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Diabetes Skin Care Tips

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on November 15, 2019

Diabetes makes you more likely to get a wide range of skin problems. But you can do a lot to keep yours healthy. These simple tips can help.

Get educated. One key to preventing problems is to understand what causes them. Talk to your doctor. Learn about the complications, what your particular risks are, and how you can lower them.

Control your diabetes. Get -- and keep -- your blood sugar within a normal range. If you already have skin problems, you can stop them from getting worse. Strive for a healthy weight, eat right, cut back on salt, maintain a healthy blood pressure, and exercise. That's a tall order, but talk to your health care team for support.

Be aware. If you have diabetic nerve damage, which is called neuropathy, you could have an infected cut, scratch, or skin puncture and not know it. Don't let a small problem turn into a big one. Be aware of your body. Check your legs, ankles, feet, and in between your toes every day for new wounds or old ones that never seem to heal.

Treat wounds and sores. Don't neglect them. If you find a nick, a scratch, a small cut, or anything that isn't healing or that worries you, talk to your doctor right away.

Cover up. This simple first line of defense can help you avoid the cuts and scratches that can lead to infection. Whether you're gardening or walking the dog, cover your legs with long pants and your feet with flat, well-fitting shoes. To shield your skin from the cold or wind, cover your ears and face, including your nose, and wear a hat. Also, wear warm gloves and shoes or boots.

Prevent dry skin. Skin that's too dry can crack, itch, and get infected.

  • Keep your skin -- especially at armpits, toes, and groin -- clean and dry, but not too dry.
  • Take short, lukewarm showers or baths and use mild soaps and shampoos when you wash. Skip deodorant or scented cleansers, which can be harsh on sensitive skin.
  • Moisturize if your skin is dry. The best time is right after a shower or bath, when it’s still moist.
  • Dry well by patting gently. Don't rub. Focus on underarms, between legs, under breasts, and between toes.

Some other tips to care for your skin:

  • Use lip balm to prevent chapped lips.
  • To prevent dry skin when the temperature drops, use a humidifier to add moisture to heated indoor air.
  • Avoid scratching dry skin. Put on moisturizer instead.
  • Keep a bottle of lotion near the sink so you can use it after washing your hands.
  • Limit the number of products you use on your skin to lower your chances of having a reaction.
  • If you're prone to acne, talk to your dermatologist before choosing a facial moisturizer. Some can cause acne or make it worse.
  • Use products labeled "noncomedogenic" or "nonacnegenic."

Make a First-Aid Kit for Your Skin

Keep a first-aid kit close by to take care of your hands and feet. It should include:

  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Gauze pads
  • Hypoallergenic or paper tape
  • Prepackaged cleansing wipes (in case soap and water aren't available)

How to Treat Blisters

  • Don't try to break or pop the blister. The skin that covers it protects it from infection.
  • Gently wash the area with mild soap and warm water.
  • Apply antibacterial ointment to the blister.
  • Cover it with a cloth bandage or gauze pad. Secure that with hypoallergenic or paper tape.
  • Change the bandage at least once a day.
  • If the blister is on your foot and came from your shoes, wear a different pair until it heals.

How to Care for Small Cuts

  • Gently wash the area with mild soap and warm water.
  • Apply antibacterial ointment.
  • Cover the cut with a cloth bandage or gauze pad. Secure that with hypoallergenic or paper tape.
  • Change the bandage at least once a day.

How to Handle Minor Skin Problems Like Rashes

  • Gently wash the area with a mild soap and warm water and pat dry.
  • Cover the irritated skin with a cloth bandage or gauze pad. Secure that with hypoallergenic or paper tape.
  • Keep checking the area to make sure the irritation doesn't get worse.
  • Change the bandage at least once a day.

What to Do for Minor Burns

  • Soothe the area with cool, clean running water.
  • Don't try to break or pop any blisters.
  • Gently wash the area with mild soap and warm water and pat dry.
  • Cover the burn with a gauze pad. Secure that with hypoallergenic or paper tape.
  • Change the bandage at least once a day.

How to Take Care of Frostbite

  • Call for medical help immediately.
  • Use warm, not hot, water to warm the skin (98-104 F).
  • Don't rub the area or apply creams.
  • Don't try to walk on the affected foot or use the affected hand.

When to Call a Doctor

When you have diabetes, your feet need special attention. Beyond a daily foot care routine, call your doctor right away if you:

  • Don't see an improvement the next day after treating a minor problem, such as a cut.
  • Have pain or discomfort that lasts for more than 2 days.
  • Have a high temperature.
  • Notice any pus on the sore or near the wound.

Basic skin care can go far toward helping you prevent problems later on. If you have questions or if a cut, scrape, or bruise worries you, talk to your doctor or dermatologist right away.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Kevin Belasco, DO, dermatologist, Great Lakes Dermatology, Milwaukee, WI.

Wendy E. Roberts, MD, dermatologist, Generational and Cosmetic Dermatology, Rancho Mirage, CA.

American Diabetes Association.

American Academy of Dermatology.

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