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Split ends and causes of hair breakage

Updated on March 26, 2011

Hair breakage is a problem for people all over the world. Regardless of the length, color or texture of your hair, if you do not take the necessary measures to protect and care for your hair, hair breakage will occur.


Reports from a study done by a German scientist many years ago show that the average human’s head has about 100,000 hairs. To date, other studies have shown that on average, about 100 strands of hair fall out per day.

Cross section of hair strand
Cross section of hair strand

Hair strands are made up of the following:

The cuticle: the outer layer of the hair strand-comprised of dead cells that overlap each other to form a tight protective seal.

The Cortex: the middle layer which provides color, texture and strength to the hair

The Medulla: the innermost section of the hair strand. It is a soft spongy mass of tissue. While coarse hair generally has this layer, fine hair may not.


Splitting of the ends of hair strands does not take place overnight. It begins when the protective cuticle has worn off due to harsh treatment over a period of time. Excessive exposure to sunlight or to chemicals can lead to exposure of the cortex. This then causes the fibrillas within the cortex to lose their cohesion and they begin to fray like strands of rope. These frayed fibrillas are usually referred to as split- ends. Shortly after split- ends form they become brittle and fall off, thus causing hair breakage. Other means of hair mistreatment can lead to hair breakage, as detailed below.

Straight iron
Straight iron
Hair accessories
Hair accessories


Hair breakage can occur when hair is mistreated in ways such as these:

Use of heat- styling tools

Hair styling tools such as curling irons, hot air blow dryers, straight irons and crimping irons cause the hair to become extremely dry and brittle- this leads to rapid hair breakage.

Chemicals that change texture

When chemical treatments such as perms and relaxers are used too frequently, or are left in the hair longer that recommended, they weaken the hair strands and exacerbate hair breakage.

Chemicals that change color

The use of hair colors that involve bleaching before the application of new color also damages the hair. When hair colors are used too frequently or are applied along with chemicals that change the hair texture, even more damage to the hair occurs and the breakage of the hair is even worse.

Hair accessories and everyday hairstyles

Ponytail bands and scrunchies often trap hair in them each time they go in and out of the hair. This is one of the leading causes of hair breakage. Hair extensions and braids also tug at the hair follicles and lead to hair breakage. In general, any style that is too tight, or that subjects the hair to everyday tension or tugging will lead to breakage of the hair strands.

Poor hair care habits

Excess combing and brushing of the hair can exacerbate the breakage process, especially when the hair is dry and brittle. Over- brushing can also lead to hair loss from the hair roots.

Lack of conditioning

Hair, especially hair that has been chemically treated, needs moisture to thrive. Hair should always be conditioned after the use of shampoo. Deep conditioning is also recommended on a regular basis- this helps to restore some of the moisture that the hair loses when subjected to prolonged sunlight exposure of other drying processes.

Sunlight and tanning booths

Constant exposure to sunlight or frequent visits to tanning booths can damage the chemical structure of the hair which will also lead to hair breakage over time.



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