It was entirely by chance that I came across the information for which I have been so desperately searching. Wouldn’t you know it, the moment I stop looking, there it is. (The same thing happens to me with clothes; when I search for an item, it says, “Look for me,” but then days later when I’m not thinking about it, poof! I digress.) I stumbled across the answers to my questions on two blogs I frequent, Urban Bush Babes and The Natural Haven. It’s good fortune that I now know the various causes of this problem and handling methods that alleviate the damage, but the long and short of it is that nothing can really be done about them because they occur in the same fashion normal splits do; manipulation and age. I know, I know, your heart sank a little. Mine too. It would seem they are permanent residents in my tresses, but oh there will be population control going on up in here!
I know there are others out there with the same issue so I’m sharing the knowledge gained. First off, what causes the notorious incomplete/mid-shaft split? I pulled this excerpt from an article on The Natural Haven:
The answer is a combination of two main factors. First, hair has to form a curved loop or bend – hair that is curly and kinky has this in abundance. Second, abrasion or rubbing of the hair shaft has to happen – this is normally through any form of combing or brushing including the stretch when finger combing . The combination of these two factors cause the hair to split longitudinally (J.Soc. Cosmet Chem pp 289-297, 1975). This is the reason why mid shaft splits can appear anywhere along the length.
It is largely not possible to reduce loops in hair formed by natural kinks and curls. It is however possible to reduce the abrasion on hair.
What can be done to reduce the damage?
Finger combing. Combs and brushes can cause damage by going over the same area too many times, pulling out hair that hasn’t been shed, or tugging at knots and tangles, causing abrasive friction. If you feel you need to use them, try not to use them more than is necessary for detangling and eliminate them altogether for styling.
Avoid or reduce frequency of stretching. This one can be hard to avoid or give up, especially if you have extremely kinky hair and/or long hair, since those particular groups (myself included) tend to utilize stretching to diminish tangling. Stretching kinky hair puts strain on the kinks, the weakest part of afro hair where the strands themselves twist within the curl, and leaves the cuticles, which are accustomed to lying as flat as possible against curls and kinks, partially raised in those areas. The kinkier the hair, the more prone to damage at those weak points, hence mid-shaft splits.
Don’t stretch or protective style with wet hair. When hair is wet, believe it or not, it’s in its weakest state and the hair is more prone to overstretch and break due to the saturation and weight of the water. Too much tension when braiding and twisting wet hair can exacerbate the damage.
Don’t overmanipulate. We want our hair to look superhero fly everyday, all day so sometimes we can get carried away with styling, twisting and braiding our hair into a plethora of styles throughout the week or just plain playing in it. This causes unnecessary stress on the strands. Try leaving the hair alone by either protective styling or sticking with one style for the week and another for the weekend, if you must.
Stop ignoring signs of damage. *raises hand* Guilty. We want our hair to grow long and healthy, but we often sabotage our efforts by ignoring signs of damage in order to hold on to length (or sometimes we lie to ourselves by “dusting” instead of trimming the necessary length). The longer you wait to trim, the worse it gets. Trust me, I know. You can trim using the search & destroy method or by checking your ends every couple of months. Doing this will help you catch splits early before they really do some damage and you end up having to cut more. Just give it up, girl. Cut all the damage and stop denying its existence.
Be wary of heat styling and chemicals. Heat and chemicals are exceptionally damaging. They both have the potential to strip the cuticle and deplete moisture leaving strands susceptible to breakage. Keep away from chemicals altogether, but if you’re a girl who likes her color, take special care to replenish any moisture lost through the chemical process. As for heat usage, ALWAYS use a heat protectant in conjunction with a ceramic heat styling tool, which will distribute heat more evenly and help carry oils from root to tip.
So now it boils down to the question we really want answered; how does this affect length retention? This question is answered by yet another article excerpt written by Jc, scientist and creator of The Natural Haven:
My answer would be if your hair is not breaking, you can probably get away with not trimming and all you have to do is be aware that your hair is damaged and needs more care. All strengthening you do is temporary so I would focus instead on gentle handling.
Of course, you should trim regularly, but products containing repairing proteins, such as the TRESemmé Split Remedy line, can help temporarily mend the damage until you get a chance to trim. The comfort in all of this is that after having re-examined my products and how I handle my hair, I know I’m doing everything I possibly can to keep these splits at bay. And can I just say, thank God for shea butter?! I’ll never stray again… Okay, maybe not “never.” I do like to test other products from small businesses every once in a blue moon, but you get what I’m saying. Peace & Love