Mid shaft splits: cause and prevention

Mid shaft splits are generally viewed as a peculiar mystery. Hair is supposed to split at the ends where there is more wear and less cuticle..right? Wrong! Splits occur at areas of weakness. Mid shaft hair splits will occur very commonly and almost always exclusively in people with curly or kinky hair (noting that your hair can be naturally curly, curly and kinky, straight and kinky or wavy and kinky). The mid shaft split will almost always occur at the kink as you can see in the microscopic image of my hair below

Mid shaft split

Every kink in hair represents a weakness. It will always be easier to break or wear hair away at a kink than it would be at another part of the strand. The more kinks you have, the more likely you are to experience mid shaft splits. Mid shaft splits occur when hair is repeatedly groomed (brushed, combed, stretched) at a curve/loop  (J. Soc. Cosmet Chem pp 289-297, 1975). Kinks have multiple curves, the tighter the curl of your hair the more the loops.

Double and single kinks in hair (my hair)

So what can you do to avoid mid shaft splits? The only thing to do is to reduce pressure on kinks and tight curls. This means using less force when handling your hair for example:
- if it suits your hair - eliminating combs and brushes
- if you have to comb or brush - only do it enough to detangle or style and not any more
- aim not to stretch your hair fully out because keeping some texture in the hair means you are not exerting pressure on the kinks.


  1. I noticed a lot less mid-shaft splits when I started using my fingers only to detangle; I just felt I had more control over being gentle then I would using a comb or denman brush. Thanks for the info!

  2. Thanks for this information. I suffer from mid shafts split and I tended to think that they were often due to a lack of moisture. I have gradually started to wean myself off of combs, instead using my fingers to do most of the work of detangling. ~Lilia

  3. I am glad you posted this information Jc. I noticed a mid shaft split near the front part of my my hair this week. I was thinking maybe the cause of the split was from stretching my hair back to form a ponytail with my 2 strand twist style. Plus the front part of my hair is the shortest and weakest. (SW)

  4. This is a really informative article. Thanks for posting, Jc! I used to get mid shaft splits but never knew the cause.

  5. Great info sis! I have often wondered about this. My hair does much better with no combs at all!


  6. Thank you so much for this article...I saw that one of my shed hairs had a midshaft split towards the lower end of the strand. I don't comb or brush my hair at all (I finger detangle), so I thought it was either because I didn't have enough moisture, or needed more protein. =S I guess I may have stressed my hair in the past since it was near the ends.

  7. I've just cut a couple of inches off my hair all over because I was finding lots of these bubbly strands! So annoying! I wear buns a lot and I think the stretching thing is a key reason: I found the front (which is the longest part) of my hair was suffering from these less, probably because it wasn't under as much tension as the back and sides..

    1. For me this happened due to buns themselves. I think that's what you are saying too but just making sure. I did a video called "Protective Styles Are Not For Everyone" http://www.youtube.com/chamarieq

  8. I probably tend to have more mid shaft splits rather than split ends. About a year or 2 ago, I completely cut out using combs, which has helped cut down breakage.

    When I do see splits, I have no problem whipping out the hair scissors and cutting those bad boys off.

  9. I find mid-shaft or "bubble" splits in my hair every single detangling/styling session (so every 2-4 weeks). I use only my fingers to detangle, but I'd still like to reduce my mid-shaft splits even further, if possible.

    Do you suppose you could do a post with some guidelines on less severe or gentler ways of stretching hair than braids done on wet hair? I keep my hair stretched (via 8 or so braids that I put it in to dry after every wash) to mitigate tangling, but it sounds like this is potentially exacerbating the issue of my mid-shaft splits.

    I just want to find a happy medium of keeping tangles at bay, while also relieving the pressure on the most fragile kinks in my hair. Thanks for this post, Jc!

  10. Hi I have naturally straight ashblonde (now bottle blond"extra light blond") hair , but all over my canopy I found these black dry&kinky&curly hair http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/92/1001585.jpg and http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/707/1001587v.jpg
    so do you thik it is this the case? Mid shaft splits? I have lots of these, all over my head, that lead me to use the hair straightener all the time.
    I have no split ends at all...sound strange but it is so.

    1. Looking at those images, to me, they look like broken hair which usually happens due to overprocessing (either regular heat or colour processing). Having a mix of hair types is not unusual and even developing a mix of hair types later in life due to hormone changes or change in diet or medication/illness is not unusual.

    2. I think that for me it is probably something else, perhaps the combo hormone changes+ nickel (free) allergy diet.
      My mother uses heat and dyes even often but has not this kind of problem...
      I wonder if I could do something to stop it...

