What is this weird gray crud that makes my ankles look dirty?
May 18, 2019 8:05 PM   Subscribe

My ankles are not dirty, but they look like they are. The "dirt" won't wash off. What's happening to my feet, and what can I do about it?

Although I bathe and wash my feet regularly, I get dark-looking crud around my ankles. It's not dirt, because it doesn't wash off no matter how I scrub, and even exfoliation doesn't get rid of it. If I scratch my ankle after I shower, some of the crud comes off. It looks gray. But scratching deeply all over my ankles to get it all off would be immensely painful and it seems to always come back. This condition makes my ankles look dirty all the time and is very embarrassing. I asked my doctor about it, and he claimed it was just suntanned skin - though I get it even when my ankles are not exposed to the sun. I think he is wrong.

The only thing that seems to get rid of the crud is when I get a pedicure and they soak my feet for a while in some magic solution. I'm poor and can rarely afford pedicures, though. You are not my podiatrist, nor my pedicurist, of course, but do any of you know what this crud might be or a good way to get rid of it? Or what is in the magic solution at the nail salon, so I could buy some and use it at home?
posted by all the light we cannot see to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I get this sometimes too, and you are describing it perfectly! I assumed it was a buildup of dry skin, which usually can be rubbed off after a warm shower or soak. I don't follow any particular exfoliation or moisturizing routines and I assumed that maybe this is something that doesn't happen to other people, but I can't offer much other insight. It doesn't bother me, but now I'm curious! Possibly a relevant detail- I have a white skin tone, and my crud is gray or gray-brown.
posted by Secretariat at 8:13 PM on May 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Google "ashy skin" — does the stuff that comes up look like what you've got? (On dark-skinned people its usually lighter than their skin, hence the name, but on light-skinned people it can be darker.)

If yes, your starting point is good moisturizer. And if that doesn't solve it you can find lots of other suggestions under that search term.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:34 PM on May 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I get it too, same color as you and Secretariat. It started in my late 40s. I find a lot of it can come off after I swim at the gym, particularly if I spend a few minutes in the jacuzzi afterwards. Then in the locker room I can scrub with a gentle pad, and the grey stuff sloughs away. For me personally, putting some Bag Balm on the new/raw skin underneath really helps moisturize down there, and does a good job of keeping it from coming back so quickly. Once I figured out the soak/scrub/moisturize cycle this icky stuff stopped being a problem.
posted by seasparrow at 8:35 PM on May 18, 2019

It’s dry skin. If normal exfoliating products don’t work, try soaking in hot water for 45 minutes and THEN doing an exfoliating scrub. Korean spas are great at this btw, it’s kind of a horrifying experience.
posted by bq at 8:37 PM on May 18, 2019 [10 favorites]

Dry skin it is! Soak in the tub or a hot foot bath for at least 30 minutes, then scrub scrub scrub! These Korean-style mitts are about $5 and will remove ankle crud like wow. Use them without soap for max scrub-ocity, then wash afterward. Apply lotion to them every night before bed (something with AHA or urea like GoldBond Rough & Bumpy Skin works best) and rescrub every month.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2019 [13 favorites]

When my normal scrubbing bath doohickeys are inadequate I use one of the plastic mesh bags that various vegetables, like onions, come in, wrapped around a bar of soap or tied into a useful scrubbing shape. The bags vary quite widely in their roughness and I'd assume that if you use one that's too rough to scrub with you'll cause a rash... but, they're free with the vegetables.
posted by XMLicious at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can also use a lotion like Amlactin or Gold Bond’s cream for “rough and bumpy skin” to keep the dry skin from building up if you don’t want to go the soak and scrub route.
posted by quince at 11:10 PM on May 18, 2019

Soak the skin, then try a loofah to remove he ugly stuff. Loofah can be "artificial" or the dried vegetable. There are instructions on the internet for growing your own loofahs.
Gold Bond makes many products for skin, even foot creme.
posted by Cranberry at 12:26 AM on May 19, 2019

Dead skin, poor blood circulation, precursor to calluses, age, some combination of the above. Do you routinely wear something that would bind or rub against the affected area? Do you routinely sit/posture yourself in a way that effects the area? It's no big deal I think. On a thicker part of your flesh it would be a callus, on thin skin it's just some dead flesh.

I get this on my ankle bones because I tend to sit in a way that I'm sitting on my ankle bones (reducing blood flow to that thin bit of skin). And callus' on the heel that tends to be the bottom heel when I put my feet up. The heel gets callused, the ankle bone gets a dark spot.

Compression reduces the blood flow near the surface leading to skin death or other compensation depending on skin thickness.

