Keeping your delicate outer layer healthy
Having diabetes means paying a lot of attention to what’s happening inside your body — controlling blood glucose levels to protect your heart, kidneys and nerves, for example.
But diabetes can also affect what’s on the outside of your body — namely, your skin. In fact, your skin may actually be the first part of your body to show signs that something is amiss on the inside.
HOW BLOOD GLUCOSE AFFECTS YOUR SKIN
When blood glucose levels get too high, your body loses fluids and your skin can become dry, cracked and itchy.
High blood glucose can also damage your nerves, so that your body doesn’t properly communicate the message to sweat, which is how skin stays moisturized. There are also skin conditions that are more common in people who have diabetes than in those who don’t.
MANAGING SKIN CONDITIONS
Taking good care of your skin is important. Skin conditions aren’t just unsightly and uncomfortable. If left untreated, they can lead to infections that can be dangerous to your health.
Tips from the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Academy of Dermatology on how to keep your skin healthy — particularly when harsh winter weather can take a toll — follow.
• Keep blood glucose levels within your target range. Managing blood glucose levels helps keep your skin healthy and can ward off many other complications.
• Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of caffeine-free, sugar-free fluids — especially water.
• Use mild soap. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, then gently pat dry every part of your body.
• Apply moisturizer while your body is still damp. However, do not use moisturizer between your toes. Use ointments and creams rather than lotions.
• Read the ingredients on skincare products. Avoid those that contain fragrances, are alcohol-based or include deodorants. They can irritate dry or sensitive skin.
• Do not shower or bathe in water that is too hot. Doing so can dry your skin. And do not soak for long periods of time, as this can soften skin on your feet and make it more prone to puncturing.
• Ask your provider about using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.
• Try 100-percent cotton, which is soft against your skin. Protecting your skin from the cold is important, but don’t wear wool or other rough fabrics without a softer layer underneath.
• Wear gloves to protect your hands from the cold. Also apply hand cream after each washing. Protect your hands from frequent soaking in water (for example, from washing dishes) by wearing waterproof gloves. If your hands are still dry, try putting a little petroleum jelly on them at bedtime.
• Inspect your body regularly. Look for any blisters, bumps, sores, red spots or other changes.
• If you notice any changes in your skin, tell your healthcare provider. Your provider should inspect your feet during routine visits, at least twice a year.
• Treat cuts immediately to prevent infection. Wash minor cuts with soap and water.
• Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels within target range. You need to maintain good circulation, which also helps keep your skin healthy.
• Be sure to include foods high in omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Foods such as salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, tofu, soybeans, flaxseed and walnuts are all high in omega-3, which nourishes your skin.
Skin can change over time, especially as we get older. It’s important to pay attention to these changes and keep an eye out for problems that might require medical attention.
The American Academy of Dermatology lists warning signs that can appear on your skin if you have diabetes. If you notice any of these changes, it’s time to consult with your provider, both for treatment as well as to make sure your blood glucose levels are being managed properly.
Yellow, reddish or brown patches on your skin: Necrobiosis lipodica may begin as small bumps that look like pimples but eventually turn into patches of swollen, hard skin. Itchy and painful, this skin issue can lead to complications if left untreated. There are other conditions that cause red or yellow bumps as well. See your provider for treatment.
Dark areas of skin that feel like velvet: Acanthosis nigricans is often a sign of prediabetes. These dark patches of velvety skin may be signs that you have too much insulin in your blood.
Hard, thickening skin: Digital sclerosis can develop on fingers or toes — or both. It can also spread to other parts of your body and is usually a sign that blood glucose levels are poorly managed.
Blisters or clusters of blisters: Blisters may occur spontaneously as well as from wearing shows that don’t fit properly. They need to be cared for, so infections don’t develop.
Skin infections, open sores or wounds: Such skin issues can happen anywhere on your body and must be treated.
Shin spots: Diabetic dermopathy causes brown spots that may be mistaken for age spots. They are usually found on your shins but may show up elsewhere.
Skin tags: Skin tags can also show up on people without diabetes, but having a lot can be a sign of poorly managed blood glucose.