• Race to a Cure Authors

Trichoptilosis - Split Ends

The word ‘trichoptilosis’ might make no sense to you, but you definitely know what split ends are. In the end, they are the same thing. The common term: split ends literally describes what it means: splitting a hair strand near the end of the hair. Even though we hear this word used all the time, most people do not understand the scientific aspect behind this condition, which is exactly what we will be diving into today.


Image is courtesy of SLMD Skincare.


Firstly, we need to start by understanding a bit about the anatomy of our hair. According to SkinKraft, every strand of our hair is produced by hair follicles located in the outermost layer of the scalp, also known as the epidermis. These tunnel-shaped structures’ primary function is to grow hair, and on average, humans have around 100,000 hair follicles in total. The visible strands of hair that extends out from the follicles are known as the hair shaft, as explained by Sandra Lee MD. The hair shaft comprises three parts; the medulla is the innermost layer, followed by the cortex, and the cuticle is located at the ends. The cuticle is our main focus today, consisting of layers of dead skin cells that protect the underneath elements.

In general, damaged cuticles are the leading cause of trichoptilosis, as it leaves the hair strands without protection. This damage exposes the cortex, causing its protein fibres to unravel and eventually split apart. Many different factors can cause the wearing away of the cuticle, but as a whole, every action that compromises the outer layer of your hair can be to blame.


All Things Hair outlines a few causes for example:


Mechanical Causes


Mechanical causes are related mostly to friction between the hair and certain damaging material. In general, there are three types of mechanical causes:

  • Heat (blow drying, straightening, curling, etc.): in most cases, our hair cannot tolerate such high temperatures, especially without heat protectant

  • Brushing/combing: the contact between the tool and the hair is very harsh, especially for those who like to pull on their knots

  • Rubber bands: bad quality hair elastics can increase the friction between the material and your hair, and can often also yank out many strands after one use


Image is courtesy of SLMD Skincare.


Chemical Causes


Putting harmful chemicals on your hair also leads to trichoptilosis, and in most cases, it is the most harmful cause. This includes any process where the hair is in contact with chemicals, such as dyeing and using dangerous hair products containing chemicals. Usually, these chemicals strip and take away your hair’s natural moisture/nutrition, causing dryness and splitting. It also makes the cuticle weaker and speeds up the wearing away process, damaging your hair.


Climatic Causes


Climatic causes occur all year round, especially in the winter times. The cold weather and drying indoor heat pressure your hair and steal its moisture. This dries up the hair, causing it to be more prone to breakage.


In addition, there are also many different types of trichoptilosis, and the image below depicts a few examples.


Image is courtesy of All Things Hair.


Unfortunately, according to All Things Hair, trichoptilosis cannot be entirely prevented, and the only real solution is to cut them off. Generally, it is best to get regular trims every 6-8 weeks. More specifically, when split ends become visible, at least 1 inch of hair above the division should be trimmed. It would help if you never left it be, as it can worsen the split, prevent further hair growth, and even snap your hair.


Another solution, if you don’t want to lose your hair’s length, is a technique called hair dusting, which only cuts off the bottom of each damaged hair strand. There are different methods for performing this process, and you can find many instruction videos on the internet to help you out. Even though this damage cannot be repaired, you can still take action towards improving new generations of hair shafts that are stronger and less vulnerable to breakage. Below are some tips from the Healthline organization on ways to reduce the frequency of split ends.


  • Get regular haircuts and trims, preferably every six weeks.

  • Don’t wash your hair daily. When you do wash, consider only using conditioner and skipping shampoo.

  • Choose all-natural shampoos that contain no harsh ingredients.

  • Use a conditioner after shampooing or use a leave-in conditioner.

  • Use a wide-tooth comb to detangle wet hair.

  • Limit services that damage hair, such as colouring and chemical straightening.

  • Use a heat-protective spray, and minimize the use of heat.

  • Take supplements that strengthen the hair, such as biotin and folic acid.



Article Author: Kacy Zhao

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Stephanie Sahadeo