Dija Ayodele is much more than an (excellent) aesthetician and skincare oracle; the owner of boutique London clinic West Room Aesthetics also uses her position to help break down barriers for people of colour. She does this not only via her social media platforms (do follow!), but with her award-winning Black Skin Directory – which connects women of colour with professionals that understand the unique demands of darker skin – and, now, via her debut book, Black Skin: The definitive skincare guide.
A must-read for everyone interested in skin, it’s a practical reference guide as much as an education in skincare equality. “With a little more knowledge, Black women would be better equipped to participate in the beauty experience,” she tells us. “I’m very conscious that a lot of people in my industry as therapists don’t come out of beauty school even knowing basics about Black skin, therefore they’re also disadvantaged because they can’t treat everybody. So, I wanted Black Skin to be a tool for not only consumers but therapists too to learn from and be empowered by, to better advise clients with skin of colour.”
The book covers everything Ayodele would touch on in a consultation, “empowering you to make your own skincare decisions”.
While she rightly avoids dispensing personalised advice in the book and on social media (given that it’s practically impossible to do so), there are – in general – some skin no-nos she’d advise us all against. Here, the skincare truth-teller reveals to Bazaar the common mistakes she sees in her clinic and online, from compare and despair culture to following fad trends. Avoid these red flags for better skin:
1) Don’t compare your skin to other people’s
“When someone walks into the clinic and says they want to have skin like ‘so and so’, that raises a red flag for me. That’s an impossible job, and you’re never going to be satisfied.
“Seeing skin that’s a fantasy in magazines and on social media can seep into a lot of people’s psyches and they become unable to separate skincare truth from skincare fiction. And, with social media, a lot of people prefer what they look like in the fiction. But it’s impossible to look luminous and radiant like a filter all the time.
“Don’t compare – work with what you’ve got. It will make your skincare life easier if you find out what works for you.”
2) Don’t take what you see on social media as gospel
“Use social media as a means of gaining knowledge and being more well-rounded about skincare options, rather than taking what you see as a must for yourself. During the lockdown everyone became a content producer – from dermatologists to cosmetic doctors, brands and influencers – putting more content out until it was information overload with people taking things as gospel.
“I’ve heard, ‘I’ve seen on so-and-so’s channel that I should do this, but when I come to yours you don’t advocate for that’, and to that I say: ‘Choose your church’ – choose whose philosophy you believe in, but don’t listen to all of us at the same time. We’ve all got good intentions, but we’ve all got different philosophies. If you try and incorporate everything into your life the only person that suffers is you.”
3) Don’t skip seeing a skincare expert in person
“The way you make an informed decision about your skin is by booking in a consultation with a practitioner. See someone who works with skin day-in, day-out; I can’t tell you how important that is. Because the difference between people who just talk about skin, and those who physically touch skin and see people with different complaints all the time is vast.
“I see on average 20 women per week, so around 80 women per month. The amount you take in via that is very different to someone who knows a lot but doesn’t see a lot. Online services can be very handy, but you’ll find that you get a richer experience if you see someone in real life.”
4) Don’t rely on free skincare consultations
“We charge for our consultations here at West Room. However, I know some practitioners who don’t. I’m inclined to say that those who charge for a consultation end up doing a better and more impartial job, because you’ve paid for the service – they’re not doing it in the hope that you then book and pay for something, because you already have! I also find that free 15-minute consultations won’t get to the bottom of anything. You should leave empowered; regardless of whether you see that practitioner again or not, you are informed to make some decisions that work for your skin.”
5) Don’t use too many products
“You need to consider what your actual concern is, not attack everything. If you’re using multiple acids, retinols, vitamin C, abrasive products – it’s too much. The average routine we put people on is five daily products in total. Spending 20 minutes over your routine because you’re using so much is also a red flag – it shouldn’t take that long, unless it’s your ritualistic pamper time and you love it; that’s different. I’ve timed it and on average my skincare takes three minutes and 40 seconds.”
6) Don’t use the wrong products (for you)
“Most of the time I don’t recommend toners, especially acid toners if you’re using other resurfacing products like retinol, for example. There are other products I don’t advocate: do we need hydrating sheet masks? No, we don’t. Do we need wipes? Not unless you’ve been caught short. Do we need grainy exfoliators? Technology has superseded the grainy exfoliator into something much more elegant and sophisticated, so you can save the grainy ones for elbows and knees. Do we need sonic cleansing brushes? No we don’t; your hands and a flannel will do you well.”
7) Don’t be distracted by fad trends
“You also get lots of fad products – like TikTok trends for putting lube on your face, for example. These things are supposed to be a bit of fun, but people can take it seriously, especially if it’s other professionals promoting these trends. But just because they’ve got doctor in front of their name, it doesn’t mean it’s sound advice.
“Equally, just because people know all the ingredients it doesn’t mean they should be using all of them. Your skin, and the skincare industry, is always changing, so you have to have an open and flexible mind around that.”
8) Don’t be completely unrealistic about what skincare products can achieve
“A lot of the time people’s desire for things to work is so high they’re willing to throw rent money at it, but if claims don’t sound achievable, they won’t be. Like, ‘This cleared up my dark marks in three days’. Come on! I have Black skin and will get hyperpigmentation from time-to-time and I’m okay with that – it’s the mechanism of my skin.”
9) Don’t forget that your skin health should be your priority
“If you’re interested in your skin only from a presentation point of view, rather than a health point of view, that also rings alarm bells to me. You can have healthy skin that’s got pigmentation marks, or lines and winkles if it’s age appropriate. I preach ‘happy not perfect’.
“You age every day; it’s a natural physiological function of skin. If you can appreciate that but want to ease the appearance – not get rid – of them with Botox, that’s different.”
10) Don’t always buy into marketing – from brands and influencers
“There is a marketing element to the skincare industry at all times and I want to help people navigate the marketing. Be in tune with who you are and what your skin needs are, not the needs you’ve been told to meet.
“I know who is a fan of which influencer just by hearing which products they use. We [skincare practitioners] are at the cold face of it all because we see the effects. When a product launch has a lot of noise around it, I think, ‘in three months’ time I will see this play out, and I hope it plays out positively for everyone involved’.
“For example, when people started over-exfoliating and damaging their skin barrier, we pulled them off the acids and focused on healing the skin with lots of ceramides and cholesterols, et cetera.
“We’re in a world with a lot of choice, so seeking professional advice will teach you how to best use your products so you don’t damage your skin.”
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From Harper’s Bazaar UK