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Ashy Skin: 6 Ways to Treat and Prevent It

Ashy Skin: 6 Ways to Treat and Prevent It

by Antoinette Barnardo 29 Jan 2020

Flaking and peeling are common symptoms of dry skin. But have you ever encountered patches of white or grey dust on your face, arms, or legs? That's called ashy skin, and it's an indicator of severe dryness.

While it's typically not a serious condition, ashy skin can be unsightly and embarrassing. Here, we'll be covering the causes of ashiness and the best ways to treat and prevent it.

What Is Ashy Skin?

The scientific terms for ashy skin are asteatosis and xerosis — in other words, extremely dry skin that flakes since it can't retain moisture. Ashy skin is a colloquial term that originated in the African American community. While all complexions are prone to this skin condition, it's more prevalent on darker skin tones.

Ashy skin is characterized by a chalky white or a dusty grey appearance. It can develop anywhere on the body, but it's typically found on the elbows, knees, and heels. It may also be accompanied by a bumpy, rough surface texture.

Causes of Ashy Skin 

There are several reasons why your dry skin may manifest itself as ashiness. Below are some of the more common causes behind this skin condition.

1. Lack of Humidity 

Dry skin is more rampant during winter months. This is due to the humidity level naturally dropping alongside the temperature. The heat you use to warm your home is also lacking in moisture. Combined, this can lead to severe dryness that results in flaky, discolored patches of skin.

2. Not Exfoliating Enough

The stratum corneum — your skin's outermost layer — is an accumulation of dead skin cells. Cell turnover occurs every one to three months, depending on your age. When you don't exfoliate regularly, these dead cells build up and create a dull complexion that can also bring forth a dandruff-like appearance on your skin.

3. Using the Wrong Skincare Products

Contrary to popular belief, harsh skincare products do not yield faster, better results. In fact, they can be damaging your skin's lipid barrier, which may be why your skin has trouble retaining moisture. Pay attention to how your skin feels and reacts after you use your cleansers, shower gels, toners, or any other products.

4. Showering or Bathing in Hot Water

Who enjoys a nice, hot shower or bath when it's cold outside? Unfortunately, your skin doesn't. Increased exposure to hot water can severely dry out your skin due to the depletion of natural oils and proteins. Not only can this leave your skin feeling tight and looking flushed, but it can also bring forth the onset of ashiness.

How to Treat and Prevent Ashy Skin

Making small changes in your daily habits and being mindful of the products you use can not only get rid of ashy skin but also keep it away for good.

1. Moisturise Properly

Moisturising is important, but it's not enough to use just any type. Look for moisturisers that contain keratolytics, which are agents that gently exfoliate the skin while helping it bind to moisture. Examples of keratolytics include salicylic acid, lactic acid, and urea.

You may also want to seek out lotions or creams that contain ceramides if your skin's lipid barrier has been compromised. Formulas that contain ceramides mimic the skin’s natural moisturising system per a 2018 study from Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. Building your skin's lipid barrier back up will prevent trans-epidermal water loss and limit the risk of other concerns such as acne.

Plant oils such as coconut oil, shea butter, and jojoba oil are adept at relieving inflammation and repairing the skin's lipid barrier, as this 2018 study from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences discovered. You can either use a moisturiser that incorporates one or several of these ingredients or opt for a concentrated face or body oil that you can apply right after you shower.

2. Exfoliate Regularly

To reduce the buildup of dead skin cells on the surface, you should exfoliate two to three times a week, at most. For your face, look for a well-formulated chemical exfoliant serum that contains an AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid), BHA (beta-hydroxy acid), or PHA (poly-hydroxy acid). You can also use a physical exfoliant, a grainy scrub that can be used to manually remove dead skin cells, but only if your skin isn't sensitive or acne-prone.

Meanwhile, for the rest of your body, invest in a good exfoliating shower gel that contains AHA/BHA/PHA. If your body can handle it, you can opt for a body scrub instead. Just like with your face, make sure to limit full body exfoliation to no more than three times a week. Over-exfoliating can exacerbate existing skin troubles and possibly bring forth new ones.

3. Use Gentle Skincare Products

You may not be aware of the pH level of your skin or the products you use. Unfortunately, overlooking the importance of pH can be the reason your skin might not be improving despite following a proper skincare routine.

Skin's natural pH is around 5.5. Anything beyond that is too alkaline and therefore abrasive. A 2006 study conducted at Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelm University says formulas with a high pH can compromise the skin’s moisture barrier, resulting in extreme dryness along with other conditions like acne.

Using gentle cleansers, toners, and other skincare products, like YORA's Rebalance Facial Cleanser, will leave your skin feeling fresh and light instead of painful and tight. If you're ever curious about the pH level of your favorite products, you can check for yourself via pH testing strips.

4. Take Shorter, Cooler Showers

You'll have to give up the scalding showers during winter months if you want to maintain healthy skin. Fortunately, you won't have to drop the water temperature to below freezing. Dr. Rajani Katta, professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine, recommends showering in lukewarm water for no more than 15 minutes to prevent skin from becoming dry and ashy.

In addition to shorter, cooler showers, you may need to cut back on how often you shower, as well. Robert H. Shmerling, MD of Harvard Medical School suggests that most healthy people do not have to shower every day — daily showers, he says, can lead to dry, itchy skin and even a compromised immune system. Of course, this advice will vary on a case-by-case basis.

5. Add Moisture to the Air

A lack of humidity in the air can make your skin crack and flake. While you have the heater running non-stop in your home or office, pick up a humidifier to add moisture back into the air.

6. Visit a Dermatologist

Most causes of ashy skin are external. However, ashiness may be linked to a more chronic condition like eczema or psoriasis. If your symptoms persist even after taking the above precautions, visit a dermatologist or other healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

On Your Way to Healthy Skin

Dry, ashy skin can be an uncomfortable condition to deal with. Fortunately, there are plenty of measures you can take to reduce and ultimately eliminate ashiness, roughness, and dullness. Pay close attention to your skin's needs and you'll be well on your way to healthier, glowing skin.

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