      Thanks jc,
      Your blog is so useful!

  11. Thanks for the info!

    I never looked for or worried about mid-shaft splits but it's nice to know why the happen and what can be done to reduce their occurrence. I finger-detangle exclusively and stretch my hair slightly (via braid-outs and braid-n-curls) to avoid hair that lacks volume. It's nice to know I'm avoiding excess damage as well!

  12. I recently jut chopped off 5 inches of hair due to mid shaft spilts and i realize I was combing my hair way too much before twisting.So now I'm learning to be much more gentle with my hair and utilizing my protein products to help strengthen my hair.

    1. Awww! Ana I feel for you. 5 inches is a lot of hair to lose. I am glad you know the problem though and growing back the hair without damage should be much easier.

  13. I have these throughout my whole head of hair. Would a protein treatment or henna help as well?

  14. Hi Guys, last year I was following the Kimmaytube method of washing my hair. I.e. To detangle by combing with conditioner in it. That was Oct - Nov 2011. In January 2012, I noticed many mid-strand, begin splits on most of my hair. By begin, I mean it has started to lift up but has not popped away completely, it's oval shaped. Even worse they were sometimes 8 - 10 on each strand, near the end. If the hairs were short (1 inch) sometimes they were there too. Even worse, they were sometimes 3 inches from the end!
    I was almost a year into my journey and didn't want to cut all that off, so I decided to trim strand by strand. Needless to say, here I am in September still trimming. A few points:

    Do NOT COMB when washing. I read that the hair stretches most in this state. Then from the article, I found that stretching the hair causes these splits. Thus, combing while washing makes it worse. Kimmay is good, but combing while wet is dangerous and should not be done.

    ALWAYS TUCK IN YOUR ENDS. My ends get dry in a matter of hours - my whole head in fact. I noticed that when I left them out, I would get splits on the same strand again, when I knew I trimmed through that entire braid months earlier. Keeping the ends moist and tucked in ensures that they do not dry out and split even more.

    BUY A SEAMLESS COMB! Take a look at your comb. ON each tooth, there is a seam running down one side. Imagine your FINE strands and this edge ripping at it every time you comb. Of course this will damage and split your hair. I bought a seamless comb by Pearson from Amazon for $25.

    DO NOT COMB YOUR HAIR OFTEN. Comb about 12 times A YEAR, unless you've already reached your goal length and can afford to loose hair. Finger comb.

    DO NOT LET YOUR HAIR STAY DRY FOR TOO LONG. When the hair strand is too dry for too long, it starts to crack and unravel, exposing the cortex, hence the splits. If you touch your hair and it is dry, go moisturize it NOW.

    TRY TO WASH MOSTLY WITH A CONDITIONER. I am not entirely convinced that shampoo is for our hair. I wash with conditioner mostly and my hair still feels clean and is WAY less dry. Shampoo once in a blue moon to get rid of buildup.

    OIL/ GREASE YOUR SCALP. I never use to get these splits (i.e when I used to grease my scalp). One thing that has changed since I started my journey is that I stopped greasing my scalp (another thing I heard from Kimmaytube). Before I knew about taking care of hair, I would grease my scalp and comb it through to the ends. After 3 days I didn't need to grease anymore. Don't for one second think that everything you did before was wrong.

    Finally, do not sleep under or near the air vent, sleep with a satin scarf on a satin pillow.

    I think that's all. I'm still trimming obviously, there are millions of hair on my head. I'll update in a few months to let you know how it's going.

    You can do whatever you want, it's your head. I'm just telling you what I had to do to get back on track, and hopefully it helps others.

    1. I would like to say that many of the things in your comment are not true for everyone, hair is individual and what works for you is what works for you.

      As an example Kim is able to detangle her hair wet and comb in the shower and still gain length. People with a similar curl and individual strand thickness may find it to be a very successful method. If your hair has a tighter curl or is more kinky you may not have the same success.

      On greasing your scalp, this is again something that most people do not need to do as we produce sufficient sebum and for some people oiling your scalp can lead to dandruff (because the fungus responsible for the dandruff likes natural oils). Some people will find it beneficial, some will not.

      Hair is not and will never be a one size fits all thing. Your rules are appropriate for your hair, someone else may require different rules.

