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Acanthosis Nigricans

You might mistake it for a tan or brown stain and try to scrub it off. But it won’t work. This condition is common in people with diabetes. Your skin usually darkens and thickens, and it might feel velvety. It could itch and smell, too. The back of the neck, groin, folds of elbows, knees, knuckles, and armpits are common spots. Being overweight or obese ups your chances for acanthosis nigricans, so shedding pounds can help get rid of it.

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Diabetic Blisters

These might pop up suddenly on your fingers, toes, hands, feet, and sometimes on legs or forearms. They’re usually white with no red around them. The blisters might look scary, but they usually don’t hurt and heal on their own in about 3 weeks. They could be a sign that you have diabetes or that your blood sugar levels aren’t controlled. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

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Thickened Skin

Your doctor might call it digital sclerosis. It can happen with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The skin on the back of your hands or on your fingers or toes may be thick and waxy. Those patches may spread to your arms, upper back, and shoulders. In severe cases, you may have trouble moving your joints and need physical therapy. The best way to treat this condition is to control your blood sugar.

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Shin Spots (Diabetic Dermopathy)

These can look like simple age spots. But they’re not. High blood sugar from diabetes damages small blood vessels and causes these brownish patches. These roundish, rough spots often appear on your shins. Dermopathy is usually harmless and should fade away in 18 months or so. But it also can last a long time.

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Necrobiosis Lipoidica

Necrobiosis means degeneration and death. Small, raised, red spots on your skin slowly grow larger and shinier and sometimes turn yellow. Your skin may thin and split, causing sores called ulcers. It can itch and hurt. But it’s very rare. Only 1 in 300 people with diabetes have it. It’s hard to treat, but prescription medications, injections, or lotions may help.

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Eruptive Xanthomatosis

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to breakouts of these pimply, waxy bumps on your feet, hands, arms, legs, and butt. Young males with type 1 diabetes are particularly likely to get them. The skin eruptions may be tender and itchy, but they’re not contagious. Talk to your doctor about how to better control your blood sugar levels. That should help ease the bumps as well.

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Bacterial Infection

High blood sugar can dry out your skin and curb your immune system. This raises your risk of skin infections, with staph (staphylococcus) being the most common. You might have styes on your eyes, inflamed hair follicles (folliculitis), or infected nails. Talk to your doctor if your skin feels swollen, itchy, painful, or hot, especially if you know you have high blood sugar or diabetes.

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Fungal Infection

Fungi, like bacteria, love to hang out in the moist folds of skin. That includes your armpits, under the breasts, around the nails, and the corners of the mouth. You may have heard it called athlete’s foot on your feet, jock itch around your genitals, or ringworm on your scalp. Candida albicans is the most common fungus that causes it. Your doctor can help treat the infection and tell you if it’s a sign of uncontrolled diabetes.

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Itchy Skin

This is a common complaint, even among people who don’t have diabetes. But itchy skin can result from dry skin or poor circulation, both of which are more likely when you have diabetes. It helps if you limit your time in the shower or the bathtub, wash with mild soap, and moisturize after you bathe.

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Granuloma Annulare

Doctors aren’t sure how this condition is linked to diabetes. They also don’t know exactly what causes these tiny red bumps around your ankles, hands, feet, or upper arms, and elsewhere. It may be a response to inflammation. Your doctor may try to treat it with creams or injections. You won’t need treatment if your symptoms are mild.

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It happens when your body collects extra cholesterol around your eyes. You might notice flat or slightly raised yellowish growths on or around the eyelids. The deposits aren’t harmful or painful, but they could signal uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol, or other health problems.

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Foot Ulcers

These sores can start with nothing more than a small scrape if you have diabetes, especially if it continues to rub in tight-fitting shoes. That’s in part because of poor circulation that makes it harder for wounds to heal and also can cause nerve damage so you can’t feel as well. Check your feet for sores every day, and ask your doctor how to best treat them.

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It’s more common if you have type 1 diabetes, but those with type 2 also can get it. It’s not clear why. Vitiligo destroys cells that normally color your skin with pigment. You might notice patchy skin of a clearly different color. It usually affects your chest, belly, and back, but sometimes happens on the face as well. Vitiligo may be treated with medicated creams, UV light, and even surgery. Use sunscreen to protect the affected skin patches. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/22/2020 Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 22, 2020


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American Academy of Dermatology Association: “Acanthosis Nigricans: Diagnosis And Treatment,” “Diabetes: 12 Warning Signs That Appear On Your Skin.”

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Xanthelasma.”

American Diabetes Association: “Skin Complications.”

British Association of Dermatologists: “Necrobiosis Lipoidica.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Diabetes: Foot & Skin Related Complications.”

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: “Granuloma annulare.”

National Kidney Foundation: “Diabetes and Your Eyes, Heart, Nerves, Feet, and Kidneys.”

Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: “Acanthosis nigricans: high prevalence and association with diabetes in a practice-based research network consortium - a PRImary care Multi-Ethnic Network (PRIME Net) study.”

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 22, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.