According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately one in three people who have diabetes have some type of skin disorder. That’s because diabetes can affect the skin in two ways: through high blood sugar levels (glucose), and through nerve damage, both of which can cause dry skin or more serious skin conditions.
How Does Diabetes Affect the Skin?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood, and healthy skin is directly related to the amount of glucose you have in your blood.
Dry Skin – if you have too much glucose, or high levels of blood sugar, your body will try to remove the excess sugar by excreting it in your urine. This robs your body of essential moisture, and that fluid loss comes from your skin, leaving it dry or even cracked. Cracked skin is prone to bacterial infections, another complication of diabetes.
In addition to water loss, high blood sugar reduces the supply of blood to the skin which can result in nerve damage – a serious side effect of diabetes. Ultimately though, nerve damage can cause the body to sweat less, resulting in more dry skin.
Dry skin is probably the easiest side effect of diabetes to treat. Caring for the skin, keeping it clean and moisturized can prevent this condition from becoming a problem.
Itching – itchy skin (pruritus) is a side effect of dry skin or poor blood flow associated with diabetes. When itching is caused by poor blood flow, the lower legs and feet are usually affected. Applying lotion can help keep the skin soft and moist, and relieve the itching associated with dry skin, however, itching can be avoided if the skin is properly conditioned and moisturized.
Vitiligo – this condition affects skin coloration. Special cells that make pigment are destroyed, resulting in patches of discolored skin. Vitiligo often affects the chest and abdomen, but can be found on the face around the mouth, nostrils, and eyes. Treatment options include topical steroids, ultraviolet light treatments, and tattooing. If you have Vitiligo, be sure to use a sunscreen with SPF30 or more to protected the discolored skin.
Diabetic Dermopathy – this appears as shiny, round or oval scaly patches on the lower part of the legs caused by changing blood flow associated with diabetes. It is relatively harmless and the patches do not hurt, but if patches become bigger and are left untreated with moisturizer, they can become open sores, which will require treatment.
Fungal Infections – people with diabetes are often susceptible to various types of yeast-like fungal infections. These infections can occur at the corners of the mouth, between the toes and fingers and anywhere that skin touches skin (including your private parts). The key to preventing this disorder is to keep the skin clean and dry. If infection occurs, medicines that kill the fungus are usually needed to treat.
Necrobiosis Lipoidica Dibeticorum (NLD) – this is caused by changes in the collagen and fat content under the skin, leaving the skin thinned and reddened. Most NLD lesions are found on the lower parts of the legs and can ulcerate if damaged. NLD can be itchy and painful but as long as the sores do not break open, treatment is not necessary. If the sores do break open, see your doctor for treatment.These just are a few of the skin conditions associated with diabetes. Prevention is key when it comes to managing or preventing diabetic skin conditions. Your skin care routine should involve the entire body, from head to toe. Following a few simple steps can help minimize the effects of diabetes on your skin.
Treating Skin in Diabetics
According to the American Diabetes Association, the first rule of caring for the skin if you have diabetes is to always make sure that your skin is clean and dry, especially in the areas where skin touches skin. In these areas, a little fragrance-free powder can keep fungus from growing.
Ideally your skin should be dry to the touch, but you do want it moisturized so that it doesn’t crack and promote infections. Apply a quality, unscented moisturizer to skin daily, but avoid using it in areas where skin touches skin. Daily moisturizing will cut down on scaling, itching and potential bacterial infection.
Take short baths or showers – too much water can take away necessary, protective oils from your skin. Use warm instead of hot water – hot water draws moisture from the skin. Consider using a humidifier during dry months to put moisture in the air to prevent the skin from drying out.
Treat open wounds with gentle soap and water and avoid using an antiseptic, alcohol or iodine on your cuts. These are too harsh for the skin and can further break down the skin cells
To prevent serious problems with the feet, check your feet every day for sores, cuts or blisters, and monitor any issues if you do find them.
Wash your feet daily and dry them well. You can use lotion on your feet to combat dry skin, but don’t put it between your toes – this may cause fungus to grow.
Finally, see a doctor if any of your skin conditions get serious.