Safeguard and nourish your body’s largest organ as the weather warms up
Diabetes affects many of the body’s major organs — but not just the ones on the inside. Your skin is the body’s largest and fastest-growing organ, accounting for roughly 16 percent of your total weight, and rising blood glucose levels can damage it, as well. In fact, as many as one-third of people with diabetes experience some type of skin condition.
As the weather gets warmer, you need to pay extra attention to your skin. That’s the case for everyone, but especially true for people with diabetes.
When it’s warmer out, you tend to be more physically active, which makes you sweat more. If you don’t drink enough fluids, this can easily lead to dehydration, which causes a host of skin and other problems.
For one thing, it can be the beginning of a vicious cycle. Dehydration causes blood glucose levels to rise. That can lead to frequent urination, which causes greater dehydration and higher glucose levels, which reduce blood flow to the skin. This, in turn, may result in dryness and also leads to changes in the skin’s collagen, affecting its texture as well as its ability to heal. So the first thing to remember is to drink plenty of fluids to ensure proper hydration during the warmer months.
Applying moisturizer to keep skin moist is also an important part of skincare. Dry skin isn’t just irritating — it can crack easily, and this can lead to infections. The best time to apply moisturizer is right after showering to seal in water droplets. Very dry skin may require more frequent moisturizing.
AVOID THE BURN
Enjoying more time outdoors also means added exposure to the sun’s harmful rays, which can lead to sunburn and increase the risk of developing skin cancer. To protect your skin from the sun, avoid direct exposure when the sun is strongest (10 A.M. to 4 P.M.), wear a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeve shirts and apply sunscreen liberally. Be sure to reapply it at least every two hours (more frequently if you are swimming or perspiring a lot).
How much sunscreen is enough? According to the Mayo Clinic, you should apply generous amounts of sunscreen (enough to fill a regular-size shot glass) in order to cover most body surfaces. And if you find yourself digging an old bottle of sunscreen out of the back of the cabinet, make sure it isn’t more than three years old, or it may not work at its full, original strength.
The American Skin Association recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher year-round, but especially during the hot summer months. The Association also reminds you not to be fooled by clouds: Ultraviolet rays are as strong on cloudy, hazy days as they are on bright, sunny days.
PREVENT SKIN ISSUES
The two main types of skin conditions people with diabetes experience are bacterial or fungal in nature.
Staph and strep are the most common types of bacteria that can cause skin conditions. Symptoms include pain, heat, swelling and redness at the infection site. Deep-tissue infections are called carbuncles and must be drained. Bacterial infections should also be treated with antibiotics.
Fungal infections include yeast (which can appear under breasts, in the groin area, armpits, corners of the mouth and in the foreskin), athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm. They are often itchy and can spread if left untreated.
Bug bites can also lead to infections and are more common during the warmer months, especially if you’re in areas where mosquitoes are common. Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants and apply bug spray to avoid being bitten.
Summer also tempts people to take off their shoes and walk barefoot on the beach or around the pool. But this can lead to blisters, which can become infected. The best way to prevent blisters is to wear shoes that fit properly and to inspect your feet regularly.
PROTECT YOUR SKIN
Other steps to take to prevent skin conditions if you have diabetes follow.
• Wash with a mild soap, rinsing and drying every part of your body by patting dry. Apply moisturizer everywhere except between the toes.
• Avoid long, hot showers, which can dry your skin.
• Don’t soak your feet, which can make the skin more vulnerable to puncture.
• Wash and treat cuts right away. Seek medical help for deep or serious cuts or wounds.
• Inspect your feet daily for any changes, and have your provider inspect them at least twice a year during office visits.
• Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids nourish the skin. Be sure to include these in your diet. Fish such as salmon, sardines, albacore tuna and mackerel are all high in omega-3, as are soybeans, walnuts and flaxseeds.
• Controlling blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels is important for maintaining good health for many reasons, but will also help your skin stay healthy.