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Skin Care and Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes Mellitus and skincare

Diabetes can lead to health problems over time, including skin problems.
People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing skin complications. This is usually due to uncontrolled blood sugar. Uncontrolled blood sugar leads to:

  • Damaged nerves and blood vessels. This can result in decreased feeling in your legs and feet. With decreased sensation, you may not notice minor skin injuries that can lead to serious skin problems.
  • Reduce blood flow. Making it more difficult to heal wounds increases your risk of infection.
  • This causes areas of skin to become thick or discolored.

YouTube Video Link: (Video has been reviewed by NEHH and is provided for the sole purpose of education. It is not intended to replace advice given to you by your primary care provider.)

Common skin problems with Diabetes

Diabetes often causes dry skin. It can also cause the skin on your feet to get thinner, break easily, and heal slower. Many skin conditions affect people with diabetes more commonly. These include:

  • Bacterial skin infections are common. These include styes, boils, infected hair follicles, and infected skin around the nail beds.
  • Fungal skin infections are common in areas where skin rubs together, such as the armpits and under the breast. The groin area is another commonplace.
  • Open sores, more commonly in the feet.
  • Tissue death can occur from poorly managed soars and wounds that become infected. Known as gangrene, and if poorly treated it can lead to limb amputation. (Surgical removal of a body part.)

Diabetes can also cause skin changes. Less severe skin changes include:

  • Acanthosis nigricans is a medical condition in which part of your skin becomes dark and velvety. Most commonly affecting people of African American and American Indian descent. More often noticed on the face, neck, armpits, inner thighs, and groin.
  • Necrobiosis lipoidica is a skin condition that causes red, raised, scar-like tissue that may itch, feel painful, or develop into a wound.
  • Digital sclerosis is a condition causing thick, wax-like areas of the skin most commonly on the hands, forehead, and toes.
  • Disseminated granuloma is brown or red ring-shaped or half-ring-shaped patches of skin on the ears or fingers.
  • Eruptive xanthomatosis is pea-shaped yellow bumps that may be itchy and surrounded by a red ring.
  • Diabetic dermopathy is round, discolored patches of tan skin that do not hurt or itch. They may look like age spots.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, have a rash, or have severely dry itchy skin. Contact your health care provider. You may need help managing your diabetes better or may need treatment for an infection.

How to prevent skin breakdown?

People with diabetes need to take special care of their skin, most importantly, their feet. Here are some simple tips on preventing skin conditions or skin breakdown.

  • Keep your blood sugar managed. People with high blood sugar levels tend to have dry skin and a decreased ability to fend off bacteria, increasing the risk of infection.
  • Good hygiene, keep skin clean and dry.
  • If your skin is dry, avoid bubble baths and hot showers. Moisturizing soaps may help with dryness. Avoid applying lotion between toes as it may increase the possibility of fungal growth.
  • Keep skin well moisturized, especially in cold or windy weather. Itching skin can cause wounds and allow bacterial infections.
  • Inspect your body daily for minor cuts. wash minor cuts with soap and water. Check with your primary care provider before using antibiotic creams and ointments. See your doctor right away for major cuts, burns, or infections.
  • Inspect your feet daily and take great care of your feet. Wear broad, comfortable, and well-fitting shoes.

You can find more information at

See your primary care provider if:

  • You develop a cut or sore, especially on your feet.
  • You develop signs of infection after a skin injury.
  • You have itchy skin that develops redness or a rash.
  • You have discolored areas of your skin.
  • You have areas where your skin is changing, such as thickening or appearing shiny.
  • Consult your primary care provider if your blood sugars are uncontrolled or higher than 240 mg/dl more than 2 days in a row.

As always! We are here to help. At NEHH we strive to provide education and make information readily available. This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your primary care provider.

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Life’s Needs. (2017). Common skin problems with diabetes. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from YouTube Video Link

Copyright 1995–2021. American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Skin complications. Skin Complications | ADA. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from

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