Diabetes Skin Care Secrets From Dermatologists

If you're living with diabetes, the skin you're in needs extra TLC. Not only are diabetics more prone to skin infections, but dry, flaky skin is a problem, too. And while some areas are dry, other areas, like the armpits, can be too moist.  

Here's advice from dermatologists on how to care for your skin: 

  • Wash skin gently and pat it dry, says dermatologist Michele Green, MD, who has a private practice in New York City and works at Lenox Hill Hospital. Don't rub your skin roughly with a towel. "It's crucial that you are very gentle with your skin," Green says.
  • Choose soaps carefully, says Debra Jaliman, MD, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Use "superfatted" soaps, she says, and avoid antibacterial soaps because they tend to be drying. Also skip scented soaps of any kind. "The simpler, the better is good when it comes to skin care products for diabetics," Jaliman says.
  • Make sure the water for your bath or shower is not too hot. Since diabetics can develop neuropathy and lose feelings in their feet, they may not even realize the water is too hot and could get a burn without being aware of it.
  • Moisturize regularly. And examine your skin often to make sure you're moisturizing enough. "If your skin is dry, flaky or peeling, that's a clear sign that you are not moisturizing enough," Green says. You may need to moisturize some areas of the skin more than once a day. But choose moisturizers carefully and avoid those that have a fragrance as they can irritate the skin.
  • Diabetics in general are more prone to skin inflammation, says Helen Torok, MD, medical director of Trillium Creek Dermatology in Medina, Ohio. "And this inflammation can cause a decrease in healing and repair, and more stress to the skin," she says. Examine your skin regularly and see your health care provider promptly if a problem develops.
  • Diabetes causes people to be more prone to itching and to dryness, especially patients on certain medications. If you are experiencing symptoms and are on medications, check with your doctor to see whether the medication might be causing the symptoms. Moisturizers made with menthol in them may bring relief for symptoms of itching, Jaliman says.
  • Facial skin is especially delicate, Torok says. Get recommendations for the best moisturizer from your dermatologist, and try out on a small area before applying to your entire face. "Many diabetics, especially women, have especially sensitive skin on the face," Torok says. "I often recommend a moisturizer with an anti-inflammatory product."
  • While some areas of skin are too dry, others are too moist, which sets a person up for a fungal infection. Typical areas for developing a fungal infection are the groin, beneath the breasts, and the armpits, Green explains. Be sure to thoroughly dry areas of the body that tend to trap moisture. And consider using a super-absorbent powder to reduce moisture.
  • To prevent problems with the skin on the soles of your feet, take extra precautions. Keep toenails short, don't go barefoot, wear slippers in the house, and make regular visits to the podiatrist, Green recommends.