Sooo I thought about letting you down easy, but I’m just gonna cut right to it: You can’t fix your split ends once they’ve frayed. I'm sorry. I know. But before you freak out and lose all hope of your healthy long hair dreams, listen up: There are, in fact, ways to disguise split ends—and, better yet, prevent them—without having to endure a drastic haircut.
Once you get a better grasp of why your hair is splitting or breaking off, you’ll be better equipped to prevent them and treat them so that you don’t find yourself with massive amounts of damage down the road. Which is where I come in. I spoke with all the hair experts to help you finally put an end to your damage, below, so you can worry less about fixing your hair and more about showin' it off.
What causes split ends?
“A split end is when your hair splinters due to damage to the oldest part of the hair shaft,” says celeb hairstylist Cash Lawless, who works with Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner. If they go untreated, "split ends lead to what most people consider breakage, which is when the hair breaks at a point that makes the strand significantly shorter than the unbroken hair." Not great, not fun. And usually, that damage and breakage are caused by heat treatments, chemical treatments, coloring, dryness, or just wear-and-tear with age. Which brings us to...
HOW TO PREVENT THEM
Brush your hair gently to avoid split ends
Surprise! Something as simple as combing your hair can cause splits if you're too aggressive. "Stop brushing your hair like you're chopping wood," Cash says. "Hair is fragile, so treat it delicately." One hack for knowing if you're being too rough with the brush is to listen to the sound it makes as it glides through your hair. If it's virtually silent, you're doing it right. If you hear a scraping or ripping sound, you're doing too much.
If silent brushing sounds like an impossible feat because of your insane knots, start from the bottom of your hair and work your way up to gently detangle, rather than trying to rip the brush from your roots to your ends. If your brush meets resistance, stop, remove it, and start a little further down.
While you're at it, make sure you're using the right hairbrush, too. "I recommend a metal bristled detangling brush like one from Raincry, along with a detangler comb," Cash says. "These two products combined will significantly reduce wear and friction."
Keep your heat tools on low for less damage
Yes, those temperature dials on your hair straightener and curling iron really do matter if you're dealing with split ends. The higher the heat, the more damage it will inflict, and not everyone needs 450 degrees to see results. Cash recommends turning down the temp of your hot tool to 285 degrees and see if it'll get the job done.
If not, you can slowly increase the heat until you get the results you want. Cash's pro tip for how to straighten your hair with a lower temperature? Use smaller sections. "It may take a bit longer, but trust me—if you can keep the heat below 350, it’s bye-bye split ends," he says.
Only work with clean hair to prevent split ends
As much as we love a good hair oil, don't go spreading one all over your strands before clamping down with a hot iron. "Most oils and heat don’t work well together on hair," says Cash. "If, for example, you accidentally leave the conditioner in your hair, or don’t rinse it out all the way, you might be cooking your hair instead of styling it." And cooked strands = split ends. So make sure to properly wash out all excess oils and product buildup before styling your hair with heat.
But don't let all of that talk scare you away from using any product on your hair when reaching for the hot tools. A heat protection spray or serum is formulated with the right ingredients for shielding your strands from hot temps, so make sure to load it on to prevent split ends.
HOW TO GET RID OF THEM
Picking at your split ends makes them worse
"Don’t pick" is good advice that applies for a lot of things in beauty, and that split end you have in your hand is one of them. Picking, peeling, ripping, or tearing are not substitutes for hair trims, so if you're trying to grow your hair out and think you can avoid the hairstylist, think again.
"When you snap the hair at the ends, you’re using friction to scrape the cuticle, along with force to snap the ends," says Cash. "When you stretch and break off the split end, you're basically laying a red carpet to welcome more split ends at even a shorter length." So hands off, k?
Get a hair dusting to fix split ends
The only real way to get rid of split ends is to cut them off. Because once a hair is split, there's nothing that can magically fuse the pieces back together again forever. But if you're super anti-haircut, especially if you've been trying to grow your hair out, ask your stylist to try hair dusting—a technique that removes split ends without sacrificing length. Here it is in action:
HOW TO DISGUISE THEM
Hide split ends with a shine serum
So, you have split ends. Welcome to the club! Until your next haircut or dusting, the only thing you can do is conceal them with the right products. If you notice frazzled ends once you've finished styling your hair, smooth the frayed cuticle with a dab of shine serum.
Hydrate the hell out of your split ends
If your ends are already splitting, give them a ton of TLC with shampoos and conditioners that will proactively work against further breakage.
Deep-condition your damaged ends. A lot.
If you're not looking to shell out tons of money on new styling products, try an at-home hair mask to replenish lost nutrients in dry, damaged hair. Cash swears by coconut oil masks, which will leave hair shiny and smooth after once use. But just remember to wash the product out completely before heat styling.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.