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Baby it's cold outside!

How do I keep my melanin rich skin hydrated during winter?

By Dr Carlos A. Charles, 4.5.6 co-founder and dermatologist @dermadicolore

The holidays are long behind us, and we are all settling in for the new year ahead. While we are incredibly grateful that it is 2021, we also know that the frigid winter temperatures are here for the next few months. This of course means a very important reality, if you haven’t already, it’s time to make some edits to your skincare routine. While this is vital for skin of all colours, it is even more critical for those with melanin rich skin. Dry air, decreased ultraviolet light, frigid temperatures and blaring radiators can all wreak havoc on darker skin tones if some important changes are not made. Please follow along with me as we describe some of the science behind the physiology of melanin rich skin and how we need to pivot our routines throughout the winter months to make it through unscathed.


Melanin Rich Skin and Winter: What are the basics?

Melanin rich skin can inherently face unique challenges when trying to maintain and lock-in moisture. Studies have demonstrated that darker skin tones can more easily lose water through the outermost layer known as the epidermis, a phenomenon known as transepidermal water loss. Additionally, compared with lighter skin, melanin rich skin has more skin layers in the epidermis, and will typically shed these layers of skin at a greater rate. Taken together, all of these factors contribute to a phenomenon colloquially known as “ashy skin”, which we all know can greatly worsen in the frigid winter months.  

Fortunately, there are several types of moisturisers that can be of help to minimise this increased transepidermal water loss and effectively reduce the skin’s ashy, dry appearance. Moisturisers are generally classified into three broad types, humectants, occlusives and emollients.  Humectants, such as hyaluronic acid and sorbitol, work by attracting water to the epidermis. Emollients, such as colloidal oatmeal and cannabis oil, help to fill-in spaces between the skin epidermal skin cells Lastly,  occlusives, such as shea butter and lanolin, help to create a barrier to prevent water loss. All three of these are important agents when it comes to nurturing the skin through the winter months.  Additionally, they can be layered for optimal hydration in the frigid dry winter months. 

A key component of the skin that is critical to keeping the skin hydrated is the Natural Moisturising Factor also known as the NMF. The NMF is composed principally of free amino acids, and various derivatives of these amino acids, as well as inorganic salts, sugars, lactic acid and urea. The NMF components are highly efficient humectants that attract and bind water from the atmosphere, drawing it into the skin cells. NMF is present in skin of all colours, and it is known to be decreased in dry skin. So logically, NMF is significantly reduced in dry, irritated darker skin in the winter months. Fortunately, several NMF components have long been used in moisturisers, the Day Hack - Matte Moisturiser contains these powerful components, to aid in treating dry, irritated skin and assist in restoring the skin barrier.


Let’s talk about Moisturising! 

This aspect of skincare is probably the most important one to focus on when changing up winter skin routine. Armed with all of this information on melanin skin physiology, you can make some important decisions and key changes in your winter skincare regimen. First, ditch the overdrying gel cleansers with sulfates in favour of more creamy and gentle cleansers that not only help to both maintain the skin barrier big also and restore the skin batter. The 4.5.6 Skin range has two products that can do just that. While the Green Bae - Cleanser Gel is billed as a cleansing gel, it beautifully cleanses the skin without foaming and does not strip the skin of its natural protection. It also is loaded with antioxidant actives ingredients such as cucumber extract, Cannabis and Almond oil, Propolis extract, Orange blossom water and Tea tree oil that can effectively help ward-off any free radical damage in response to the challenging winter temps and dry air. Also, when paired with the Come Clean - Cleansing Oil, which is powered by ingredients such as Vitamin E, Carrot Cherry and Chamomile oil, you can ensure that you are giving the skin the adequate hydration that is vital to skin health during the frigid winter.


What’s the story on exfoliating in the winter?  

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, when it comes to exfoliation, many of us just overdo it! Believe it or not the skin has a fairly good mechanism for ensuring adequate skin cell turnover. Of course, as with many things in life, a little help is always appreciated. So when it comes to the dry winter months, the best approach to exfoliation is to do so as gently as possible to mitigate any undue traumatic irritation, which in melanin rich skin can lead to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, aka unwanted dark marks on the skin.

When selecting a winter season exfoliator it is best to avoid mechanical agents. Also, you should forgo the products with abrasive beads and other agents that can lead to physical skin damage .

Gentle chemical exfoliation through the use of Beta and Alpha hydroxy acids can help to remove layers of unwanted skin cells and, while gentle enzymatic agents will delicately digest these layers is the best approach. This coupled with antioxidant protection will ensure the best outcome for brighter skin and to help ensure an even skin tone. Our To Be Clear - Exfoliant Mask can effectively yet delicately perform all of the actions. 


And what about Vitamin D? 

The winter season is a challenging time to attain adequate Vitamin D levels in the body for all skin tones. For melanin rich skin this becomes even more difficult. A portion of the body’s vitamin D supply is directly influenced by ultraviolet light from the sun. Because melanin in the skin reduces the amount of ultraviolet light that penetrates the skin layers, it also leads to a significant reduction in the amount of solar-dependent vitamin D that is produced.

Adequate levels of vitamin D are critically important for the body’s optimal daily functions. Vitamin D has such widespread functions in the body that not only is it an important nutrient, but certain forms are also classified as a hormone. The body must have vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Too little vitamin D results in soft bones in children, known as rickets, and fragile, misshapen bones in adults, known as osteomalacia. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain, and other maladies. Additionally, some studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency to dry skin, making optimal levels even more important in the winter months.

The good news is that vitamin D can also be attained with dietary supplementation, and the winter months are a great time to ramp-up their ingestion. Foods that provide high amounts of vitamin E to look out for include oily fish such as salmon, red meat, egg yolks spinach, okra , white beans, kale and collard greens.

Even better news is that our Sevenly Delight - Brightening Serum contains a “vitamin D like” active ingredient known as Cichorium Intybus root extract, also known as chicory. It was added expressly with melanin rich skin in mind which as we described is known to face significant challenges in maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. This agent has been shown to improve the skin barrier function and therefore reduce the loss of water through the skin, a critically important task for skin protection in the dry winter months. 


We leave you with some Practical Pearls 

Lastly, I will close with a few specific pointers. In an effort to make it through the winter, while still maintaining a supple and hydrated glowing melanin rich skin, some simple changes in your routine can go a very long way. An important detail to pay close attention to is the water temperature that you use daily. While we all love hot water when cleansing or showering early in the morning on a cold winter day, this is a big no-no for the winter time. By turning down the temperature and using only lukewarm water for face wash and baths, we can help the body hold on to the moisture. Secondly to help trap this moisture after bathing, you want to be sure to gently pat dry the skin after bathing and immediately apply a nice thick layer of occlusive gentle moisturiser. Just these two steps alone can make a great difference in your skin’s ability to maintain a protective glow all winter long.

Do you have specific questions on how to take care of YOUR melanin rich skin? Ask our skin experts on Messenger.

Comments (1)

  • Nicola on January 27, 2021

    Thanks for sharing Dr. Charles. We need more content like this 🙌🏽

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