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Diabetes and caring for your skin

At some point in their lives, about 1 in 3 people with diabetes will develop a skin disorder related to their diabetes. Just a few factors take the blame for most diabetes-related skin problems, including high blood glucose levels causing dry skin, nerve damage, poor circulation due to damaged blood vessels, and reactions to the pokes and jabs from insulin injections or home blood glucose testing.

How does diabetes affect skin health?

Nerve damage interrupts the messages your skin sends when it's in danger from infection, injury, or excessive dryness. It also decreases your body's sweat output, which can leave skin overly dry. Damaged blood vessels cause poor circulation, which deprives the skin of oxygen and can lead to itching, ulcers, infections, and wounds that heal slowly.

When blood glucose levels are high, the body tries to flush out some of the glucose through the urine, causing your body to lose water. This causes your skin to lose precious fluids that it needs to keep the skin healthy and moisturized. Skin that becomes very dry can crack and peel and leave a person vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections that may be severe and slow to heal.

Regular blood glucose tests require tiny pin-pricks to the skin, and the skin can become irritated and painful. Remember to switch which finger you use regularly.

Sometimes fatty deposits (lipohypertrophy) can develop beneath the skin in the spots where insulin is repeatedly injected, making the skin appear lumpy or indented. To avoid these deposits, switch up where you are injecting with each injection – this is called rotating injection sites.

What can you do to maintain healthy skin?

  • Control your blood glucose level. It's not always easy, but maintaining a healthy blood glucose level could work wonders for your skin.
  • Wash and dry. Keep your skin clean by washing in warm water and using mild, unscented soap. Gently pat-dry your skin, paying extra attention to places where water can hide – under arms, under breasts, between legs, or between toes. Make a part of your shower routine quick "skin scans" looking for irritation, redness, cuts, and sores. Avoid using hot water (use warm instead) and limit shower or bath time to 10 to 15 minutes, as hot water and long exposure can strip the skin of oils and make skin even drier.
  • Moisturize. Massage lotion or moisturizer into your skin after bathing. Don't skimp on dry-patch-prone spots like elbows, knees, and heels. However, avoid applying in areas between the toes or in skin folds, where extra moisture can cause a skin breakdown.
  • Stay hydrated. This is good skin care advice for everyone! Drink lots of fluids to keep your skin supple.
  • Dress the part. Wear breathable materials, especially on areas prone to moisture.
  • Humidify your home. During the winter months, use a humidifier to moisten the air dried out by radiators and forced heating.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. While this is true for everyone, wearing sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 every day will protect your skin from the burning and blistering that can lead to dangerous infections.
  • Talk to your doctor. Let your health care team know if your skin problem does not resolve. Also, see the doctor immediately if you have any skin infection, cuts, or burns.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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