For decades, maybe centuries, African American mothers have been slathering a variety of creams, lotions, and oils onto their children’s skin (and their own) hoping to drive away what is known as “ashy” skin.
“Ashy” skin is really just dry skin that is exacerbated in people of darker skin tones. It can make skin look dull, grey, or chalky and can feel tight and even painful.
The worst part for most people is the itchiness which can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Dry skin is one of the most common problems people have. Barney Kenet, MD, a dermatologist from New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center, estimates there are about 100 million people who suffer from dry, itchy skin in this country.
Though it sounds like a superficial or cosmetic problem, itching dry skin can cause many breaks in the skin which can let in bacteria and create a much more serious problem.
One can have patches of dry, itchy skin anywhere on their body but it is most commonly found on one’s arms, hands, legs, and abdomen. Knees and elbows seem to get the worst of the “ashy” phenomenon.
On some people, dry skin is more about how their skin feels, than it is about how it looks, but on others, including African Americans, it can be quite noticeable and a source of embarrassment.
Dry skin can be caused by a variety of issues, most of which are easily rectified. The main cause is that one’s skin does not have the necessary moisture on the top layer of their skin.
Laundry soap, bath soap, fabric choices, long, hot showers and dry weather can cause this lack of moisture and create “ashy” or dry skin. It can also be caused by certain medications, especially those for diabetes, malnutrition, hypothyroidism, and psoriasis.
One can even have a genetic predisposition for dry skin. Also drinking alcohol or exercising without replenishing fluids can cause dry skin as well.
It is important to isolate the cause or causes of dry skin to try to eliminate it from one’s life if possible.