Ashiness can be a real pain — it looks and feels unpleasant, and is often a constant battle, especially for those with darker skin. “Ashy just means dry,” says Sabrina Bradley, esthetician and owner of Skin by Sabrina. “Honestly, I think it’s a big funny term in urban family talk, like, ‘Girl, you ashy. You don’t want to be ashy. Put some lotion on.’ You know?”
Being roasted by friends and family aside, it’s definitely a problem worth dealing with if you just want your skin to look and feel nice. Like many skin problems, ashiness — dried skin flakes that can resemble a fine ash, especially on darker skin tones — results from a lack of moisture. While it can happen to just about anyone, skin of color happens to be particularly prone to ashiness (since it can be especially low in ceramides, lipids that help the skin retain moisture) and it certainly tends to stick out more on darker complexions.
Mending ashy skin, meanwhile, requires tackling the underlying problem, i.e., that general lack of moisture. “If you’re dealing with ashy skin, one of the most important things you can do is increase moisture levels in the skin,” suggests dermatologist Rajani Katta, author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. “One easy tip is applying moisturizer on damp skin. In other words, step out of the shower, pat dry partially, and then apply a thick moisturizing cream to damp skin. It’s important to note that lotions have a lot of water, so they’re not as effective at locking in moisture. I recommend moisturizing creams or even ointments, instead.” Bradley also recommends lightweight moisturizing oils, like jojoba oil and almond oil, which won’t clog your pores or feel too greasy.
Esthetician Gregory Dylan seconds this approach, but adds exfoliating as a vital precursor. “The cause of ashy skin is simply an accumulation of dead cells,” he explains. “These cells have no moisture content, so in addition to looking dry, they soak up any product you’re putting on, and it doesn’t get to the healthier cells below. So while moisturizing will help, adding in some exfoliation is a must. You’ll want to use a physical exfoliant, like a scrub or a brush, a couple of times a week, and pay a little extra attention to problem areas.” For the body, Bradley adds that some sort of exfoliating glove can make this process a whole lot easier.
“Other methods of exfoliation that are very effective in combating ashiness are enzymes and alpha hydroxy acids,” Dylan continues, adding that these can be found in numerous skincare products, so just be on the lookout. “Enzymes work to digest the superficial cellular debris, while alpha hydroxy acids dissolve the glue that holds the cells together. Using a mask with these ingredients in conjunction with your physical exfoliator will certainly keep dull, dry skin at bay.” For more persistent ashiness problems, Dylan suggests using a serum with alpha hydroxy acids three nights a week.
As more of a preventative approach, reducing the temperature of your showers can help with ashiness, too — while hot water feels good, it strips the skin of natural oils that ordinarily lock in moisture. Likewise, drinking lots of water can keep your skin nice and hydrated. “Ashy is just dehydrated,” Bradley reiterates.
Now go walk your moist self out into the world.