Science behind split ends: Why dry hair breaks

Girl looking in mirror and brushing her hair

If you’ve ever had a string of bad hair days (or maybe bad hair weeks) split ends may have been to blame. 

While split ends are all too common, they wreak havoc on our manes. Split ends are the consequence of hair damage, and the more damaged the hair fibers get, the more unmanageable hair becomes. 

Lack of moisture is a major culprit to our damage woes; parched, dry hair is not only the perfect environment for split ends, but it can also cause weak hair that breaks easily. Hair breakage can trick us into thinking our hair isn’t growing. But nope, it’s just bits of our strands snapping off. 

Split ends can’t be repaired — you’ll need to get rid of them with a pair of scissors — but there are a few easy things you can do to prevent the damage that causes them. 

Anatomy of a hair strand: The cuticle is your hair’s defense 

Before we get to prevention, we have to understand the reason hair strands weaken and split in the first place. It all comes down to the physical structure of the strand, from the outside in, beginning with the cuticle. 

The cuticle is made up of flat, overlapping scales (think shingles on a roof), that runs about 10 layers deep. It acts as a shield, wrapping around the cortex, the interior’s main layer that gives the hair its shape, resilience, elasticity and curl. 

When the cuticle is damaged, the hair strand is left without protection and becomes susceptible to split ends and breakage. What does that look like to us? Frizzy hair that’s dull, drab and feels like straw. 

In other words, it’s super important to keep the cuticle healthy. 

Mechanical damage caused by combing and brushing 

Mechanical damage is cuticle abrasion caused by combing and brushing. When we run a comb or brush through our hair, our strands bend, twist and stretch, causing strain on the hair fiber. Not to mention, there’s additional damage caused by fiber on fiber friction. 

All this straining can break the “bonding glue” between each layer of the cuticle, causing the layers to separate from one another, known as de-cementation, and lift away. 

This is all leading to the actual splitting of the hair strand. Cuticle shear/band formation—a  lovely mouthful that’s used to describe the precursor to a split end—is caused by the tangling and twisting of weak hair as we brush or comb it. Tangling weak hair results in fractures and eventually leaves us with those pesky split ends. 

Your hair can’t get longer if your ends are continuously splitting and breaking. So let’s look at how to strengthen them. 

Prevent unmanageable hair: conditioning and moisturizing the cuticle

If it sounds too simple, it’s because it is. Hair needs hydration to keep damage at bay. 

Dry hair becomes brittle and harder to stretch. To ensure your hair cuticle stays healthy and stands up to brushing and combing, it’s essential to condition and moisturize your strands with the right products when washing your hair. 

The best shampoo and conditioner for dry hair will help prevent cuticle abrasions, de-cementation, and ultimately, split ends while brushing. 

Conditioning

Look for products that offer excellent conditioning and detangling to reduce forceful brushing. Detangling will reduce the amount of bending and twisting of the hair as strands go through the brush. 

Moisturizing 

The plasticity, or bendability, of your hair matters. Without proper moisture, hair is more prone to damage from brushing and breaks. Hair products with lower molecular weight bio-polymers are designed to penetrate the hair fiber and bring in moisture from the outside, keeping hair hydrated. 

And don’t forget about how you treat your hair out of the shower. Hair is more fragile when it’s wet, so avoid brushing and use a wide-tooth comb instead. 

The best shampoo and conditioner for dry hair starts with the ingredients

You don’t have to live with weak hair that breaks easily. Gemmist shampoos and conditioners use salon-grade ingredients that actually work, like panthenol, a moisturizing provitamin balances the hair’s moisture levels, and hydrolyzed quinoa and soy proteins that condition damaged areas and won’t weigh hair down. 

Find out the right shampoo and conditioner for your hair type by taking our online quiz here

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