How to care for Black skin during winter

It's important to know how to take care of your skin as we head into the colder months. If you have Black skin, there are certain habits you can adopt in order to keep your skin feeling and looking healthy and to avoid problems. Getting to know your skin and how it changes throughout the year, and also how different products work, can help you construct a trusty routine to keep your skin hydrated and happy.

Understanding the makeup of your skin

Dr Gabrielle Macaulay is co-founder of MAHAAH Clinic, a private health service that provides services on skin nutrition and holistic skincare. She firstly wants you to understand the structure of your skin and the differences between Black and white skin.

The top layer of the skin - known as the epidermis - has different layers of cells within it.

The stratum corneum is the outer layer of your epidermis - the very top layer where dead skin cells will flake off the surface. They are then replaced from the lower epidermal layers.

The barrier protecting the skin and preventing loss of water and moisture is also located in the stratum corneum.

Black and white skin structurally look the same, but there is a difference in their stratum corneum. Whilst they are the same thickness, it is more compact in Black skin as it has more layers.

Everyone has melanin as well - the pigment that determines the skin's colour. Black and white people have the same number of melanocytes (melanin factory cells) but pigment-containing organelles, called melanosomes, are bigger with more of them in people with darker skin.

Studies have also shown that mast cells contain larger granules in Black skin. These can cause itchiness and irritation as they release histamine, which makes blood vessels expand and the surrounding skin swollen.

How does the colder weather affect Black skin?

It is important to care for your Black skin during the colder months as you are more prone to dry skin.

In Black skin there isn't as much water, so the skin is less hydrated. The epidermis in Black skin also has fewer ceramides, which are waxy lipids (fatty acids) that form a natural barrier. Therefore, Black skin often has a higher level of transepidermal water loss (lost moisture from the skin) compared to white skin.

Lower temperatures and levels of humidity during winter also lead to a general decrease in the skin barrier's function. Black skin already loses more moisture in comparison with white skin throughout the year, yet in the colder months the barrier acting as a protector is not as secure.

How do the seasons affect your skin?

Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE

What can people with darker skin tones do to care for their skin in winter?

Dr Macaulay highlights the importance of nutrition, as healthy skin starts from the inside.

Other ways to look after your skin during winter include:

  • Drink plenty of water - water is a major nutritional factor, so it's important to drink regularly throughout the day to hydrate your skin.
  • Eat protein - the skin is made up of lots of cells that need protein, and protein helps generate healthy skin and maintain elasticity and firmness.
  • Eat enough omega 3 - omega-3 fatty acids help with dryness and can be found in oily fish. If you eat a plant-based diet, speak to a dietician if you're finding it difficult to incorporate omega 3 into your diet. They can help you find alternatives or suitable supplements - flax seeds and chia seeds offer good levels.

Create a regime

Dr Macaulay says a good skincare regime is the number one simple change you can make to take better care for your skin. She recommends not using any type of soap on your skin, as face soap is alkaline whereas the skin is acidic. Using soap can throw off the skin's pH balance and weaken the barrier which helps keep good bacteria in.

As for a skincare routine, she suggests the following step-by-step method:

  1. Cleanse with a good soap-free cleanser.
  2. Exfoliate using a chemical exfoliator.
  3. Use a gentle physical exfoliator glove to exfoliate the rest of your body.
  4. Moisturise with a moisturiser that works best for your skin.

Dr Macaulay stresses the importance of exfoliating to remove the dead cells on the top of your skin, which can otherwise build up and cause problems. If your skin is especially dry, use a sensitive lactic acid exfoliator rather than a glycolic acid one.

For moisturisers, it is important to look at their different ingredients. Moisturisers that contain urea or alpha hydroxy acid attract water to the top layer of skin, whereas emollient-based moisturisers fill in the spaces between cells and sometimes contain ceramide. An emollient cream is better for hydrating and conditioning severely dry skin. Oily-based moisturisers also prevent water loss in your skin's top layer.

If you have oily skin, continue to avoid soap because this will strip your skin of its natural oils and, again, cause an imbalance in pH. It's also still important to moisturise, despite some people believing they don't need it because their skin type is naturally oily.

What about night time?

As for your evening skincare routine, use retinol. A vitamin-based serum will help speed up the cell cycle, allowing new skin cells to come to the top more quickly. However, if your skin is dry, be more gentle with the products you apply and keep a close eye on how your skin reacts to them. You may not need to use everything every day.

The importance of sun cream

Many people assume that sun cream isn't a necessity in winter, because it is colder. However, it is just as important to protect your skin in winter as it is in summer. Dr Macaulay stresses the need to use SPF as a physical barrier between the skin and UV rays that can cause damage at any time of the year. When choosing a sun cream, it is important to look at the ingredients for these too, because not all lotions will protect against both UVA and UVB rays - UVA being the harmful rays that cause wrinkles deep into the skin and which is present all day long, and UVB being what causes the immediate sun damage we are familiar with, such as sunburn.

Dr Macaulay recommends a non-chemical SPF, as it won't cause a build-up of toxins and stays in place all day without needing to be reapplied.

Keep an eye on your skin

Dr Macaulay highlights that everyone's skin is individual, so a regime that works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Therefore, it is really important to adjust your skincare regime based on how your skin behaves and to respond to any changes in your skin.

You should cleanse and moisturise and use SPF every day, but exfoliation depends on what your skin is like. It is common to exfoliate three times per week, but compare your skin in the winter to your skin in the summer and be flexible to changing up your routine with the seasons. Get to know your skin on a deeper level and how it responds to various weather types. Also, don't get too stuck in your ways with one winter skincare regime and one summer regime, as some winters are colder and dryer and some summers are more humid.

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