Even if you're low-maintenance about grooming, it's smart to spend a few minutes each day on your skin if you have type 2 diabetes. For one thing, diabetes can stress your skin in ways that make you more likely to have problems like infections. Also, your skin can show clues about how well your condition is under control.
How Diabetes Changes Your Skin
Diabetes can dehydrate your skin and leave it dry. This is especially true if your blood sugar levels are high. Dry skin can itch and crack more easily. That gives germs a way in and puts you at greater risk of infection.
It's also common to have nerve damage, or neuropathy, if your diabetes isn’t under good control. That numbs your fingers and toes and makes it harder for you to notice cuts and sores.
And diabetes can affect your blood vessels. As a result, it may be harder for your blood to carry oxygen throughout your body. This can make it harder to ward off infections and to heal.
Easy Steps to Healthy Skin
Infections that go untreated can cause big problems. It can lead to ulcers that are hard to treat and even to amputation. That's why it pays to take good care of your skin. Here are some simple ways to do so:
Pat yourself dry after bathing. Fungal infections are more common in people who have diabetes. They show up in warm, moist areas, like underneath the arms and breasts and between the legs and toes. So take time to keep those places dry. Towel off completely after a bath or shower. But pat, don't rub, which could irritate your skin.
Moisturize. After you bathe, apply a fragrance-free lotion to any areas that can get dry and itchy (avoid your toes, though). Other ways to keep your skin hydrated: Use a humidifier in your home and drink plenty of water.
Check your skin daily. Use a mirror for hard-to-see areas, or ask a loved one to help. Scan for possible issues, such as a dry patch of skin or small cuts. Clean any cuts or scrapes and cover with a bandage. Ask your doctor if you should use ointments. If you notice a wound that just doesn't seem to be healing, contact your doctor right away. Also, your doctor should check your feet carefully during routine visits.
If you notice hard, thickened skin on your fingers or toes, it's a condition called digital sclerosis. It's a sign you need to better control your diabetes.
Trim and file your nails. Short, smooth nails are less likely to catch on something and rip. Cut your toenails straight across to avoid ingrown nails. If they're too thick or hard to work with, you may want to have a foot doctor (called a podiatrist) do it. Check your shoe before you put them on for pebbles or other debris that might harm your feet.
Wear sunscreen. A sunburn can raise your blood sugar levels. Sunburns can also cause dehydration and inflammation. To protect your skin, choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Wear it even on cloudy days. And stay out of the sun if you can.
Joslin Diabetes Center: "Good Skin Care and Diabetes."
American Diabetes Association: "Skin Complications," "Foot Complications."
American Academy of Dermatology: "Diabetes: 12 Warning Signs That Appear on Your Skin,” “Sunscreen FAQs.”
CDC: "Managing Diabetes in the Heat," "10 Surprising Things That Can Spike Your Blood Sugar."
Mayo Clinic: "Diabetic neuropathy."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Peripheral Neuropathy," "Diabetes and Foot Problems."
Cleveland Clinic: "Diabetes: Skin Care," "How to Manage Your Diabetes in Extreme Summer Heat."
Kaiser Permanente: "Caregiving: Foot and Toenail Care."
Skin Cancer Foundation: "Sunburn & Your Skin."