    2. Which is why I said, "..do whatever you want, it's your head... I'm just telling you what I HAD to do".

  15. Hello Jc I was wondering if you know whether or not scab hair tends to cause mid shaft splits?

  16. I have only read through a handful posts but I just though I'd share what I use to solve the issues of mid-strand splits and split ends.
    - Cut those suckers off! - No matter what you do those split will travel up so saving them is pointless for reaching longing lengths.
    - Coconut Oil - Now i know some peoples hair doesn't agree with all oils but I know for sure that this oil as most know penetrates the hair shaft also to seal those split up but it doesn't mean they are gone but help to keep your strand intact.
    - Cutting Schedule - This relates to my last point I made by applying coconut oil and keeping your strands. By doing these together (ex: Cut as much damaged splits as possible and applying coconut oil daily) it will prevent the problem from forming.
    Sidenote: Like somebody mentioned above about seamless combs is helpful if you can't detangle easily with your fingers.
    Just thought I list a few things that helped me eliminate this problem, hope it helps someone :)

  17. BUT no one answered the question of what to do about tangles. Combing i terrible, but if I do not comb AND STRETCH my hair my tangles are SEVERE!!! Wash and Go's as much as I love them, are the devil for my hair what I believe is the biggest contribution to my split ends. There has to be an alternative.

    1. Anon I am right there with you!! Being natural for 6-7 years it is only in the last 2 that I begin to really learn my hair. I stopped wearing fake hair. Nothing wrong on occasion but when it's a crutch and your hairline is receding it's a problem! I realized I didn't have a clue of what to do with my real hair. At 1st I tried so hard to finger comb and protective style but my hair just got matted and tangled. I felt like I caused more damage! Some things that have helped:

      1. Keeping my hair stretched (ex: low heat blow drying) and avoiding styles like wash n gos and afros. I realized the only real au-natural people I know are Rastafarians and I don't know ANY sistahs walking around with waffle dreds! (no disrespect to my Rastas). This made me feel better about heat stretching
      2. Avoiding over-wetting hair and keeping hair wet for long (baggy method, excessive water spritzing, etc.). Major shrinkage which caused major tangles!
      3. pH balance - I swear washing with Dr. Bonners did untold damage. I also got over my fear of commercial products. Science truly makes some things easier and more effective! (special thanks to JC for her advise & research that helps balance out the fear mongering). I now include both. Heat styling for me requires a special formulated product. I never understood how the smoke point equates to oil not frying your hair - I cook stuff in non-smoking oil all the time!
      4. Combing - I just cant finger detangle alone. If it's between my sanity or a few extra broken hairs sanity wins every time :) I finger pick to begin and finish with a wide tooth seamless comb starting with the ends and working my way up to my roots. I haven't decided if I like conditioner detangling or moist hair detangling better. I can't fathom using a denman - just screams damage to me.
      5. Henna and protein treatments. I source fresh henna and mix with coconut milk and hot water to pudding consistency - no acids (shout out to Minimalist Beauty for the recipe). The color comes out gorgeous, the henna application is not drying, and it washes out easier. Unfortunately I sometimes have to sift through the fresh henna to remove itty bitty straw-like stems but it is worth it!
      6. Moisturizing, light detangling, and re-styling every few days. I found the longer I have a style the more matted/tangled my hair becomes
      7. Handling my hair in sections when washing, detangling, styling , etc. - BIG help with keeping tangles at bay and making process less overwhelming
      8. Only using ouchless bands (sparingly), bobby pins with both tips intact (the thicker the tip the better), and silk/satin ribbons, hair scarves, & pillowcases
      9. Blow drying my hair after I let it dry almost completely under hooded dryer (on medium) - a bit more timely but it was HUGE in reducing breakage for me!
      10. Acceptance that my kinky hair will suffer some breakage. Its just the nature of our delicate hair. I try not to stress about it. I have just accepted that I cant go without combing or stretching my hair. Try exploring options within those techniques to help minimize damage like seamless combs, combing in small sections, using minimal or indirect heat, tension blow drying, roller setting, finding the right moistness level for your hair to comb through with minimal damage - there are so many avenues! Good Luck!!

  18. Same as HairItIs wrote on: 9 July 2012 03:49

    I find mid-shaft or "bubble" splits in my hair every single detangling/styling session (so every 2-4 weeks). I use only my fingers to detangle, but I'd still like to reduce my mid-shaft splits even further, if possible.

    Do you suppose you could do a post with some guidelines on less severe or gentler ways of stretching hair than braids or twists done on wet hair? I also keep my hair stretched through 2 strand twists to mitigate tangling, but it sounds like this is potentially exacerbating the issue of my mid-shaft splits.

    I just want to find a happy medium of keeping tangles at bay, while also relieving the pressure on the most fragile kinks in my hair. Should I get fake Marley twists, or Havana braids?

    Please help?



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