Hand holding hair
Image: Shutterstock/Bedrin

You swore you tried your hardest to keep your hair looking its best. You used a daily conditioner, didn’t swim…too much, brushed gently and even smeared some conditioning yogurt in your hair. Then you look down and realize they’re back. Those pesky split ends. And you wonder how they got there. Or maybe this time around you have an idea of what caused the split ends, because you haven’t been keeping up with your hair like you should.

As it turns out, your split ends tell a story. They’ll tell you how you got them, how your hair’s health is and how you can prevent split ends in the future. Read on to learn how to read your split ends like a book, type-by-type.

Traditional split: This split looks like your typical Y shape, and it’s what you’ll see the most often. These, and similar splits, come from dry hair and friction.

Baby split: It looks like a smaller Y, and is the beginning of a traditional split. You’ll want to trim these before they get worse.

Double Y split: This is a traditional split that has another forked split at its ends.

Triple split: This split, as the name implies, is a three-pronged split. It comes from a weakened cuticle, and the cuticle actually peels away from the center of the hair.

Long split: A version of the Y split where the forks are much longer. It’s caused by items like hairpins that cause hair to weaken at a certain place.

Incomplete split: This is where the hair splits in the middle forming a gap or circle in the center of the hair shaft. It’s caused by styling that weakens the specific part of the hair where it splits.

Deep split: This is where part of the hair is split farther up, causing a small off-shooting branch. It comes from chemical and physical damage to the hair through rough styling.

Tree split: This is a multiple split that forms branches like a tree. It’s caused by damage from the sun or brushing hair into a ponytail too often.

Right angle: As the name suggests, the end of the hair bends at a 90-degree angle. It comes from wearing one type of hairstyle all the time.

Off shoot: The hair bends at the point of a knot, which comes from heat, chemical or physical damage.

Feather split: This is a multiple split that resembles a feather. It comes from tons of hair coloring and/or not trimming hair enough.

Crinkle: As the name suggests, the hair actually crinkles like crinkle-cut fries. It comes from stretching the hair to just under its breaking point though physical manipulation, chemicals and heat tools.

Taper: The end of the hair just tapers into a thin wisp. This happens when the cuticle peels away and reveals the cortex of the hair. It’s caused by harsh chemicals.

Thickening: Opposite to the taper, the hair is actually thicker at the ends. This is caused by hormonal imbalances and specific medications.

White spots: These are caused by chemical burns on the hair shaft.

Knot: While not actually a split end, it’s often included due to how annoying and damaging it is. It’s what it sounds like: the knotting of individual hair strands. It’s caused by dry hair, wind and physical handling.

Now that you know the nature of the split, it’s time to move on to prevention and treatment.

Preventing split ends

Since you know your split end type, you can go out of your way to try to prevent those nasty split ends. Preventing split ends isn’t too hard. It will just require some mindful living and different habits.

You’ll want to remember above all else to be gentle with your hair. Do whatever you can to prevent strain, like brushing before you shower and brushing with a wet hair detangling brush after you shower, as well. That will decrease pulling overall since you’re not fighting tangled hair from washing and all-day wear in one desperate struggle. Also, make sure to glob on the conditioner and use a leave-in conditioner, if you have to.

While styling, try to avoid heat-styling tools and wearing the same exact hairstyle every day, as these are culprits that weaken specific parts of the strand. Reserve styling for special occasions, and don’t be afraid to wear hair down and plain on casual days to give hair a rest. Also, try to go as long as you can before dye and perm jobs.

If you have split ends, the easiest way to get rid of them is to trim a couple inches above the split end. You could also try any number of the split end treatments on the market, if you don’t mind testing products.