The plague of split ends is pretty much universal. You don't even need to have ever dyed or heat-styled your hair to discover the telltale "forking" traveling up each strand. Ends can split and ends can dry out, and the only way to remove them is to cut them off. But, in the absence of monthly trims, you can make your frazzled ends less noticeable.
Hairstylist David Felstead, director of Daniel Galvin Hair & Scalp Clinic, has seen his fair share of troubled tresses in his 35 years in the biz. "Obviously I would always advise people to come in for regular trims, but I think a lot of the time, people are really putting their hair through the wringer while thinking they're doing the right thing," Felstead says.
Brushing and combing is a good example of this. "It’s very easy to be overly aggressive when brushing your hair," Felstead cautions. "Especially if it’s long, it’s all too easy to get a really fierce motion going. Combing the hair fresh out the shower isn’t advisable, as when your hair is wet, it lacks elasticity and so the downward pulling motion just makes the hair break." If you must brush your hair before blow-drying or styling, Felstead suggests switching to a gentler tool, like the Tangle Teezer or Wet Brush. Always brush from the ends first and gradually work your way up to avoid snagging. Go gently, and don’t be tempted to keep combing for the sake of it.
In terms of coloring your hair, or other chemical processes, it’s not necessarily the product that causes split ends, but rather the state it leaves the hair in. "Any chemical process, or heat, or even environmental factors like UV rays weakens the hair and makes it more susceptible to damage," Felstead says. "That’s where a split end comes in, when the hair has been compromised somewhat and lost that elasticity. It just tears." Which is not to say that the only way to fight damage is to quit your colorist: It's a case of accepting the trauma you're willing to put your hair through, and finding products to help mitigate it.
"It’s like going to a fancy restaurant and speaking to the sommelier," Felstead says. "You wouldn’t just blindly pick any wine — you’d tell them that you're eating fish, like something dry, and want to spend about $40. Then they’d come back with some suggestions. Your hairstylist is there for that guidance." Part of what you pay for in the salon is one-on-one, bespoke counsel with a professional. They’ve seen your hair up close, know exactly what’s gone onto it, and how much you’re willing to spend on it, fiscally and time-wise.
But let’s imagine you can’t get to the salon right now. Felstead says that Kérastase Ciment Thermique leave-in treatment is one of his go-tos for improving the appearance of the hair. That said, there are plenty of products on the market that claim to be able to repair a split end... but they can't. At best, they can temporarily mask its appearance, like Redken Extreme Length Sealer. In-shower masks are essential, too — like the cult-favorite Philip Kingsley Elasticizer, which does exactly what it promises.
The way you style your hair will help, too. "Part of the reason your ends look so much better after a salon treatment is down to good blow-drying technique," Felstead explains. "The combination of the right amount of tension, drying in one direction only, and a cool shot at the end helps to smooth your hair into one shape, making dry ends less obvious."
Of course, you’ll probably have as much luck getting a salon-quality blow-dry at home as you would a Michelin star for beans on toast, but the principle still applies. Use the nozzle on your hairdryer, focus the air in one direction, get firm tension with your brush, and work down, finishing with a blast of cold at the end. It's more a Band-Aid than a cure-all... but sometimes the healing process works in mysterious ways.