Diabetes-Related Skin Conditions

Here's how to prevent, spot, and treat them.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 20, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Diabetes gives you a good reason to pamper your skin. You're more prone to problems like dryness when you have the disease. And because diabetes raises your chances of infections, even a minor skin condition can become a more serious problem.

This guide will fill you in on common skin issues you might run into, how to prevent them, and how to care for yourself if you do get them.

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," says Margo S. Hudson, MD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Disseminated granuloma annulare. This condition causes red, red-brown, or skin-colored raised rings or arcs on your body. They're likely to show up on your fingers, ears, or lower legs, but can also appear on your trunk. 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, more rarely, your elbows, knees, or ankles. To treat it, get your blood sugar under control.

Acanthosis nigricans. 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, and it's most likely if you're overweight. Treatment includes losing weight and taking diabetes drugs, which help the body better use insulin.

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. Get your blood sugar levels under control to clear them up.

Protect Yourself

What's the best way to fight infections that cause skin problems?

  • Check your feet and any areas of your body that get damp and sweaty every day.
  • Use moisturizer on dry skin daily to prevent cracking and itching.
  • Call your doctor if you think you have an infection anywhere on your body.
  • Don't try to treat skin infections at home with over-the-counter products -- they may not be strong enough.

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