What Is Ashy Skin?

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Ashy skin is a type of dry skin that is whitish or grey, so it looks like ashes. It has many causes and can range from mild to severe. Excessively dry skin is called xerosis.

Most people will experience ashy skin at some point in their lives. In general, this is due to factors such as the environment, weather, and dry or cool air indoors. Consistently going from heat to highly air-conditioned indoor spaces will also reduce the natural water or moisture from the skin. Other factors include lifestyle habits, illnesses, medications, and more.

Ashy Skin Symptoms

Verywell / Laura Porter

Symptoms

There are general symptoms of ashy or dry skin and there are symptoms that will need attention from a healthcare professional.

Common Symptoms of Ashy Skin

  • Dehydrated skin
  • Rough texture
  • Itchiness
  • Flakes
  • Cracks in the skin
  • Peeling
  • Redness
  • Painful or burning feeling

Symptoms Specific to Skin Conditions

  • Inflamed discolored skin
  • Rash
  • Scaly patches of skin
  • Crusting on the skin

Although ashy skin can be a common factor for many, there comes a time when it is necessary to contact your healthcare provider for help. Some reasons to call your doctor include:

  • Itchy skin without a visible rash
  • Open cuts or sores appear due to scratching
  • Over-the-counter products and self-help tips for dryness and itching do not relieve the symptoms
  • Interference with daily tasks

It is also important to consider the skin tone. Individuals with darker skin tone have more pronounced ashy skin. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is medical condition, it is primarily due to the melanin. Researchers conducted a study and found that there is stronger cohesion of the stratum corneum, or the outer layer of the skin, that is a barrier between the environment and the body. They found that this outer layer has a faster recovery from barrier damage. They also found that the outer layer of darkly pigmented skin has a higher water loss, which can also lead to ashy skin.

Common Body Parts That Are Dry or Ashy

Common ashy body parts include: Knees, feet, elbows, hands, and some areas of the face.

Causes

Environment

Depending on where you live, environment can be a big factor behind ashy skin. Living in extreme cold and dry temperatures can cause dryness. 

Lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy diet and drinking enough water will help your skin stay healthy and hydrated. Using certain detergents, soaps, or bathing too long can also cause dry and ashy skin. Smoking is also another cause of ashy skin.

Other factors include illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and cancer, just to name a few. Certain medications that are taken by cancer patients and individuals who receive dialysis are also prone to dry and ashy skin.

If an individual is deficient in certain vitamins like vitamin D, iron, niacin, zinc, or vitamin A, this can also cause ashy skin.

Age

As people age, the sebum naturally declines. This starts at about 40 years old and continues as age progresses. Sebum is the body’s natural ability to moisturize skin. As the aging process continues, the skin will naturally become thinner.  

Why Are Middle Age and Older Adults Prone to Ashy Skin?

Aging makes skin more susceptible to dryness. Dry skin in older adults can be simply a sign of age-related skin changes or signify underlying medical problems. Because dry skin can lead to other skin complications, it’s important to monitor carefully.

Diagnosis

Dry and ashy skin is pretty visible. If you are at the point where moisturizers are not working and the symptoms are getting worse, it is time to call the doctor.

When you visit your doctor to determine if your ashy skin needs additional attention, they look at a few factors. The dermatologists will look at your skin and create a treatment plan that is specified for you. They will ask questions including: 

  • How long have you had excessively dry skin?
  • What have you tried to reduce the dry skin?
  • What are some things that make your dry skin worse?
  • Do you or any family members have food allergies, hay fever, asthma, atopic dermatitis, or other skin conditions? 

Treatments

Home Care

There are many at-home treatments that you can try for ashy skin, including:

  • A humidifier
  • Moisturizers and ointments
  • Warm baths, not hot
  • A healthy diet
  • Hydration

Prescription Medications and Topical Treatments

If you’ve tried at-home treatments and don't notice any improvement, call your doctor.

Working along with your doctor, the goal is to heal your skin and create a preventative plan to keep the dry skin under control. Again, there are different needs for each patient, so you will have a specific plan geared towards your needs. Some prescription medications or topical treatments include a moisturizer with ingredients like glycerol, lactic acid, and urea, which aid in reducing dry skin. Working with your doctor, you can learn more about what you can do to protect your skin.

 A Word From Verywell

It is always important to protect your skin. It is the largest organ on your body. As dry or ashy skin is normal during season change, habit change, or health changes, if it persists, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare professional.

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  1. Weber TM, Kausch M, Rippke F, Schoelermann AM, Filbry AW. Treatment of xerosis with a topical formulation containing glyceryl glucoside, natural moisturizing factors, and ceramide. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(8):29-39.

  2. Feng L, Hawkins S. Reduction of "ashiness" in skin of color with a lipid-rich moisturizing body wash. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011;4(3):41-44.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dry skin: Overview.