask its appearance, like Redken Split End Sealer. An in-shower mask is good, too – try Kérastase's Masque Therapiste, although the OG has to be Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
The way you style your hair will help too. "Part of the reason your ends look so much better after a salon treatment is down to good blow-drying technique," explained David. "The combination of the right amount of tension, drying in one direction only and a cool shot at the end helps to smooth your hair into one shape, making dry ends less obvious." Of course, you’ll probably have as much luck getting a salon-quality blow-dry at home as you would a Michelin star for beans on toast, but the principle still applies. Use the nozzle on your hairdryer, focus the air in one direction, get firm tension with your brush and work down, finishing with a blast of cold at the end.
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