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.
Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.
Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.
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