Diabetes and Skin Care (Part 1)

By now, your skin is probably feeling the effects of a long winter: Dryness, itchiness, flakiness, and redness are all common conditions that can affect your skin. It’s especially important to pay attention to your skin when you have diabetes. Diabetes can affect your skin, just as it can your eyes, feet, kidneys, and heart, so make sure you check it daily.


In fact, the American Diabetes Association estimates that as many as one-third of people with diabetes will experience some type of skin condition at some point in their lives. Many of the typical skin conditions that go hand in hand with diabetes result from blood glucose levels that aren’t within target range. Here are a few:

Acanthosis nigricans: With this condition, skin becomes tan or brown in color, and may develop a velvety texture. This may appear on the back of the neck, under the arms, under the breasts, or in the groin region. It’s more common in people who are overweight, and may actually appear before Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed. Acanthosis nigricans can occur in overweight children with Type 2 diabetes as well as in adults, and there are plenty of stories of parents who frantically try to scrub off the “dirt” off the necks of their children! Acanthosis nigricans is thought to be due to insulin resistance. Treatment: Decreasing insulin resistance and improving blood glucose levels will help this condition fade eventually. Certain medicines may help to lighten the affected skin, and dermabrasion and laser therapy can help reduce thickened areas.

Scleroderma diabeticorum: While somewhat rare, this condition is seen in people with Type 2 diabetes and involves a thickening of the skin on the neck and back. Treatment: Improved blood glucose levels, along with a good moisturizer.

Diabetic dermopathy: This harmless condition appears due to changes in the blood vessels. The skin may develop brownish, circular patches (similar in look to age spots) that take on a scaly appearance. Diabetic dermopathy typically appears on the fronts of both legs and is more common in people who are over the age of 50, especially in those with high HbA1c levels and in those with other complications. They usually tend to go away after a while. Treatment: Improved blood glucose control.

Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD): This condition is somewhat similar to diabetic dermopathy in that it’s caused by blood vessel changes. However, with NLD, the patches are fewer in number, but they tend to be larger and reddish in color. It is also more common in women than in men. NLD usually appears on the lower parts of the legs, and may actually ulcerate, or burst open. NLD can cause itchiness and pain. Treatment: Not usually necessary unless ulceration occurs, but cortisone creams and injections can help, along with blood thinners and more potent steroids.

Eruptive xanthomatosis: This skin disorder is more commonly seen in younger men with Type 1 diabetes, particularly in those with uncontrolled diabetes and high triglyceride levels. In this condition, round, yellow, pea-sized bumps appear on the face, arms, legs, and buttocks, often encircled by a red halo. These bumps are usually itchy. Treatment: Improved blood glucose levels, along with lipid-lowering medication.

Atherosclerosis: While not exactly a skin condition, atherosclerosis (a narrowing of blood vessels due to plaque buildup that can lead to heart disease) affects blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the skin. Without adequate nourishment, the skin, especially on the legs, becomes thin, shiny, and hairless. The skin may be cold to the touch. Cuts and infections in the feet and legs are slower to heal due to lack of adequate white blood cells in those areas. Treatment: Improved blood glucose levels, along with lifestyle changes and medication, if necessary, to prevent or treat heart disease.

There are many other skin conditions that can occur in people with diabetes, but the above are some of the most common. Also, bacterial staph infections, such as styes and boils, as well as fungal infections, such as yeast infections, athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm, are quite common in people with diabetes.

Next week: Keeping your skin healthy!

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  • R. Schomburg

    Not mentioned, but potentially very serious if untreated, is cellulitis. This is a spreading bacterial infection of the skin tissue, apparently more likely in diabetics due to our elevated blood glucose levels, even if in reasonable control.

    I’ve had three episodes of this in two years. The first, involving a hand, would, I thought, ‘get better in a few days’. Not so. I ended up with a trans-veinous catheter threaded into my central chest for home infusion of high-potency antibiotics twice daily for a week. Clearly un-fun!

  • momkat

    I’ve not incurred any skin problems, but I am suffering from chronic dry, peeling lips! I’ve seen on the internet that this also is a side effect of diabetes. Does anyone else have this particular problem and, if so, how do you treat it? My doctor prescribed Triamcinolone Acetonide at .1% to be applied to the lips. I also apply vaseline every night. This regimen has helped a little but not completely. Any comments???



  • colorado

    I’ve got a general skin question for diabetics. My FINGER TIPS! From all the glucose testing. they are nothing but callouses. Anybody find anything that helps? For my feet I have found Dermal Therapy Heel Cream (any pharmacy can order) works great for the feet, but what about our poor fingertips?

  • Claudialee

    As long as I only use Cetaphil products – and not the knock-offs – I find my skin is much easier to keep under control. I have even given up on makeup but Cetaphil keeps me glowing.

  • acampbell

    Hi LoubugsY6,

    Not being a physician, I can’t diagnose you. Perhaps you have an allergy to an ingredient in the kinds of soap you’re using. Have you tried mild or hypoallergenic soap? You could ask your pharmacist what he or she recommends. Your symptoms could possibly be diabetes-related,although it sounds like you only get your symptoms when you use soap. Do you have neuropathy elsewhere in your body, such as in your feet? Talk to your physician if your symptoms continue and to help sort out what the cause might be.

