Diabetes can affect every part of the body, including the skin. As many as one third of all people with diabetes will experience a skin related issue at some point in their lives. In fact, skin problems can be the first sign that a person has diabetes1.
Some skin problems happen only or mostly to people with diabetes. Certain conditions such as dry skin are relatively common in the overall population but have a higher occurrence among people with diabetes. The skin dryness can lead to itch 2.
The good news is most skin conditions can be kept under control with proper skin care.
Guidelines for General Skin Care
The first step in caring for diabetes and preventing related complications is following a health care provider’s advice on nutrition, exercise and medication. To address skin specific needs, there are three important things to remember that will help keep skin healthy:
- Clean & Dry – ensuring that skin is always clean and dry helps prevent fungal growth and harmful bacteria from developing into infections.
- Hydrate – keeping skin hydrated with a moisturizing body lotion or cream helps relieve the itch associated with dry skin while preventing irritation and cracking. Avoid using lotions & creams on open wounds.
- Check & Treat – checking skin daily for cracks, and treating problems straight away helps prevent infections. The American Diabetes Association recommends avoiding harsh antiseptics and talking to a doctor before using an antibiotic cream or ointment3.
Weather Specific Skin Care
Beyond everyday skin care, there are weather specific challenges that can aggravate the effects of dry skin. Cold /winter temperatures, low humidity and indoor heating/air-conditioning can all strip the skin of moisture and cause dryness, itching and cracking. Cracked skin has a higher potential for infection in diabetics because high blood glucose levels can lower the body’s ability to resist infection. Following the guidelines below will help in maintaining healthy skin throughout all of the seasons:
- Avoid hot showers. Hot water can remove natural oils from the skin, making it dry and itchy. Try showering or bathing with warm water and limit your time in the water to 10 minutes or less.
- Dry skin thoroughly and moisturize with lotion or cream after a shower or bath. The lotion or cream locks in moisture as well as soothe itchy, extra dry skin that can lead to cracking. Make sure the lotion or cream is fully absorbed before getting dressed. Do not apply lotion or cream between toes because the extra moisture can encourage fungus to grow.
- Ensure proper product use. Talk to your dermatologist about switching from gels to more moisturizing cream formulations for the winter months. Avoid products containing alpha-hydroxy acids. While they exfoliate the top layer of skin, these products may leave the new layer of skin unprotected and more susceptible to damage.
- Always drink plenty of water. It’s wise to cut down on alcohol and caffeine, since these substances can dehydrate the body, robbing the skin of fluids.
- Remember to wear sunscreen. Sun exposure can damage your skin’s ability to protect itself, so choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Also, apply a lip balm with an SPF of 15 to help moisturize and prevent chapped lips.
- Utilized a humidifier in your home. Raising the humidity can counteract the dry heat in your home during the winter, which may dry out the skin.
With proper skin care, you can keep your skin looking and feeling healthy no matter what the weather. Always follow your doctor/podiatrist’s recommendation in your skin care needs.
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1American Diabetes Association website, “Skin Complications,” http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/skin-complications.html?loc=lwd-slabnav(link is external)
2Canadian Diabetes Association website, “Skin Problems,” http://www.diabetes.ca/publications-newsletters/diabetes-current-newsletter/diabetes-current-archive/diabetes-current-december-2013/healthy-living/5-fixes-for-dry-winter-skin(link is external)
3American Diabetes Association website, “Skin Care,” http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/skin-care.html