5 Rules for Fixing Ashy Skin

Dermatologists weigh in

ashy-skin-janell-man-repeller-1

Despite the seasonally warm weather across the board, winter is coming — even if we don’t know exactly when. In addition to crazy work deadlines, avoiding your relatives and setting your budget aflame thanks to seasonal sales and gift buying, winter presents beauty issues. Namely, dry skin. Nothing says “I barely had time to get it together this morning” than unmoisturized ankles emerging from your ankle boots.

The moment the first leaf hits the ground, it feels like all the moisture leaves my body. Dermatologist Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden breaks down why this happens. “In the winter, there’s much less humidity in the environment in general which means less absorption of humidity by the skin,” she explains. “Additionally, there are numerous devices that extract humidity from the environment and from our skin, such as artificial heat sources. This compounds the problem, resulting in excessively dehydrated and itchy skin.”

Selfishly, I spoke to a few more experts to help myself (and all of you!) banish dry skin woes for real. Read on for five simple rules to follow.

Rule No. 1: Duh, Drink More Water

Here’s the thing: during the colder months, we spend more way time inside meaning hours and hours working, sleeping and eating in dry, moisture-zapping heat. According to NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, as the temperature drops, oil production slows. During the summer months, the sun actually promotes oil production. When you’re out in the cold, blood circulation is reduced, so there is less internal hydration and water delivery.

“We tend to drink less water inherently because our internal thirst center is not as active as in the summer,” explains Dr. Cook-Bolden. “To stay warm, we tend to drink many more beverages such as coffee and tea which contain caffeine. [Remember], caffeinated beverages (not to mention alcohol) result in greater dehydration.”

To combat these effects, she recommends the Trufora trifecta, which consists of the Ultimate Facial Cleanser ($25, trufora.com), Triple Action Exfoliator ($45, trufora.com) and Intensive Night Treatment ($59, trufora.com) — all non-comedogenic and cruelty-free. “Additionally, [during the winter] you may have to moisturize more times a day,” she adds. “And never forget your sunscreen!”

ashy-skin-janell-man-repeller-12

Rule No. 2: Be Less Clean

Showers are my personal, all-time favorite hobby and guilty pleasure. Every day after I leave work and race home on the filthy A train, I head straight to the bathroom to take a long, steaming-hot shower. It’s no wonder I suffer from dry skin.

“The #1 activity [that contributes to dry skin] is hot showers and baths that further strip oils from skin, though everyone loves heat when it’s chilly outside,” shares Dr. Gross. “I always recommend that patients increase moisturizer use in winter (right after they bathe is the best time) – this is when they need it most and it’s a habit often overlooked!”

For me, the best solve has been Nivea In-Shower Body Lotion Nourishing ($7.79, walgreens.com) to handle moisturizing before I get dressed.

Another mistake is being too enthused about body scrub (more on the benefits of exfoliation later). There are better ways to combat scaly skin than simply obliterating it. “Many of my patients over-scrub in the winter, trying to eliminate dead flakes,” says Dr. Jessica Wu, the author of Feed Your Face, and Chief Medical Advisor of Robin McGraw Revelation. “This can irritate skin, making it more dry and scaly.”

She suggest exfoliating no more than two times a week and using a rich body oil or plain old coconut oil for long-lasting emollient effects. I’ve sung the praises of Bio-Oil ($21.99, walgreens.com) for years; it’s a cult favorite among doctors and editors, and is magical.

Dr. Gervaise Gerstner, MD, is also a huge fan of oils — both for moisturizing and taking as a supplement. “I have a shot of omega-3 oil every day,” she says.

ashy-skin-janell-man-repeller-16

Rule No. 3: Exfoliate the Right Way

I know I just said exfoliation is kinda-sorta bad, but Dr. Cook-Bolden helps to clarify this point. “At times in our lives when our bodies are out of balance, the ‘natural’ exfoliation process is sluggish, leaving our skin looking dull and congested. Physical and chemical exfoliators [scrubs, dry brushes or glycolic pads] are the two main options. The best [exfoliators] are your freshly cleaned hands.” Go figure!

Dr. Francesca Fusco, dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology, says, “When done properly, exfoliation is very helpful for skin and not an evil. It removes dead, dull skin layers allowing skin to appear brighter and it also allows moisturizer to penetrate [more] evenly and deeper.” Think of it as very necessary (occasional) prep work. Dr. Fusco is a personal fan of Aveda Beautifying Radiance Polish ($50, aveda.com) to slough without damage.

Rule No. 4: Moisturize, Obviously

According to Dr. Gross, any moisturizing product that contains water can promote healthy skin.“Water is delivered to hydrate skin. [You] cannot go wrong with these types of formulas!” Seriously, water is one of the key ingredients for soft, hydrated skin. His Hyaluronic Marine Hydrating Modeling Mask ($46, drdennisgross.com) holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water, meaning smooth, supple skin — no dullness.

ashy-skin-janell-man-repeller-4

However, if you have dry patches or see visible flakes, a cream will moisturize better. “Cream formulas apply easily, absorb quickly and are cosmetically elegant,” says Dr. Fusco. “They contain several skin-hydrating ingredients. Look for humectants that include lanolin, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and dimethicone.” Try using a deep-penetrating version, like Boots No7 Early Defense Night Cream ($19.99, walgreens.com) before bedtime for the best results.

Last, let’s talk about oils. Pros: oils can be used in bath water, which seals skin exceptionally well, preventing water evaporation. Oils can also really soothe dry skin, reduce itch and often have aromatherapy properties, like Weleda Sweet Almond Oil ($25.50, bigelowchemists.com). Cons: oils are often greasy and not as fast-absorbing as water-based or cream formulas. Also, in the words of Dr. Cook-Bolden, “oil is an ingredient that has an affinity to attract and trap debris,” which can be problematic for certain skin types.

One more ingredient MVP? Squalane, which is naturally found in sebum produced by your skin’s oil gland. “Starting in your late 20s to 30s, your skin makes less of it, leading to dry patches,” explains Dr. Wu. “Think of it as part of your skin’s protective ‘bubble wrap’ that seals in moisture.” She recommends reaping the benefits by way of Robin McGraw Revelation Hydra Qwench Moisturizing Night Cream ($42, robinmcgrawrevelation.com).

Rule No. 5: Finally, If It Ain’t Broke…

As with your wardrobe, let the weather dictate your regime — not necessarily the season. “If you’re dry with your summer product routine then yes, you do need to revamp,” advises Dr. Gross. “You need to listen to your skin and what it is telling you depending on season, climate and where you live. Sometimes the lightweight, oil-free products from the summer just don’t moisturize enough.” Try Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Concentrate Hydration Booster ($68, sephora.com), which can be used solo or added to any makeup or moisturizing product to give it extra oomph without a complete regimen overall.

Janell M. Hickman is a beauty writer whose work has appeared in Glamour, Teen Vogue, WWD, Essence and Ebony. Follow her on Twitter @jmargaretbeauty and on Instagram, too! Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.

Get more Beauty ?