If you're black, you've likely been worried about ashy ankles, elbows, and knees since you were knee high to a grasshopper. If you're brown, I know you likely know, too. If you're tan, olive skinned, white or lighter you may be confused but make no mistake, you get ashy too! But no matter what your skin tone, it's unlikely you know exactly what causes ashiness beyond dry skin. If you keep reading, you'll find out exactly what ashiness is, the cause, solution, and prevention. You're also gonna find out ashiness is a lot more complicated than you thought.
What is ashiness?
Ashiness is an AAVE term that refers to the dull, ashen state skin can take on under some circumstances. For clarity, we’re referring to literal grey ash like from charcoal or burned wood. Typically, you'll see it all over after a hot shower, after swimming in chlorinated, hard, or salt water. Areas exposed to air are more prone to this than places covered by clothing. It's also common in strange places like webbing between fingers/toes, elbows, knees, ankles, heels, and even genitals.
You may not notice it unless you lightly scratch your skin if you have a lighter skin complexion. Give it a try. If your skin flakes slightly, or becomes lighter under your fingernails, you ashy my friend.
What causes ashiness?
You might've guessed this but ashiness is a symptom of xerosis or dry skin. The research (which is sadly limited) says folks with “African genetics” tend to have this specific kind of xerosis which results in lightening of the outer most layer of skin. But I have a hunch that we only really notice it in darker skin. Silly scientists.
Each layer of skin and the flesh underneath are all different tones and colors resulting in your unique skin coloration. The inner most layer is where melanin and skin color is made. When the outer protective layers become thick and dry, it prevents light from getting through or reflecting off. And that is ashiness.
Is ashiness a problem?
Yes, and a big one! Beyond aesthetics, ashiness and xerosis/dry skin in general is incredibly bad for your skin's long-term health. Unlike eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, or dermatitis, there's no infection, inflammation or damage being done to the skin directly. But, just like leather, dry skin is much easier to damage. In fact, when you do the scratch test, you're checking your skin's durability. You will even notice more discomfort when scratching dry skin.
Dry skin also prevents skin's natural functioning. Without retaining both lipids (fats/oils/butters) and water our skin can't exfoliate itself effectively. Layers and layers of skin impact on themselves becoming thick and impenetrable. This effect is most noticeable on our feet and palms - called calluses and corns. But it happens in patches all over the body and it stops your skin from keeping moisture or receiving the nutrients you may try to apply topically.
This is especially important if you suffer from a skin condition such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, etc. Dry skin can exacerbate these issues and can even be the cause of it due to bacteria being able to get in because your skin doesn't have the moisture it needs. Your skin needs your help to keep repairing itself as it should!
Earlier I mentioned places like webbing between fingers/toes, elbows, knees, ankles, heels, and genitals are common problem areas: the skin is trying to protect itself from friction and damage - just like on feet and hands.
How to prevent ashiness?
Get The Butters is the obvious answer. But a more democratic answer is to cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize, and seal. That sounds complicated but it can be done in these simple steps:
1. Wash yo ass WITH a cotton wash cloth, hot water, AND soap. Washing with a cotton cloth adds a gentle exfoliation every time you wash, and soap captures all dirt and grime that inhibits proper skin function. Make sure to wash all your skin, including hard to reach areas and often forgotten ones like legs, behind the ears, between toes/fingers, gooch/taint. I mean every inch of you.
2. Leave the shower and immediately apply an oil, lotion, butter, or Butters.
3. Air dry or gently pat with a towel, DO NOT rub. Rubbing can add unnecessary irritation to skin.
1. Wear primarily natural fabrics like cotton, silk, & wool.
2. Sweat more to clear your pores and restore skin pH. Make sure to rinse off the sweat and gunk though, not washing this off adds to more issues such as face/body acne.
3. Consistency is key. Once you're on a roll, you will be able to skip a day or two and be fine. But try to stick with it as regularly as possible.
If you're bougie like me, you can be extra, and I encourage that.
1. Soak your skin in a bath or shower for a few minutes before washing.
2. Wash with a cotton wash cloth, shower puff, or other utensil. Use hot water and your favorite Tres Butters Body Cleanser Bar. I really like the Daily Cleanser Bar because it has clay and charcoal for extra cleansing and skin softness. Make sure to wash all your skin.
4. Hit your skin with cold water for a few seconds to help stop water loss.
5. Leave the shower and immediately apply your favorite Butters. Thicker is better. I prefer the Anti-Aging Body Moisturizer because it they Hyaluronic acid is gonna grab all that water and bind it to my skin for the whole day. But all Butters will seal it in and provide nourishment on top of protection.
6. Air dry for a few minutes before getting dressed.
Can't I just exfoliate it all away?
Well, kinda yes. It’s a combination of moisture & conditioning along with BOTH kinds of exfoliation that make things work best. You can't just scrub your way to healthy skin, you'll do more damage than harm. When you chemically exfoliate with acids like hyaluronic, citric, malic, & lactic, which dissolve vs slough off dry/dead skin, you're often being gentler and breaking down harder to remove areas of gunk. In fact, that's partially why using oils on your skin is so important they are technically classified as fatty acids. So, by themselves they help dissolve certain things on your skin.
See, I told you ashiness was more complicated than you thought. Share this post with someone who needs to erase their ashiness or who would find this interesting. Don't tell them which lol.