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Diabetes and Your Skin

By Brenda Conaway
WebMD Feature

Diabetes gives you a good reason to pamper your skin. You are more prone to skin problems like dryness. Scarring from insulin shots can affect how your body absorbs insulin. And because diabetes raises your chances of infection, even a minor skin condition can become a more serious problem.

People with diabetes "get everything!" says Kathy Kindelan, RN, a retired nurse who's had diabetes since her 20s. If you develop even a small skin problem, she says, "you have to treat it aggressively."

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There are three main types of diabetes skin conditions, says Margo S. Hudson, MD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School:

  • Skin conditions that happen mostly to people with diabetes
  • Common skin infections made worse by having high blood sugar
  • Skin problems that occur from insulin shots

This guide will fill you in on common skin conditions linked to diabetes and how to prevent or care for them.

Common Skin Conditions With Diabetes

Many diabetes-related skin conditions harmless, but it's helpful to know what they look like and when to see your doctor for treatment.

Diabetic dermopathy. This appears as light brown, scaly, round spots on the shins. They look a lot like age spots but are caused by changes in your small blood vessels. "It's more of a cosmetic issue and doesn’t really require treatment," Hudson says.

Disseminated granuloma annulare. This causes red, red-brown, or skin-colored raised rings or arcs on the skin. They are likely to show up on your fingers, ears, or lower legs, but can also appear on the trunk of your body. Your doctor can prescribe a cortisone skin cream or another treatment.

Digital sclerosis. About one-third of people with type 1 diabetes have this condition. It can make the skin on the back of your hands thick, waxy, and tight. Your finger joints may become stiff and hard to move. You can also get it on your forehead and toes and, rarely, your elbows, knees, or ankles. Get your blood sugar under control to treat it.

Acanthosis nigricans . With this condition, the skin on your neck, armpits, or groin thickens and becomes brown or tan. "People think it's dirt and wonder why they can't clean it off," Hudson says. Insulin resistance causes it, most likely if you are overweight. Treatment includes losing weight and taking diabetes drugs, which help the body use insulin better.

Eruptive xanthomatosis. Young men with type 1 diabetes who also have high levels of cholesterol and fat in their blood often get this condition. It causes raised, yellow, pea-sized bumps that have a red halo and may itch. They appear on the hands, arms, feet, legs, and buttocks. Getting your blood sugar levels under control clears them up.

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