Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest (and fastest growing) organ?1 Healthy skin protects your other organs, helps regulate your temperature, and keeps unwanted germs and substances out of your body. About 33% of people with diabetes will have a skin disorder related to their diabetes in their lifetime.2 With the appropriate daily maintenance and care, most skin conditions can be prevented or caught early and easily treated. Here are six ways to keep your skin healthy with diabetes.
1. Control your blood sugar.
First and foremost, blood sugar control is key to preventing skin complications. High blood sugar levels are associated with dry skin and a lowered ability to fight off bacteria. Both of these things increase your risk of infection.2 Test your blood sugar regularly to figure out trends and assess what changes you might need to make.
Dry, itchy skin can lead to cracks and breaks in the skin that make you vulnerable to infection. Dry skin is common in the cold winter months. It can also be a result of neuropathy, which causes the skin to lose moisture when nerves in the legs and feet do not receive the proper messages from the brain to sweat.3 Moisturizing regularly can prevent chapped, dry skin—talk to your doctor or pharmacist about moisturizing products such as body washes and lotions that may work for you.
3. Avoid very hot showers and baths.
Water temperature safety is an important thing to keep in mind, especially if you have neuropathy and can’t feel how hot the water is. Not only can hot water burn your skin, it can also make dry skin worse.2
Although moisturizing and cleaning skin is important, it is also important to keep the skin dry after washing, especially in areas such as the armpits, groin, and between the toes. Using talcum powder to keep your skin dry will help prevent irritation and infection or fungal growth.2
4. Address breaks in the skin immediately.
If you do experience a break in the skin, no matter how small, it is important to take care of it right away. The American Diabetes Association recommends washing minor cuts with soap and water and covering them with sterile gauze. Check with your doctor to determine if using an antibiotic cream or ointment is okay, and see your doctor right away for more major wounds (such as cuts, infections, and burns).2 If you have concerns, don’t be afraid to talk to your healthcare provider.
5. Examine your feet daily.
Checking the skin of your feet on a daily basis for sores and cuts is imperative. People with diabetes frequently develop foot problems, especially if neuropathy is also present. Neuropathy causes a loss of feeling in the feet, which means it is possible to have an injury without realizing it. That’s why it is important to visually inspect your feet for things such as dry skin, cracked skin, calluses, blisters, and ulcers. Talk to your doctor about questions or concerns regarding changes, injuries, or signs of infection that you notice.4
6. Add a dermatologist to your diabetes care team.
Finding the right team of capable healthcare providers is an essential part of managing your diabetes. A dermatologist should be one of the providers on your team to help you care for any skin issues and prevent future problems. A dermatologist should also screen you regularly for skin cancer, as research suggests that people with diabetes have an increased risk for certain cancers.5