Types of split ends and what they mean

Types of split ends and what they mean

Split ends (medically known as schizotrichia) occur due to chemical and mechanical stress on the hair strand.  Chemical stressors include relaxers, bleach and keratin treatments.  Examples of mechanical stressors are combing, styling and rubbing against rough fabrics. These are just a few of the many things that can cause split ends as according to Eric Spengler, SVP of Research & Development at Living Proof told Marie Claire “From a scientist’s perspective, there are an infinite number of combinations of split ends.

I’ll be pointing out the five most common types of split ends and what they indicate about your hair.  Despite what so many brands want you to believe, there is no fix for split ends other than a sharp pair of scissors.  Products that claim to mend, heal or repair split ends only provide a temporary fix to coat the strand to prevent further splitting or “glue” the shaft briefly to give the illusion that it has been fixed.  The best practice is to understand what causes different types of split ends so you know how to prevent them from occurring, rather than try to treat schizotrichia retroactively.  This article discusses the five most common types of split ends and what they each indicate about your hair.


This is arguably the most common and well known type of split.  The cortical cells are still held together but large sections are beginning to split.

What it means:  You may not be trimming frequently enough and/or your ends are enduring too much manipulation and exposure to mechanical stressors.  Try tucking your hair away in protective styles to prevent Y-splits and make sure to seal your ends with an oil based product after applying your favorite moisturizer.

The Candle

The candle (sometimes called taper) split signifies a loss of the outer cuticle and while a split has not started, the strand is highly likely to split at any time.   The candle split typically occurs in hair that has been chemically treated.

What it means: You need a trim (duh!), but in the meantime use a protein conditioner do some pre-damage control and strengthen your strands to prevent a true split from forming before you have a chance to snip them away.

Single Strand Knot

Single strand knots are most common in natural hair where the curls and coils have tangled and caused their own knot.  Typically the hair will break at or near the point of the knot.

What it means: If you have curly hair, try low manipulation and protective styles that do not require you to handle your hair as much.  Also check out this article on How to Prevent Single Strand Knots.

Incomplete Split:

Also known as a mid-shaft split, these are harder to detect because they are not as immediately noticeable.  The shaft has weakened in a specific spot but has not completely split.

What it means:  If you frequently have these types of splits, you need to determine what is causing weakening: Do you wear your hair in a bun or puff all the time?  It could be from where the elastic is rubbing against your strands. If you have a hair accessory like bobby pins, headbands or barrettes that are usually placed in the same location, they could also be the culprit.

Feather Split:

The feather split means that there has been excessive damage done to your hair shaft, which has weakened and caused multiple splits along the strand.  This type of split is most common in women with bleached or color treated hair.

What this means:  Extend the time between color treatments and avoid other stressors.  Also install a mineral filter to your shower as buildup can also weaken the hair shaft.  Unfortunately these types of splits indicate a haircut may be necessary in the very near future.

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