How to Restore Your Ashy Skin (The Uncomplicated Way)

Written by Devon Abelman

Ashy skin happens to the best of us. In fact, dry, flaky skin with a gray or white tone affects about a third of the world’s population, regardless of age, skin type, or skin tone, according to Scientific Reports. Let’s be real: Keeping every inch of our body’s largest organ sufficiently moisturized and smooth can be a tedious task. We’re all bound to have noticeably dry skin at some point—but that also doesn’t make ashy skin any less annoying and uncomfortable.

Luckily, your skin doesn’t have to be ashy forever, and you can be as shiny and supple as a buttered dinner roll with a few routine tweaks. To help, we spoke to board-certified dermatologists Nada Elbuluk, MD; Hope Mitchell, MD; and DiAnne Davis, MD; for the most efficient ways to restore ashy skin, as well as what exactly ashy skin is, what causes it, and how to prevent it.

Experts in this article: 

  • Nada Elbuluk, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles, CA
  • Hope Mitchell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Perrysburg, OH 
  • DiAnne Davis, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Southlake, TX

What is ashy skin?

Ashy skin is a colloquial term for rough, dry skin accompanied by a scaly, lighter-colored appearance that emphasizes lines and flakes. Medically, it’s known as xerosis, which is just the scientific term for dry skin, says Dr. Davis. Ashy skin usually feels tight, cracked, and itchy. Typically found on the face, hands, or legs, ashy skin occurs when dead skin cells accumulate on the surface, leading to a matte-like appearance without any natural radiance. “If you notice your skin appearing dull, lackluster, or grayish in tone, you may have ashy skin,” Dr. Mitchell says. 

Studies have found2 that ashy skin only affects the superficial layers of skin, meaning your skin may look dry on the surface, but it’s not necessarily dehydrated and damaged underneath. However, ashy skin may be a symptom of skin-barrier dysfunction or even an underlying health condition, such as eczema, diabetes, or psoriasis. If you’re unsure if you’re dealing with ashy skin or your skin continues to look ashy despite moisturizing twice daily and exfoliating, be sure to seek advice from a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Davis says.

What causes ashy skin? 

Generally, ashy skin is caused by a lack of moisture and natural oils on the skin’s surface, says Dr. Mitchell. That dryness is most likely a result of one or many of the following hygiene and lifestyle factors, like:

Photo: Stocksy/Haus Klaus

Ashy skin cause #1: Not moisturizing enough

Dr. Davis and Dr. Elbuluk both note that not properly moisturizing your skin—or not moisturizing at all—can lead to ashy skin. An overall hydration rule Dr. Elbuluk shares is the drier your skin is, the thicker your moisturizer should be, so sheer, lightweight body lotions may simply not be rich enough for your dry-skin concerns. Lotions tend to have higher water content than thicker, creamier formulas, but they aren't as occlusive as creams or balms, so they don’t lock in hydration as well.

Thicker, creamier body moisturizers, like body butters, are typically spiked with more emollients that form a moisture-attracting and hydration-locking layer on top of the skin to help repair it. Some ingredients our experts recommend seeking out are lipids, oils, petrolatum, shea butter, and hyaluronic acid

Ashy skin cause #2: Your shower routine 

If you’re dealing with persistent ashy skin, you may be showering too frequently—which can be especially problematic if you also love to crank up the heat. Long, hot showers can exacerbate dryness and flakiness, according to all of the dermatologists we interviewed. Harsh soaps and some foaming body washes can also “strip the skin of its natural oils,” says Dr. Elbuluk, leading to a compromised skin barrier over time.

Of course, that’s not to say you should never indulge in a long, hot shower (we know it works wonders, especially after a stressful day), but indulging in them too frequently can definitely contribute to dry skin, especially if you're not properly moisturizing afterward. 

Ashy skin cause #3: Environmental aggressors 

Cold weather and excessive sun exposure can also deplete your skin’s moisture levels, resulting in ashy skin, Dr. Mitchell says. Low-humidity environments and artificially heated rooms may also lead to visible dryness, which is why ashy skin tends to be worse during winter months.

Ashy skin cause #4: Prior skin conditions 

A history of certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, keratosis pilaris (sometimes called "chicken skin"), atopic dermatitis (a common form of eczema), and ichthyosis (a group of scaly skin diseases) can disrupt the skin’s barrier function, contributing to ashy skin. You'll need to see a dermatologist for an official diagnosis, but typically, these skin conditions present with more than just ashiness (think bumps, scales, itchiness, irritation, inflammation, etc.).