If you can't come up with anything in your life/posture/etc that would be messing with the surface layer of your skin, see a dermatologist?
posted by zengargoyle at 3:00 AM on May 19, 2019

Those Korean mitts are a godsend. You could also try Amlactin which works great when my eczema is scaly.
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:08 AM on May 19, 2019

Also, google bill+burr+ashy+skin. If you're in the mood, you're in for a treat.
posted by ouke at 5:20 AM on May 19, 2019

I used to get this and would scrape it off with my nails post shower about once a month. I’ve stopped getting it for several years now and the only difference I can think of is that I switched to a moisturizing body wash which I use with a pouf (Olay ultra moisturizing body wash.) So I recommend moisturizing the area daily after exfoliating it off thoroughly once.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 5:29 AM on May 19, 2019

Seconding zengargoyle that it may be caused by a position you’re frequently in. I had a buildup of rough skin on my left ankle a few years back, and aggressive exfoliating wouldn’t touch it. In my case, it was from frequently sitting cross-legged on the floor with my kid on my lap; when he got older and stopped sitting on my lap so much, it went away.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:54 AM on May 19, 2019

I recently used a one of those "Baby Foot" style foot peels and it was SURREAL. It's basically a chemical peel for your feet. You wear these plastic booties that have some kind of magic sauce in them for an hour or two. Then for the next few days you soak your feet every night and pretty soon you are peeling the dead skin right off your feet! Disturbing or fascinating, depending on what kind of person you are. I am the second kind.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:42 AM on May 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Never a good idea to scrub or exfoliate such a delicate patch of skin. I get this stuff too (my sons also got this on their necks when they were very young). Best and most gentle thing to do is to rub baby oil or olive oil over several days to loosen up the dead skin.
posted by JamesBay at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am also going to disagree with all the advice to scrub and exfoliate, which would just irritate my skin more if I had this problem (and I deal with skin issues regularly). I suggest you make sure to use a gentle soap or body wash regularly, and to moisturize the area regularly with something unscented - do it after you shower, and then again prior to bed. Suggestions above for using a lotion like Amlactin or Gold Bond’s cream for “rough and bumpy skin” are options. (Also of course it is always good to make sure you are eating well, and getting the normal vitamins in your diet.)
posted by gudrun at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Assuming this is dry skin just be aware that hot water, whilst it soaks skin and allows you to remove the skin more easily is also really drying. So I’d recommend lots of good body moisturiser and perhaps something against bumpy skin because these products contain chemical exfoliants. Other than that just rub gently with a wash cloth or body brush/glove when you wash.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:41 AM on May 19, 2019

Can you wipe it off with an alcohol pad (or 70% isopropyl alcohol)? If so, it might be Terra Firma Forme Dermatosis, which looks like dirt on the skin.

(It may not be that at all, but dang if I'm not fascinated by that and wanted to share that really obscure dermatosis I found while looking something up for a friend!).
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:52 AM on May 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

The non-abrasive way to deal with this sort of build up of old skin is to use moisturiser instead of hot water, and gently scrub with a cloth. The cheapest sorbolene cream will do it just fine, and leave you without any sort of damage. Repeated harsh scrubbing, nail scraping, whatever, tend to get rid of it short term but actually encourages your body to produce more skin there - after all, it's being worn away. Using something gentle and nourishing lets your skin know there's no need to overproduce.
posted by Jilder at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2019

Thanks for the responses so far. If it is in fact old skin, it just seems strange how it accumulates around my ankles but nowhere else. I do moisturize my feet every night, including my ankles, and while my skin feels nice and soft, it still looks cruddy. I don't wear anything tight around my ankles, sit on my ankles or anything like that. I'll try rubbing the skin with alcohol and see if that does anything before I try more intensive methods.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 9:17 PM on May 19, 2019

Footnote to my answer above - if what you try turns out not to work, the next person to see would be a dermatologist.
posted by gudrun at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2019

You can also look into letting that contain a low percentage of urea. This stuff dissolves the extracellular matrix that can hold callouses and others rough patches of dead skin together, leaving living skin untouched. I use this stuff well on my feet, sleeping with socks on, and the following morning I can painlessly scrub away much of the rough stuff.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:44 PM on May 20, 2019

I think I have this same problem and have discussed with my dermatologist. She said it was a form of eczema and the best way to "treat" it is to leave it alone. Scratching will only make it worse. Your doctor may vary.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:17 PM on May 20, 2019

Are you sure it's not hemosiderin staining? Because if it is, you should get that looked at.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 11:13 PM on May 20, 2019

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