Understanding Diabetic Skin Conditions & Problems
Dry skin and itching are among the most common diabetic skin concerns. In order to address these issues and prevent them from becoming more problematic, caring for your dry, itchy skin properly is key. Read on to learn how.
What you need to know
Diabetes and high blood sugar can cause serious health issues that affect the nerves, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and more—but many diabetics are surprised to learn the side effects this disease can have on their skin. Diabetes often causes dryness and itchy skin, and these common problems should not be ignored. If left untreated, diabetes-related dry skin and itching (as well as the associated scratching) can injure the skin, and diabetics are more prone to infections that can spread and lead to more serious medical issues.1
Tips for to avoiding diabetes skin problems2
- Keep blood sugar levels stable
- Use warm (not hot) water when bathing
- Dry skin well after bathing
- Look for changes on your body and feet daily
- Moisturize after bathing and throughout the day
- Treat cuts and blisters immediately
- Use a humidifier
- Avoid sun exposure
Diabetic skin problems
If you have diabetes, you know that it's associated with high blood sugar, but what you may not realize is that elevated glucose levels can take a toll on your skin over time.3 In fact, many men and women experience diabetes-related skin problems without even realizing it—or unknowingly seek treatment for diabetic skin conditions, which then leads to a diabetes diagnosis.
Although there are a variety of diabetic skin conditions that range from discoloration and texture changes to rashes and blisters, you may also experience dryness and itching, which are common as well.3 It’s important to address these skin issues before they progress in order to avoid further (and potentially more dangerous) complications.
Why do diabetics have dry skin?
Diabetes-related dry skin may be caused by high blood glucose. A compromised skin barrier contributes to dry skin, which is why it’s important to use a moisturizer. A product with ceramides can help restore your skin’s natural barrier, and can even help diabetic skin hold on to hydration.4Diabetes-related dry skin can also be the result of neuropathy, which happens when the nerves in your legs and feet don't receive the signal to sweat,3 which helps keep the skin hydrated. Considering these factors that increase the risk of dryness (and subsequent skin cracking, itching and potential infection), it’s important to keep your skin moisturized with a gentle, hydrating cleanser and moisturizer. It’s also wise to use a moisturizer formulated specifically for the hands and feet, as these areas are especially prone to dry skin and further diabetes skin complications.
Diabetes and itchy skin
In addition to being responsible for helping your skin retain moisture, the skin barrier’s other primary role is keeping irritants out of your skin. When compromised, the skin barrier has a harder time shielding the skin from external factors that cause itchy skin and irritation.3 Diabetes, and itching that leads to scratching and skin injury, can increase the risk of infection since diabetic skin often has difficulty healing, especially in areas of poor circulation like the lower legs and feet.6 An anti-itch moisturizer can provide you with additional relief.6
Diabetes-related itchy skin can also be caused by a fungal infection. Yeast is a common culprit in diabetic skin conditions, and it leads to a red, itchy rash in moist areas like between the fingers and toes, under the breasts, around the fingernails and on the sides of the mouth, as well as the armpits and groin. Other fungal diabetic skin problems that can increase itching include athlete’s foot and ringworm.6,7—and it’s important to call your doctor if you suspect you have one of these infections.
- Coderch, L., López, O., de la Maza, A. et al. Am J Clin Dermatol (2003) 4: 107.