  • Jewelrynut

    My problem with my skin is that it is extremely dry and especially my hands. I am beginning to have some neuropathy in my fingers and find it hard to open things or hold on to things. I use “Bag Balm” a lot. That can be bought at Farm & Ranch stores. It is what you put on cow’s udders to keep them from chafing.I buy the big can and a small canfor purse. Also I keep the anti-bacterial wipes in my purse that doesn’t dry out my hands like soap.
    I have major neuropathy in my feet which had lots of problems before I was even diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 4 years ago. I was able to walk after being fitted with orthotics and lost 25 lbs the first year by walking 2 miles everyday. I am having some foot problems right now– hugely swollen feet, ankles and legs. Went for an echocardiogram yesterday after the doctor saw me and haven’t heard the results yet.

  • CTN1

    Last year I began to develop chronic yeast infections of the skin. I tried both, Nystatin powder,Nystatin cream and Naftin gel. The Naftin worked the best, but, I still get frequent outbreaks. I am working much harder to get diabetes under better control. I am also, eating yogurt, as I was told it helps control yeast, and drinking much more water.

  • myrnalorraine

    Try using the Dermal Therapy Finger cream or use the heel cream on the fingers. It does marvelous healing to my split fingertips


    I have had diabetes since I was 15, i am now 53. I have had cellulitis and psoriasis. I have found that cetaphil products, especially the soap have worked for me . I also have found that Foot Therapy by Camille Beckman works good on my feet. After shower or bath I use it in my feet before putting on my socks. Her hand lotion contains glycerin too and I like that for my hands or a lotion with aloa vera contained in the product .

  • acampbell

    Hi colorado,
    You might also consider Corn Huskers lotion, as well as lotions that contain tea tree oil. Check out natural foods store for this, or try a brand such as Meleuca. Also, make sure you rotate sites on your fingers, and vary the fingers that you use when you’re monitoring.

  • acampbell

    Hi momkat,
    Hopefully other readers will be able to share some tips to help you. Your diabetes could possibly be contributing to your dry and peeling lips, particularly if your glucose levels are running on the high side. But you might also be reacting to ingredients in products such as lipsticks, lip balms and even toothpaste. Sometimes menthol and lanolin can be irritating. Hopefully your medication will work. Aquaphor healing ointment may help, too.

  • bandu abey

    I am 60 well buit 6 ft tall and a t2 diabetic for the last ten yrs or so.my problem is this; When I take a bath I feel terrible for about day or two.I feel very week and I just wants to go to bed and sleep.I think iam having this problem because of my skin is very very thin! But Iam not sure.Pls help.
    More details about me: I work 8 hrs a day
    and its very hard labour there for I do not have time or energy to do any exercise.Any way my work helps me to keep me ‘fit’.I look like 1o to 15 yrs younger than my age (60).
    My weight is 90 kilos.I would like to converse with a kind interligent person who knows about many things about diabetice.

  • acampbell

    Hi bandu,
    It’s hard to say exactly why you’re feeling weak quite often, although it probably isn’t related to your skin. However, it’s a good idea to check your blood glucose with a meter, if you’re not doing so already, especially at times when you don’t feel well. Since you do hard work, you may be having low blood glucose levels. On the other hand, feeling weak and tired may be signs of high blood glucose. I’d suggest you make an appointment with a physician who can better help determine the cause of your symptoms.

  • BMAH

    My wife has type ll diabetis and uses tea tree oil soap for her smaller skin ulcers. It really helps her. You can google the soap RESTORZ SOAP. It is amazingly good and inexpensive

  • bubbiejoon

    hello to bandu you should feel invigorated and not tired ask your physician to check vitamin levels as well as mineral levels i.e., magnesium. also your bath should not be too hot and also, try some anti oxidants such as green tea, resveratol, wild blueberries…you’ll be a new person in no time

  • elle

    I do not have diabetes,yet. The hospital have assured me that I wil have it eventually. But I did have necrobiosis lipodica, one leg was treated with steroid injections, which left a brown scar and thinning of the skin. The other leg was reated by a homeopath, which cleared it up with no scarring at all, and no damage to my body by have poison pumped into it.

  • BMAH

    Try the all natural tea tree oil RESTORZ soap $8.00 a bar. It is really good at clearing psoriasis and eczema as well as small skin ulcers. Theres a new RESTORZ lotion that is not on the wesite yet, but if you call they will send it and its only twenty dollars a jar. My wife uses it and swears by it. http://www.MyBlueDolphinSoap.com good luck to you.

  • bmah

    I have type ll diabetis and use RESTORZ tea tree oil soap and lotion for her smaller skin ulcers. It really helps. You can google the soap RESTORZ SOAP. It is all natural amazingly good and inexpensive

  • Faiz

    also need to make sure you do all you can to prevent ring worm infections I’ve also added to my blog information on how to prevent and cure naturally this are all help full tips

  • Jill

    I use Tea Tree oil with Tamanu its already mixed and it is great for healing acne and scaring to. I found it online mybluedolphinsoap.com they are all natural. I found the stuff great for my skin issues. Acne, and psoriasis.

  • Jeannie T2

    I have had diabetes for almost 40 years, so taking care of my skin and feet is important. I have been using Made from Earth Aloe Jojoba Therapy and it works wonders overnight! I have tried other products, but none as good as the Made from Earth Aloe. Cracks on my heels can quickly develop into open wounds, but not when I use this cream. The cracks quickly close and disappear within a few days. It has saved me from many trips to the wound care doctors. Wish I could take a bath in it!