Dija Ayodele
Skincare

“How I created a platform to address the neglect of darker skin tones in the beauty world”

As part of our ‘The Innovators’ series in partnership with performance-driven skincare experts Shiseido as they re-boot their #1 serum, the skin strengthening Ultimune, Stylist is highlighting women who are innovating the spaces they’re in. This week we’re talking to Dija Ayodele, the woman making sure the right skincare advice is accessible to Black people…

When it comes to skincare, we all know that specificity is important.

Whether we’re refining our cleansing routine, finding a suitable SPF or booking a treatment with a dermatologist, we want to feel safe in the knowledge that our individual needs will be carefully attended to, regardless of our physiological differences.

For Black women, however, accessing skincare services can be a challenge.

The skincare industry has long struggled with a lack of inclusivity, and its legacy affects everything from clinical trials and beauty campaigns, to professionals who lack knowledge and expertise in treating common skincare issues experienced by women of colour, such as hyperpigmentation, dermatosis papulosa nigra (DPN) and melasma.

For aesthetician Dija Ayodele, the disparities were impossible to ignore. 

After treating a number of clients who had travelled far from multicultural cities in search of expert care, she founded the pioneering Black Skin Directory in 2018, a platform which equips people of colour with a wealth of information about specific concerns, and connects them with experienced skincare professionals in the UK. 

Demand soon proved that its creation was essential: according to a recent survey of Black women’s skincare experiences conducted by the platform, 92% of respondents reported that it was a challenge to find and access a skincare professional who could meet their needs.

Here, Ayodele discusses the story behind Black Skin Directory, her passion for accessibility, and how the skincare world must evolve to ensure no woman gets left behind. 

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Early innovation

I’d always been interested in grooming. I used to go the salon with my mum every Saturday and she’d get her hair and nails done. 

My mum is still very into beauty and grooming and looking after herself, and I’d always known how much confidence it gave her and how it put a pep in her step. It’s a bit like an armour – she puts her red lipstick on, her nails are done, and she feels all together.  

For me, it’s about recreating that for other women, and skincare is where it’s at because it’s that grooming aspect. You may not want to put makeup on, you may not have fantastic makeup skills, but if your skin is looking great or healthy, that gives you confidence, because the psychology between skin and levels of happiness are so close. So for me that’s what really drives it.

I went to uni and I did a business management degree and then I went into working in the city, but I really disliked it. 

I’d always done beauty courses on the side, and eventually, my manager said, “You are wasted here.” I ended up doing her makeup for her wedding, it was a really nice sort of resignation and I resigned from there, and I guess the rest is history. 

It wasn’t a full pivot because I was sort of already doing that back in those days in beauty. It just was a full-scale acceptance.

I did my qualifications, and then went to work in clinic for other business owners. You’ve got to cut your teeth in beauty, and I’m glad I did that because it would have been a big mess if I didn’t. 

I always had my own small list of clients who’d come and see me at home. And then, after that, I set up my own clinic.

Creating access

Between 2016 and May 2017, I’d just started working at my clinic in Kensington, and I noticed an uptake in women coming from really far-away places to come and have a treatment with me. 

I thought, “There’s got to be something wrong with this, you can’t tell me you can’t find anyone closer to home.” And the answers were invariably, “No, no one I trust. No one who can look after Black skin.”

It’s not even a case that you have to be Black to look after Black skin. Black women feel more comfortable with that because they feel like they have an affinity. Black women have to do so much more legwork and spend so much more. 

I felt there was an emotional anxiety that Black women go through. There’s the whole “Is this for me?”

The majority of people aren’t trying to be exclusive only to certain skin colours, but when they don’t articulate that “We can treat everybody”, what Black women are thinking is, “But can they treat me?” 

That lack of articulation is supported by everything from the lack of adverts that have a variety of skin tones to brands not doing clinical trials on Black skin. 

We cover things like rosacea in Black skin, which is something that a lot of people think Black people don’t get, things about sun protection, using vitamin A. All the sort of topical things you might see in the regular mainstream monthly magazines, we write about it as well but we skew it to Black skin.

It’s hard to explain to people that it doesn’t matter if I’m Black or not – that’s not the point. The point is, are you seeing someone who’s confident in what they’re doing, who is experienced in looking after Black skin?

There’s a cultural thing at play as well. There’s certain things related to skin that I’m more aware of, for example, than a white skin therapist might be aware of.

Black Skin Directory has a growing list of practitioners who are experienced in dealing with Black and darker skin tones. It also has a common conditions section – things like hyperpigmentation, keloid scarring, DPN, conditions which mainly affect Black skin from an aesthetic, cosmetic point of view which people may not necessarily find in other places. So you can look online and go, “That seems similar to what I’ve got”, so it’s an information bank.

