4 Skin Care Experts On Reshaping The Narrative Around Black Skin

Black skin matters.

by Ata-Owaji Victor
juliememe/ Getty Images
Smiling woman washing her face

Extra time spent at home — aided by Tik Tok and skinfluencers alike — has firmly placed popular skin care ingredients like AHAs and retinoids at the top of beauty shopping lists everywhere. Now, even as life begins to move towards a new form of normalcy that places night-out worthy graphic liners and sultry lip-glosses back onto beauty’s center stage, “skin-first” beauty regimes still reign supreme.

But beyond calls for all-day-every-day sunscreen usage or molecular breakdowns of active ingredients, this new influx of skin care knowledge still has one glaring discrepancy, which has become especially evident in the last 12 months — the lack of knowledge about caring for Black skin. From age-old adages like ‘Black Don’t Crack’, myths around the use of SPF, and an absence of universal awareness around the difference in the presentation of skin diseases and issues on darker skin, the skin care industry has a long way to go before it can truly claim to answer those calls for comprehensive skin care that caters to all.

Now, with industry-wide demand for inclusivity and equity campaigns like #PullUpForChange – headed up by industry heavyweight Sharon Cutler — skin care experts have begun to look beyond face value diversity and are prioritizing overarching skin health, education, and providing accurate information about darker skin tones.

TZR spoke to four skincare experts to hear their advice, learnings, and hopes for a more inclusive skin care industry, as well as the most prevalent skin care myths about Black skin that they hope to correct.

Dija Ayodele, Skin Health Expert & Author

“Back in 2017, I noticed an uptake in clients who were coming from further afield than London to access my skin care clinic,” explains Dija Ayodele, whose forthcoming book, Black Skin: The Definitive Skincare Guide, is set to publish in November 2021. “Some had travelled two hours to see me because of a lack of local skin health providers that were experienced and/or confident in caring for darker skin tones.” She elaborates, revealing that some had even been declined for services like chemical peels or laser “under the guise of it being unsuitable for darker skin tones.”

Ayodele adds that lack of knowledge around the cultural element of skin is also an issue with which some skin care providers are yet to adequately address. “Although hyperpigmentation can appear on lighter skin tones, it appears more pronounced on darker skin tones; however, because of cultural and historic issues with colorism, it tends to cause [BIPOC] clients more distress.” And despite myths around the unsuitability of chemical peels or laser for darker skin tones, Ayodele explains that hyperpigmentation is actually treatable with the use of a “combination of peels with laser treatments or LED light treatments.” It’s all about health care providers being knowledgeable about the newest technology and treatment variations.

It was moments like this, and the frustration surrounding the lack of education for treating the skin of Black clientele, that inspired Ayodele to set up the Black Skin Directory — a service that now connects women and people of color to skin care experts, as well as provide education about common skin concerns such as hyperpigmentation, keloids, and more.

After founding Black Skin Directory, Ayodele says that “[It]became very apparent that access to [professional] skin care is not equal.” This issue prompted her to create “a further expansion of my clinic, West Room Aesthetics, into a haven where Black women can feel seen and their skin care needs implicitly understood.” Ayodele hopes that with this expansion, and her soon to be published book, “Black women everywhere will be armed with the all the tools and knowledge to understand and look after their skin.”

Dr. Kemi Fabuwsi, NHS Doctor

In terms of industry inclusivity, Dr. Kemi Fabwusi says the past year has brought about “lots of progress because people are now desperate to disrupt the conventional beauty standard.” In the age of growing body positivity and acceptance, representation is becoming a priority for more beauty brands, as she sees “natural hair and beautiful dark skin tones are featured across beauty now more than ever.” Over the past year, Dr. Fabwusi says she has seen a “lot more knowledge and educational resources available for both dermatologists, estheticians, and people of color in general.”

As promising as that progress has been so far, she says that there still so far to go because things like a “lack of awareness about skin cancer in skin of color” or common skin issues like “rosacea being left untreated because people of color do not know what the signs are, and [is] oftentimes misdiagnosed by specialists who are unaware of the difference in presentation of skin issues on dark skin.”

Since hyperpigmentation is a common concern among people with darker skin tones, Dr. Fabwusi likes to remind her patients that the treatment is “a marathon, not a sprint.” She advises using a “good salicylic acid cleanser, like The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid,” followed by a toner, like “Herbal Essentials Refreshing Toner, which contains rose water and is a brilliant natural emollient that helps to moisturize and hydrate dry skin.” And although the prevailing myth is that darker skin tones don’t need to use SPF, she does advise following your moisturizer with a sunscreen every day to protect against photodamage.

Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe, Founder Of SKNDOCTOR

Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe, cosmetic doctor and founder & CEO of SKNDOCTOR — a skin care haven for both in-person and online care — says that “there are currently many misconceptions surrounding Black skin that can be hugely detrimental to our skin health. Even the term ‘Black don’t crack.’ Whilst there is a little truth in the fact Black skin will have different concerns to white skin thanks to [smaller] collagen bonds (which mean wrinkles don’t form as easily), this doesn’t mean Black complexions should be excluded from aging skin care discourse.”

A more harmful example of Black skin myths, explains Ukeleghe, has been the incorrect general consensus that “we didn’t need SPF, even though it is essential for protecting all skin [types] from harmful UV rays. It’s all the more important when using active ingredients like retinols and vitamin C.” While melanin does provide a little more natural protection, Ukeleghe says that “skipping SPF can also exacerbate common skin care concerns for people with Black skin, like hyperpigmentation.”

Dr. Ukeleghe is also keen to illuminate the needs of Black and brown patients who are interested in aesthetic treatments, like injectables. As she says, “For Black woman, comments like ‘you already have full features’ etc. are still commonplace.” However, she notes that in the past year, “I have seen a slight shift toward treatments that are relevant to Black features and Black skin, such as chin fillers as we typically don’t have very pronounced chins or tear trough fillers.”

Dr. Ifeoma Ejikeme, Aesthetic Medicine Doctor

For Dr. Ifeoma Ejikeme, her knowledge of Black skin health has always been rooted in a “fascination with the anatomy of the skin.” After completing a masters degree in Aesthetic Medicine and time spent studying cosmeceuticals — which looks at the science behind skin care products and treatments — the skin care expert went on to set up her own practice with the aim to “make sure that there was a treatment and a device for every single skin type”

When it comes to myths surrounding Black skin, she says that for treatments like laser hair removal “the key is to look out for a laser known as an Nd:Yag.” Unlike some lasers devices that aren’t able to distinguish well between the pigment in brown or Black skin and dark hair (which potentially causes dark and light spots surrounding the follical), “Nd:Yag sends wavelengths deeper into the skin so it has less of an effect on the pigment-producing cells. It’s the best for dark skin and can be safely used on all parts of the body.”

Dr. Ejikeme also stresses the importance of raising awareness about skin conditions that predominately appear on dark skin. “There are so many, but one that always comes to mind is DPN (dermatosis papulose nigra),” she says. “[One] most recognizable [examples] of them is Morgan Freeman.” She goes on to explain that the dark, mole-like spots are a genetic trait that is accelerated by the sun; it is luckily very treatable, “which is something not many Black people with the condition realize”

When it comes to Botox and fillers, however, Dr. Ejikeme says, “there aren’t any specific do’s and don’ts for Black skin — it’s just about respecting the natural anatomy [of the patient].” She hopes that going forward other companies will make sure that when any new device is ready to be released, “it is tested on all skin types before it hits the mainstream.”