Diabetes and Skin Care (Part 1)

Dryness, itchiness, flakiness and redness are all common conditions that can affect your skin, and it’s especially important to pay attention to your skin when you have diabetes. That’s because diabetes can affect your skin, just as it can your eyes, feet, kidneys, heart and other organs.

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[1] that aren’t within target range. Here are a few:

Diabetes-related skin conditions

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. It’s more common in people who are overweight, and may actually appear before type 2 diabetes[2] 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[3].


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.


Improved blood glucose levels, along with a good moisturizer.

Diabetic dermopathy[4]

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[5] levels and in those with other complications[6]. They usually tend to go away after a while.


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.


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[7] 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.


Improved blood glucose levels, along with lipid-lowering medication.


While not exactly a skin condition, atherosclerosis[8] (a narrowing of blood vessels due to plaque buildup that can lead to heart disease[9]) 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.


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.

  1. blood glucose levels: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/blood-glucose-management/blood-sugar-chart/
  2. type 2 diabetes: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/Type_2_Diabetes
  3. insulin resistance: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Insulin_Resistance
  4. Diabetic dermopathy: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/diabetes-resources/definitions/diabetic-dermopathy/
  5. HbA1c: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/HbA1c
  6. complications: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/Diabetic_Complications
  7. triglyceride: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Triglycerides
  8. atherosclerosis: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Atherosclerosis
  9. heart disease: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/complications-prevention/lower-risk-heart-disease/

Source URL: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/diabetes-and-skin-care-part-1/

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.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.