We’ve also got a journalist who writes articles with a complete skew towards Black skin, because the other thing we were finding was that within the press and magazines, the nuance of Black skin wouldn’t really be mentioned. 

Most writers tend to write in their own image, so the nuances of things like hyperpigmentation were missing as well. So when we write on the Black Skin Directory journal, we take into account all these nuances, so everything is skewed towards how this affects Black skin. 

Skincare with power

Both my skincare routines take three minutes and 30 seconds – I don’t mess around. 

I have clients who say, “I’m in the bathroom for 20 minutes” and I’m like, “What are you doing?!” Because that means that they’re piling on lots of stuff on their skin that really isn’t necessary to get results. I keep it really simple.

I use the Shiseido Ultimune face serum, which they’ve just relaunched to pack even more of a punch. It’s anti-pollution, anti-stress and also future proofs your skin with powerful ingredients like gingko leaf and lotus germ.

If I’ve used retinols, I always look to use a softener, which is a lotion with antioxidants and moisturising ingredients added to the point in your routine where you would normally tone. It really helps protect your skin barrier. I have the Shiseido Treatment Softener Enriched Lotion which I use quite a lot because it’s really hydrating. 

I tend to use Ultimune face serum again in the evening even if I’m not using retinol and just putting on general moisturiser. It’s super-lightweight, it penetrates the skin and it makes your skin feel really plump and hydrated. So usually, if I’ve slightly overdone it with retinol, and my skin feels dry, I’ll use Ultimune face serum because it restores hydration really fast. 

Strength in a global community

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I’m always driven by when people say, “I’m so happy I found you.” 

I have never personally struggled to find skincare stuff for myself, so part of me doesn’t understand the relief that some women feel when they’ve struggled to find you. 

I get so many emails from women saying things like, “I’ve been struggling because my skin has lost its colour” who haven’t been able to find answers prior to coming across us and that always inspires me more.

If we don’t have a 360-degree approach, then people do have that emotional anxiety and legwork, which in this day and age, I don’t think anybody needs. This information should be free and easy, accessible to all.

This week someone emailed from Australia going, “I’d really like to go on a course, please let me know when you’re doing one next, I can arrange myself to fly over”, and I was just gobsmacked – “You want to fly over from Australia to come and do a course with us?!” 

I’m satisfied when someone emails and says, “I went to see so-and-so who I found on Black Skin Directory and I’m sorted.” Or when they say things like, “I’m so glad I found that rosacea article because I’ve been struggling with this for years and I’ve shown it to my GP and he finally understands that I do have rosacea and I don’t have acne.”

It’s testament to the reach and to the entire team who keeps it afloat. 

This is something I built, the website, on my kitchen island. I was four months pregnant, and feeling completely sick the whole time. And so when people are gushing about Black Skin Directory, I think to myself, “Oh my God, I just did this on my kitchen table.” 

Every so often during the day, say I’ve come back and I’m working from home and I’ve literally just washed my face and I’m keeping it simple, I’ll just maybe use Ultimune and moisturise. It’s what I reach for when I don’t want a lot of fuss but I want power.

My skincare routine is very functional and very powerful. I don’t do things like face masks regularly. If I do a face mask it’s a performance face mask, or I have a peel instead. I do a lot of peels on my skin.

Self-care for me is just time to myself to do what I want without obligations to anybody else. I’m a business owner, I make decisions all the time – I have decision fatigue. So for me, it’s just like, “Nobody call my name. Just leave Dija out of anything you’re doing.” That’s self-care. 

Changing the game

Innovation for me means products or ingredients that are proven to work, especially when a brand goes a step further to ensure that they’ve done their trials and research on darker skin tones.

Innovation is products that will make our lives easier and that will harness technology to ensure that everyone can go on a skincare journey.

Black Skin Directory was the first of its kind in the UK that harnessed technology and brought skincare within that realm so that Black women could access skincare on an equitable basis.

We have innovation that tackles cultural issues in terms of ensuring we have a more level playing field, but we also have innovation in terms of the products and ingredients we use and brands ensuring that everyone feels seen within their development.

If before May 2017 we could have seen images of Black women in adverts, if we could have seen language that was more nuanced towards different skin tones – if we could have seen all of that then Black Skin Directory wouldn’t exist. 

That’s why Black Skin Directory exists now, and that’s why people accept it so much and that’s why brands and consumers all over the world accept it so much, it’s simply because it didn’t exist before. 

While I don’t necessarily think it’s innovative, I definitely think it’s game-changing, and I’ll put my hands up and say I, and we as a team, had something to do with that.

Skincare experts Shiseido have prided themselves of 149 years of innovations, performance and results. 

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Ultimune is backed by science and contains eight botanical ingredients, including reishi mushroom to defend your skin from stress, and pollution-fighting gingko leaf and lotus germ. 

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