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Diabetes & Skin Problems

High blood sugar levels can affect your skin in several ways:

  • Your body loses fluids by making you urinate more often. This loss of fluids (dehydration) can make your skin dry.

  • Diabetes can damage nerves that make your body sweat less, particularly in the legs and feet. Your skin relies on sweat to keep it moist - the loss of sweat can make it dry. Dry skin cracks easily, letting germs enter.

  • Diabetes can cause blood vessels to become damaged (narrowed), resulting in poor blood flow. When blood flow is poor, an injured area cannot get enough oxygen and food to heal.

  • With diabetes, your body's natural defenses are weakened. White blood cells that fight germs are fewer in number and work more slowly. This makes you more prone to infection. Breaks in the skin can become easily infected, spread faster, be harder to treat, and take longer to heal.

  • If you frequently have high blood sugar levels, you may notice your skin is extra dry, itchy, cracked or you may have rashes, boils, pimples or other skin changes.

  • Call Your Doctor Immediately If You Notice Any Of The Following:

Skin Problems

People with diabetes are prone to getting many different skin conditions. Here are a few of the most common.

  • Thick Skin. People with diabetes commonly have thickening of the skin with a yellow waxy appearance. This condition may decrease joint mobility. Improving blood sugar control may help, but there is no known treatment or cure.

  • Diabetic Dermopathy. Diabetic dermopathy is the most common skin sign of diabetes. This condition results in small, round colored spots on the lower leg. These spots are more common in older men with diabetes. No treatment is necessary.

  • Yellow Skin. Yellowish skin, fingernails and toenails are common among people with diabetes. Yellow-tinted skin may be the result of eating a lot of yellow or orange vegetables containing carotene. The cause of yellowing fingernails and toenails isn't known. No specific treatment is necessary for any of these situations.

  • Itchy Skin. Itchy skin may have several causes. It can often be treated by using moisturizing or steroid cream. Medication may sometimes be needed.

  • Skin Infections. The higher the level of glucose in the blood, the more likely a person is to have skin infections. Yeast infections appear on moist areas of the body, such as the mouth, under the arms, under the breasts, or on the sides of the groin. Bacterial infections can cause skin changes and include impetigo, abscesses, cellulites, and several others. Fungal infections may appear around the groin or between the toes, on the palms of hands or under fingernails. Fungal infections aren't more common in people with diabetes. The two primary ways to stop skin infections are tight control and limiting moisture build up in skin folds.

How Can I Keep My Skin Healthy?

You can keep your skin healthy by following these tips:


  • Use a mild soap that will not rob your skin of natural oils or cause irritation. Some deodorant soaps or those with heavy fragrances can be harsh to skin. Try a mild cleansing lotion or bar.

  • Use warm (not hot) water and limit your use of soaps or cleansers to parts of your body that sweat. Always rinse off soaps or cleansers completely.

  • Spend only 5-10 minutes in water. Soaking in a bath or shower can cause skin to dry out.

  • Pat skin dry with a soft towel. Avoid rubbing. Dry between all skin folds such as armpits and under breasts. Moisture, warmth and darkness in these body areas, along with high blood sugars, can lead to yeast and bacterial infections.


  • Drink at least eight glasses of water or sugar-free fluids a day to give your body necessary fluid.

  • Apply moisturizing lotion to your skin after bathing, while skin is damp. Do not use cream in skin folds such as between toes and under breasts.

  • Avoid lotions or creams that contain dyes, additives, fragrance, and perfume.

Protecting Skin from Sun and Wind

  • Use a sunscreen lotion with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 before going outdoors.

  • Limit time in the sun to avoid sunburn and skin dryness. Remember, a sunburn can affect your blood sugars and disrupt your control!

  • Wear layered clothing to protect you from the sun, cold weather, and wind.

Protect your Skin from Injury

  • Wash minor breaks in the skin with antibacterial soap and water.

  • Cover with a non-stick sterile pad.

  • Hold in place with a gauze bandage and paper tape.

  • Do not use Betadine, iodine, or products containing alcohol or peroxide, as these can be too strong for skin.

  • Do not use cloth or adhesive tape or plasters directly on the skin. Skin can be damaged when these are removed.

  • Do not disturb a blister; it is a natural sterile protective cover. When it breaks open, care for it as you would any other break in the skin.

  • Check the injured area every day to be sure you are healing.

Caring for Your Feet

Caring for the skin on your feet is very important. Skin problems can appear in this area and be easily overlooked. Be sure your shoes cover your feet. Open toe or open heel shoes can cause skin to dry out and crack. Don't use commercial corn or callus products as these can cause a chemical burn. Avoid using a pumice stone on your feet. It can cause problems, especially if you have no feeling in your feet.

Call Your Doctor Immediately If You Notice Any Of The Following:

  • very dry, itchy, cracked skin

  • skin that is red, swollen, feels warm or hot, has pus or bad-smelling drainage

  • a cut or scratch that does not heal

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