Kick Ash! No More Ashy Skin

How to Treat This Dry Skin Condition

Close up of woman's hands applying moisturizer
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What Is Ashy Skin?

If you’re African-American or are of African descent, you’ve probably heard the term “ashy skin.” There are a lot of fancy scientific terms to describe this skin condition: keratinized dehydrated disorder, xerosis or asteatosis, but ashy skin is simply very dry skin.  This dry skin takes on a whitish or grayish coloring (much like ashes left after something has been burned, hence the term) that appears on brown and dark skin.

All skin tones can experience “ashiness.” Caucasian and pale Asian skin can look chalky from dead cells on its surface; it’s just that the dead skin cells are more noticeable on darker skin. Some dermatologists also suggest that black skin sheds and flakes more easily than other skin tones.

Ashy skin is commonly found on arms, elbows, lower legs, knees and heels. Ashy skin is not a serious condition, but like dandruff, it can be embarrassing. No one wants those noticeable flakes that whiten the skin, giving it a dull, unhealthy appearance.  Also like dandruff, it can get onto clothing.

What Causes Ashen Skin?

As dead skin cells are shed from the surface of the skin, the body produces new skin cells below the surface. These cells travel up through the epidermis until they reach the top layer (the stratum corneum). The new skin cells push the older cells off. Sometimes these dead skin cells accumulate, forming dry scales that don’t properly go through the skin’s natural exfoliation process and forms a barrier that makes the skin look dull and unable to absorb moisturizers.

This condition also occurs when the skin doesn’t have enough natural water to keep it smooth and supple and when the outer layer of the skin loses a lot of moisture. This can especially occur in dry, arid climates or during the winter when the cold, dry air strips the skin of water leaving it rough and flaky.

Treatments for Ashy Skin

There are two important things to think about when choosing and using products for ashy skin: The products should be mild and moisturizing.

Use gentle products. Avoid products with alcohol or that can be drying and irritating to the skin like deodorant soaps and harsh scrubs.

Use mild cleansers. Soap-based cleansers are alkaline and therefore can cause dryness and damage to the skin by stripping the lipid layer (the barrier that keeps natural moisture in the skin).

Try lactic acid. Try a product that contains lactic acid like Amlactin, which will exfoliate the skin, while also hydrating and improving skin texture.

RX for Ashy Skin. In severe cases, you might need a prescription strength product with salicylic acid to slough and smooth out ashy skin.

Ash-Free Skin Care Tips


  • No long, hot showers and baths. This strips the skin of its natural oils. Use lukewarm water when showering and bathing. Avoid soaking for too long in the tub, especially during the dry, winter months.


  • When cleansing, use non-deodorant and fragrance-free bar soap or a moisturizing body wash.


  • Be sure to regularly exfoliate the skin. Exfoliate the skin one to two times a week with a gentle exfoliating cleanser.


    • When you are finished bathing or showering, pat skin with a towel, leaving it a little damp and then immediately apply moisturizer.


    • Seasonal changes in temperature and humidity can be a trigger for ashiness. Dry, indoor heat also robs the skin of moisture. Use a humidifier during winter months or year-round if you live in a dry climate.

    For more help to prevent ashiness, read these 18 tips for dry, winter skin.

    Oily & Ashy?


    • If you have oily skin, but are noticing ashy patches on your face or other areas of the body, try using a gentle exfoliant three times a week to get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.


    • Use a lightweight oil-free moisturizer to treat the dry areas and patches. Use a facial moisturizer formulated for oily skin that has glycerin or other humectants that draw moisture to the skin without clogging the pores or giving skin a greasy feel.


      • Don’t over-moisturize which will only aggravate oily skin.

      If you are still suffering from dry, itchy skin in spite of following these skin care tips see a dermatologist to make sure the condition is not from allergies or a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema.