Treat 5 Diabetes-Related Skin Problems

Nearly one third of those with diabetes will develop a skin condition linked to diabetes, explains Kellie Rodriguez, MSN, CDE, of the Diabetes Research Institute in Hollywood, Florida. And sometimes, one of these conditions is an early indicator of diabetes itself.

One common problem for individuals with high blood sugar is simply a lack of moisture in the skin, Rodriguez explains. "High blood sugar can lead to nerve damage or diabetic neuropathy," she says. "And one of the side effects of neuropathy is a reduced ability to sweat, which leads to dry skin." Once skin is dry, you're more at risk for cuts and cracks, which can lead to infection.

Here's a guide to some problems to watch out for and how to treat them:

1. Fungal Infection

If you have red, itchy areas surrounded by tiny blisters in the folds of the skin, chances are this is a fungal infection. Among the common ones are athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm. Prescription medicine is effective. Contact your doctor if you suspect a fungal infection.

2. Diabetic Dermopathy

If you have oval- or circular-shaped, scaly, light brown patches on your skin (often on the fronts of both legs), chances are it's diabetic dermopathy. These patchy areas are typically not painful. "They are harmless and do not need treatment," Rodriguez says.

3. Yeast Infection or Poor Circulation

If you have general itchiness, it can signal a yeast infection or poor circulation (in the case of poor circulation, the lower parts of your legs may be the itchiest area of all.) Yeast infections can affect the groin and under the breast, notes Sally Pinkstaff, MD, PhD, of the Diabetes Resource Center at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. Use a mild soap and skin cream after a shower or bath. And when the weather is dry, don't bathe or shower any more than necessary. See your doctor to rule out a yeast infection or poor circulation.

4. Acanthosis Nigricans

If you have brownish or tan raised areas on the back of the neck, armpits, and in the groin, you may have acanthosis nigricans. Lose the excess weight. Sometimes, certain creams can help the spots look less noticeable. "It's more of a skin discoloration," Rodriguez says. "Once it is there, it doesn't easily go away."

5. Eruptive Xanthomatosis

If you have yellow, pea-like enlargements of the skin that itch, you may have eruptive xanthomatosis. Generally, this afflicts young men with type 1 diabetes and tends to affect the backs of the hands, legs, arms, and buttocks. "This is definitely more common in people who have poorly controlled diabetes," Pinkstaff says. "And triglycerides tend to be high in people with this condition." Generally, xanthomatosis improves when the blood sugar levels improve.

To keep your skin healthy, Rodriguez recommends that you:

  • Keep your blood sugar in the normal range.
  • Make sure to use moisturizers and mild soap.
  • Limit the number of showers you take when the weather is cold and dry.
  • If you already have diabetic neuropathy, examine your feet often to check for 
    wounds, and see your doctor as recommended so he can check your feet.




Skin Complications. American Diabetes Association.