Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Last week (in "Diabetes and Skin Care [Part 1]"), we looked at several kinds of skin conditions that can affect people with diabetes. This week, we’ll take a closer look at ways to help keep your skin in tip-top condition. Skin health is important not just so that you can look good, but also because it can prevent problems from forming, such as infections.

You may be wondering what the big deal is about skin care if you have diabetes. Isn’t it enough to just wash yourself daily? Well, think back to what you’ve ever learned about skin. Your skin:

  • Is the body’s largest organ (nope, it’s not your brain!)
  • Is made up of various layers that contain protein, fat, water, minerals, and other chemicals
  • Acts like a barrier, protecting you from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other harmful invaders and substances
  • Contains numerous nerve endings that help you sense heat, cold, pressure and pain

Any assaults to the skin, such as cuts, ulcerations, blisters, dehydration, and even complications such as neuropathy can open up a whole host of potential problems. That’s why it’s so important to keep your skin functioning as well as it can.

So, what does it take to get and keep healthy skin?

  • Blood glucose control. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, aiming for HbA1c and blood glucose levels as close to target as possible really makes sense. Prolonged high blood glucose levels can leave your skin dehydrated and starving for moisture. Dry skin can become itchy, which means you end up scratching your skin, possibly causing some damage. Dry skin also can become cracked and sore, opening up the path to infection. Uncontrolled blood glucose levels can lead to neuropathy, which, in turn, can decrease the amount that you sweat. Sweating isn’t always pleasant, but it does help keep your skin moist. Without adequate moisture, skin becomes dry. Finally, high blood glucose levels can make it harder to prevent and heal skin infections.
  • Keep clean. Bathing or showering regularly is important. Clean skin means that you’re less likely to suffer from various skin infections. Use a mild, nondrying soap, such as Dove or Cetaphil. And, despite the fact that they feel so good, avoid taking very hot showers or baths, as hot water can be drying.
  • Moisturize. Your skin usually needs a little help in preventing dryness, especially during the cold weather. Use a moisturizing cream or lotion after you bathe. Moisturizer will help seal in water from your bath or shower. It’s best to shy away from heavily scented lotions if you have sensitive skin. And don’t put moisturizer between your toes, as this may encourage the growth of fungus. If the air in your home tends to be dry, consider running a humidifier.
  • Check. The perfect time to check your skin for irritation, redness, cuts, or sores is right after you step out of the shower. Minor cuts and rashes can be easily treated, but if you notice that something is worsening or just not going away, call your provider. Don’t forget to look at your skin for any suspicious changes that could indicate possible skin cancer, too.
  • Protect. Get in the habit of putting on a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 if you’re headed outdoors (even if the sun isn’t out). UV rays can damage skin. If you have diabetes, it’s important to avoid too much sun exposure and sunburn, particularly if you take certain medications, such as glyburide (brand names Micronase, DiaBeta, and Glynase), glipizide (Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL), and glimepiride (Amaryl), as well as diuretics and NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and celecoxib [Celebrex]). Don’t forget your lips, either—use a lip balm that contains SPF.

Next week: nutrition and healthy skin.


Diabetes and Skin Care (Part 1)
Diabetes and Skin Care (Part 2)

  1. I have always been susceptible to fungus/yeast skin infections as was/is my mother. This is prior to being diagnosed Prediabetic. My mother was never diabetic. My father had type I. This winter my susceptibility appears to have increased. Your comments?

    Posted by doug hawes |
  2. Hi Doug,
    Fungal infections may occur in any part of the body, including the skin, especially under the armpits, the groin, or anyplace where there are skinfolds. People who are overweight and/or who have diabetes are at a higher risk of getting skin infections. High glucose levels tend to encourage the growth of both fungus and bacteria. Since you have prediabetes and are noticing an increase in fungal infections, talk with your physician about being screened for diabetes and other steps to take to reduce the occurence of infections.

    Posted by acampbell |
  3. I have skin problems. I have a side of eczema with my diabetes main dish. Creams provided by my Dr don’t seem to help much. I am keeping my A1c at non-diabetic levels (5.8 last week) but I still develop rashes very easily.

    I’ve had a spot on my right palm for more than two years (no handshaking for me!) that is finally responding to Carmex (ointment used for chapped lips!) so don’t be afraid to try slightly unusual treatments (so long as they are safe! Use your common sense.) when and creams moisturizers don’t work.

    Posted by Ephrenia |
  4. Just a little warning to those who need to moisturize skin—do not use anything containing “mineral oil”. Most products contain it and it is detrimental to the healing process. There are a number of companies that make good, wholesome moisurizers which may cost a little more, but they work.

    Posted by Niki Davis |

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