Banish Ashy Skin With These 5 Tips

Get your skin glowing again.

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Ashy skin: It's unattractive and frustrating. Not that it's any consolation, but it's also very common—especially during fall and winter, when seasonally low humidity and indoor heating wreak havoc with the skin's ability to hang onto moisture. When skin goes from dry to ashy, it's a matter of degree; ashy skin is so very dry that it actually appears white or flaky, like it's covered in a film of ash.

It's especially noticeable on people who have deep skin tones and appears most often on legs, elbows, knees, arms, and heels. Luckily, there's a lot you can do to stop ashy skin in its tracks and get your skin glowing again.

Look at the Ingredients on Your Skin Care Products

Just because the label on a skin care product says "moisturizing" doesn't mean it is. In fact, such a product can be downright drying. So how do you tell the difference? Get to know labels. Ingredients are listed in order of percentage contained in the product, so looking at the first five ingredients in a skin care product can be very telling.

Look out for alcohols. Not all kinds are drying—some are good, and some are bad. The bad types of alcohol in skin care products include SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol; they're usually added to help wet ingredients evaporate quickly on the skin, but they take away your skin's natural moisture in the process. At the other end of the spectrum are the fatty alcohols, such as cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl; they're actually good for your skin and won't dry it out.

Other ingredients to watch out for include artificial fragrances and SLSs (sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate), which are often found in body washes and shampoos. SLSs cause products to have a lot of bubbles, but they also strip the skin of precious moisture. SLS-free products are available—for example, SLS-free shampoo for color-treated hair, which is popular because it doesn’t strip the hair. It's the same with skin care products.

Ingredients such as oils, butters, lanolin, and petrolatum give your skin a good dose of lasting moisture and keep it from evaporating. Seeing those high up on the ingredients list is a good sign.

In fact, if you're desperate for something that really works without irritating your sensitive skin, ditch the perfumy, expensive, chemical-laden products and use butter or oil directly on your skin. Coconut oil is especially fantastic for your skin. Shea butter is an effective deep moisturizer, too.

Turn the Hot Water Down a Notch

Bathing or taking a shower with hot water is very drying to your skin, especially if you spend a lot of time enjoying that heat. Instead, use warm water, and try not to shower or soak in the tub for too long. This is especially important during winter when the air is already so dry (and drying!) inside your home and outdoors. Apply a thick body cream or coconut oil right after you dry off from your shower to lock in the moisture your body absorbs during your shower or bath.

Exfoliate Weekly or Biweekly

Everyone should exfoliate skin often, but it's especially important if you have ashy skin. Part of the problem is the buildup of dead skin cells, which are actually visible on the surface of the skin when they're so dry. You can remove them easily by using a gentle scrub once or twice a week in the shower. Concentrate on your arms, stomach, and legs, where ashy skin appears most often.

Use a Humidifier

If you live where winters are cold, the heat you use to heat your home lacks humidity and saps moisture from your skin—just the thing that leads to ashiness. Try combating this by using a humidifier to help maintain healthy moisture levels in your home (and your skin). Opt for a cold-water humidifier to prevent the mold problems that typically plague its warm-water counterpart.

Drink Plenty of Water

You hear it all the time, but do it! Drinking lots of water can help your skin stay plump and moist, hydrating your body from the inside out. Skin needs the moisture from the inside to produce what it needs it on the outside, so drink up! You don't have to limit yourself to plain water. Naturally flavored beverages and teas help replenish your body's moisture, especially if they're caffeine-free. Bottom line: To rid yourself of ashy, get splashy.