Dija Ayodele, Black Skin

Skincare expert Dija Ayodele’s new book radically reframes the way we speak about, diagnose and celebrate Black skin

“Black people find it harder to have skin conditions diagnosed… this can create long-term health inequalities.”

Skincare expert, aesthetician and founder of The Black Skin Directory Dija Ayodele has today released a book – Black Skin: The Definitive Skincare Guide (Harper Collins, £20). Poised as a radical rethinking of the way we speak about, think of and diagnose the skin of women of colour, Ayodele reframes the conversation using her years of expertise and in-clinic experience. Spanning the history of Black skin to practical advice on creating a solid skincare routine, Ayodele stitches together a celebratory journey and myth-busting tale on learning how to care for Black skin properly.

Speaking exclusively to Stylist, Ayodele breaks down three common skin-based myths she comes across frequently.

Myth: skin conditions and skin types are one and the same

“Your skin type is what you are born with – it’s genetics, it’s part of your environment. Your skin condition can change – it’s impacted by your environment, where you are in life (eg if you have a stressful job). Basically, skin type is what you’re blessed with, skin condition is how you look after yourself.”

Confusing your skin type with a skin condition can mean you use the wrong products or skin regimen and get stuck in a cycle of stressed, irritated skin. Ayodele suggests seeing a professional earlier in the cycle to stop the heartache of trying to treat a skin condition you may be inadvertently exacerbating. 

For reference, there are four common skin types: dry, oily, normal and combination. However, as Ayodele reminds us: “Black skin is much more efficient at reflecting light, so don’t confuse surface shine with oiliness.”

Myth: there’s no difference between dry and dehydrated skin

“One of the functions of the skin is to provide a barrier against water loss and to help the skin stay hydrated. Anything that disrupts the skin’s delicate barrier can cause increased water loss, which we in the business refer to as TEWL ‘Transepidermal Water Loss,’” writes Ayodele in chapter 4, The Uniqueness of Black Skin.

“A significant number of studies have shown that whilst Black skin has on average a higher sebum content and a more compact stratum corneum than white skin, it also has lower ceramide levels, so it is prone to increased water loss. This contributes to increased dryness of the skin and the increased likelihood of Black skin experiencing dry, flaky and ashy skin conditions.” 

However, dry skin isn’t just dry skin. It’s either lacking in water or oil or both. Ayodele explains more.  

Water dryness

“Anybody can be water dry. It just means you’re not holding enough hydration in the upper layers of the skin, which will also mean you’re not exfoliating properly. You can have oily skin but still be water dry – that’s when you hear about dehydration.

How to address water dryness: 

“With water dry skin you need to put water back into the skin. You could use a hyaluronic acid but make sure to put something else on top to seal the deal. You could also use a spritz – which you would apply after you cleanse to lock some moisture into the skin. 

“Also, look for products that have aqua in them, it should be one of the top three ingredients in your moisturiser. You could also look at applying a light facial oil to lock in the moisture and stop water escaping – something that happens more in the winter.” 

Oil dryness

“Oil dry is when you lack enough (or any) of the amount of sebum you need to keep skin naturally lubricated and hydrated. This is what true dry skin is. You tend to find that people have smaller pores and skin tends to be dry and flaky, as well. 

How to address oil dryness: 

“If you’re oil dry, look at essential fatty acids (for example, omegas) and make sure that your skincare is not overly stripping to the skin. If your skin only has a tiny amount of oil in it, stripping products could mean you lose the small amount of oil that you do have.”

Black Skin The Definitive Guide Dija Ayodele
Black Skin: The Definitive Skincare Guide (Harper Collins, £20) is on sale today.

Myth: conditions present identically across skin tones

“Psoriasis, eczema, they’re all medical conditions of the skin and the system to identify them has historically been based on white skin tones. However, there are a lot of skin diseases that present differently based on skin colour,” explains Ayodele.

“Black people find it harder to have skin conditions diagnosed because they’re not presenting with what is deemed as ‘usual’. For example, if you expect a condition to present as ‘red’ or ‘pink’ and I present to you with the same condition but I’m not red, I could be misdiagnosed. This can create long-term health inequalities. 

“I always advocate for looking at a variety of symptoms to determine a skin condition. For example, is the skin hot to touch? Is the skin flushed in any way? Is the skin very itchy or does it feel dry and rough or a little scaly? These are all other ways in which you can diagnose a condition that presents differently for everyone. 

“For Black women and Black men, there is a lot of personal agency and legwork involved in receiving diagnoses. But we need to show it in the hope that our children can walk into a medical office and have their conditions diagnosed correctly.”

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Main image: Dija Ayodele