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Diabetes & Skin Care

Skin Care Tips For Diabetics


Updated July 01, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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This article has been reviewed by the Medical Review Board and is considered medically accurate.

How Diabetes Can Affect the Skin

Diabetes affects a number of the body's functions and organs, including the skin—the least dramatic issue being that it can make the skin's appearance dull and less supple. Diabetes can also lead to skin disorders, and in fact, some skin conditions can actually be a sign of diabetes, such as thicker skin, a yellowish skin color, dry, scaly or cracking skin, and cuts and wounds that take longer to heal.

Diabetics' high glucose levels can cause fluid loss when the body attempts to get rid of this excess glucose through urination, leading to dry skin. And diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) can affect nerves that control the sweat glands, decreasing perspiration and also leading to dryness. In addition, higher blood glucose supports bacteria growth, and diabetics are less likely to be able to fight off bacteria. The combination of dry, cracked skin, along with the inability to fight bacteria, can lead to an increased risk of infection in diabetics.

Diabetes can cause skin thickening, as well as reduced blood circulation to the skin. Diabetics therefore need to take special care of their skin, keeping it clean and healthy to prevent further problems and complications.

Keep Your Skin Hydrated

It’s important to prevent dry skin, which can crack, allowing germs and bacteria to enter the body and possibly lead to infection. Extremely dry skin can also get very itchy, and the tendency to scratch can lead to cracks and openings through which bacteria can enter. In certain cases, amputation can result from infections that develop, due to cracks and breaks in extremely dry and damaged skin.

Dry Skin Tips

Avoid hot baths and showers. In addition to preventing dry skin (which is good advice for everyone), diabetics can experience a loss of sensation, and hot water can lead to burns.

Use a mild, moisturizing cleanser or soap. Avoid bubble baths, which tend to be drying. Rinse the skin well and pat it dry. Be sure to thoroughly dry the skin in the underarms, under the breasts, between the toes, and in any area where water can be trapped. Immediately apply moisturizer.

Bathe less during the winter. Moisturize the skin to prevent chapping in cold and windy winter weather.

Help For Dry Winter Skin

Be sure to apply a lotion or cream that replenishes moisture. Don’t put lotion between the toes, though, because this can encourage fungus to grow.

Check your skin and feet daily, and treat any minor cuts, blisters, scratches and abrasions right away by washing with mild soap and water. Avoid using harsh antiseptics, like alcohol and iodine, and ask your doctor about antiseptics or antibiotic ointments and creams that are safe for you to use. After cleansing, over the cuts with a sterile bandage or gauze. If you have any major problems, like severe cuts, burns or infections, you should see your doctor.

Also check the skin for extreme dryness and cracks, and red or sore areas that could lead to infection. Contact your dermatologist or doctor for all skin issues that don’t resolve on their own.

Other tips

• Frequent urination can lead to dehydration and the loss of skin's moisture. Drink fluids like water, and fresh, healthy juices to keep skin healthy.
• Wear breathable cotton underwear.
• Use protective clothing and products, such as winter-like hats, long sleeves and sunscreen, during extreme-weather months.
• Watch your blood glucose levels and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Nail and Foot Care for Diabetics

American Diabetes Association
National Diabetes Information Clearing House (NDIC)
CDC-Diabetes Public Health Resource

More Information:

Type I Diabetes
Type II Diabetes

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