How to restore ashy skin

To restore ashy skin, a focus on hydration and exfoliation is crucial, says Dr. Mitchell. In general, the best way to get rid of ashy skin is to work with your dermatologist for a targeted approach, but in the interim, you can try the following:

Change your shower habits

Try cutting down on the number of showers you’re taking and the time you’re spending sudsing up. Be sure to keep the temperature lukewarm and look for a moisturizing body wash free of stripping sulfates. If you prefer to lather up with a bar of soap, reach for a cream-based, sulfate-free formula. Again, we love a good steamy shower, but not every single one needs to be scorching hot.

Photo: Stocksy/Viktor Solomin
Photo: Stocksy/ Marc Tran

Moisturize generously 

Within the first three minutes of getting out of the shower and drying off, Dr. Davis has a task for you: Liberally slather on moisturizing products (think: body balms, body oils, body lotion) rich in emollients and humectants onto your damp skin. This helps lock in hydration and prevent the transepidermal water loss, or TEWL, that leads to ashy skin. 

When it comes to seeking out specific ingredients in your moisturizers, Dr. Mitchell recommends moisture-binding glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which pull water from the air and into your skin to help with prolonged hydration. A 2023 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology also found that cleansers and moisturizers containing ceramides are beneficial for restoring and maintaining skin barrier function for those dealing with xerosis.

Exfoliate with care 

Incorporating gentle exfoliation into your skin-care routine once or twice a week will also help restore ashy skin and leave it with a healthy glow, Dr. Mitchell says. “A mild scrub or chemical exfoliant can help remove dead skin cells, revealing smoother, brighter-looking skin,” she adds.  

Chemical exfoliants like AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid) help revive ashy skin due to their keratolytic nature, meaning they can break down the dead skin cells accumulating on the surface of your skin that’s contributing to ashiness.

Put on a humidifier 

Humidifiers may help restore ashy skin, especially during the winter, Dr. Davis says. They’ll keep your skin moist, especially if the heat in your home tends to dry out your skin. “Consider using a humidifier in dry environments, too, to maintain skin hydration levels,” Dr. Mitchell adds.  

Photo: Stocksy/Martí Sans

How to prevent ashy skin

Unless you're dealing with prior skin conditions, you should be able to mitigate ashy skin with the following:

Maintain a consistent skin-care routine 

“Keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized on a daily basis is one of the best ways to prevent ashy skin from developing,” Dr. Davis says. Not sure where to start? Dr. Mitchell suggests cleansing with a gentle, moisturizing body wash to keep your skin’s natural oils from being stripped. Follow up with a rich moisturizer packed with hyaluronic acid or shea butter to lock in moisture and keep dryness at bay. Regularly exfoliating once or twice weekly with a gentle AHA scrub will also help remove dead skin cells, promote cell turnover, and keep your skin ultra-smooth, she adds.

Load up on SPF 

Of course, board-certified dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen every single day—no matter what your skin is going through. However, SPF is especially helpful for preventing ashy skin because it protects skin from environmental aggressors that can cause ashy skin, particularly sun exposure, Dr. Mitchell says.  

Get regular skin checks

The dermatologists also emphasize the importance of getting regular skin checks and seeking professional advice from a board-certified dermatologist if you notice any concerning changes in your skin's appearance or texture. “Although dryness and ashy skin can often be managed with proper skin care, certain skin conditions or underlying health issues may require medical attention,” Dr. Mitchell explains. Your dermatologist can also provide treatment options best suited for your individual skin concerns and help you achieve healthier, more hydrated skin, she adds.

Final takeaway

Taking time to figure out what exactly is causing your ashy skin is the key to restoring it and preventing future scaly skin. Regularly buffing off dead skin, avoiding super-hot showers that suck moisture from your skin, and making sure to hydrate with the right ingredients is the baseline trifecta for getting rid of ashy skin. With these moisture-locking tweaks to your body and skin-care routines, your skin will feel like butter in no time. 

Hero Illustration by Janet Mac

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Murphy, Barry, et al. “Alteration of Barrier Properties, Stratum Corneum Ceramides and Microbiome Composition in Response to Lotion Application on Cosmetic Dry Skin.” Scientific Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 26 Mar. 2022,
  2. Fillit, Howard, et al. Brocklehurst’s Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. Philadelphia, PA, Elsevier, 2017.‌
  3. “An International Evaluation of a Ceramide-Containing Hydrating Cleanser and Moisturizing Cream for the Improvement of Diabetes Mellitus-Related Xerosis.” JDDonline – Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, Accessed 30 Apr. 2024.
  4. Berardesca, E., et al. “Alpha Hydroxyacids Modulate Stratum Corneum Barrier Function.” The British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 137, no. 6, 1 Dec. 1997, pp. 934–938, ‌