It is important for everyone to take of their skin, but it’s critical for people with diabetes. That’s because diabetics are at greater risk for skin problems than someone who does not have diabetes. That’s why you should take special precautions to make sure your skin stays healthy if you have been diagnosed with the condition.
Diabetics are at higher risk for bacterial skin infections, fungal infections and a condition called folliculitis where hair follicles become infected with bacteria or yeast. Diabetics are also more susceptible to skin boils and nail infections. In addition, people with diabetes are at greater risk for infection with a yeast called Candida. Moist areas of the skin like skin folds are the areas most commonly involved. Other fungal infections that are more common in diabetics include ringworm, athlete’s foot and jock itch.
Diabetics are also prone to cellulitis skin infections and foot ulcers. These infections may involve bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, which makes them more difficult to treat. If you have diabetes, you may not be aware that you have a skin infection or ulcer on your feet because the nerves are damaged from diabetes. Therefore you may not feel warning signs such as pain and tenderness.
Vitiligo, a skin condition where white patches form on the skin due to loss of melanin, is more common in people with diabetes. No one knows exactly what causes this skin problem but it seems to be autoimmune in nature. If you have this skin condition, it’s important to wear a sunscreen since vitiligo makes your skin more susceptible to sunburn and sun damage.
People with diabetes can also develop dark, thickened skin patches that have a velvety texture around skin folds, especially under the arms and in the groin area. This condition called acanthosis nigricans is more common in obese diabetics. It is also not uncommon to develop skin bumps that are yellow in color and soft to the touch called xathomas. These bumps are more prevalent in people whose blood sugar and lipid levels are poorly controlled.
There are other skin conditions that are more common in diabetics. Skin problems are more likely to occur when blood sugars get out of control, which is why it’s important to monitor and take steps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Regularly check for cuts, abrasions, bumps, rashes or other signs of skin irritation or infection. All diabetics should examine their feet, toes and between their toes daily for redness, blisters, sores or bumps. When nerves are damaged in the feet, it may be difficult to feel tenderness, itching or other warning signs that something is wrong. It’s important to seek treatment for any skin problems as soon as possible.
Avoid bathing in hot water. Diabetics are prone to dry skin, and hot water can make the problem worse. Plus, nerve damage makes it harder to judge when the water is too hot. Shower or bathe in warm water instead. Soaking in hot tubs is relaxing, but make sure the water’s not too hot and the tub is well-maintained. Diabetics are susceptible to a skin condition called hot tub folliculitis caused by a bacteria called Pseudomonas that grows in poorly maintained hot tubs.
Prevent dry skin by using a mild soap or cleanser that’s free of fragrance and harsh chemicals. Follow up by using a fragrance-free moisturizer. Avoid using products in skin folds and between your toes since this can encourage the growth of fungi.
Always wear a sunscreen to protect skin that’s prone to vitiligo. Choose one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and wear it every day.
After bathing, apply fragrance-free powder to skin folds and the skin between your toes in order to discourage the growth of fungi that cause infections.
Wear all-cotton underwear to let your skin “breathe.” Synthetics can irritate skin and trap moisture, increasing the risk of fungal infections.
Eat a healthy diet that emphasizes whole foods rather than processed ones to get the vitamins and minerals your skin needs to be healthy. Eat more fatty fish such as wild salmon. It contains “good fats” called omega-3s that are good for your skin and heart.
If your home is dry, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. This keeps skin moist and reduces dryness and cracking. Moisture is especially important in the winter if you live in an area that’s cold and dry.
Control your blood sugar level. Keeping it under control reduces the risk of developing skin problems. It also prevents nerve damage and circulation problems that contribute to poor skin health.
Diabetes affects every organ in your body including your skin. Take steps to control your blood sugars, and protect your skin by doing regular skin checks. Keep your skin moisturized and protected from the sun – and control your blood sugar level.