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Skin Care Tips For People With Diabetes

Updated: 5/9/22 2:14 pmPublished: 5/9/22
By Natalie Sainz

Diabetes affects the skin in ways people may not even realize. Read about this connection and learn how to maintain healthy skin.

As we approach the summertime, exposing a bit more skin and spending more time in the sun, skin care can become a crucial part of diabetes management. In fact, many people with diabetes may not think about how their skin is affected and may not even know that there is such an overlap between diabetes and skincare. People with diabetes constantly experience greater stress on their skin in ways they may not even consider, from wearing diabetes technology and adhesives to having dry skin from high glucose levels.

The skin shows what’s happening on the inside, and that could be showing signs of diabetes or signs of heart failure, kidney disease, etc.,” said Noelle Wands, a physician assistant in dermatology who has had type 1 diabetes since age four. “The overlap isn’t necessarily a ‘diabetes and skin’ thing. I think of it as a tree: diabetes can affect all these systems and dermatology is one of those many systems,” she said. 

A common skin issue for people with diabetes is dry skin due to high glucose in the blood. “Your body wants equilibrium so you draw in water from other organs and body parts to dilute [the high glucose levels in the blood],” said Wands. “That’s why your eyes and mouth can get dry, and then you see your dry skin.” Using lotion on a regular basis can help with dry skin. Some brands even have diabetes specific lotions or creams, but Wands explained that regular lotions can be just as effective. 

Many people also experience problems with scar tissue and adhesive allergies from constantly injecting the skin with devices and technology. Wands explained that many people are not aware of their adhesive allergies until after they have a reaction. Scar tissue can also form when overusing the same site on the skin for inserting devices. Try to avoid sites with significant scar tissue when injecting a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or insulin pump. 

Additionally, sun burns can have a significant effect on glucose levels, depending on the extent of the burn. “Your skin is trying to regenerate and [the body] puts a ton of energy into fixing your skin, so you can go low from putting all of this energy into healing it,” said Wands. The healing process can put stress on the body,  which can sometimes cause glucose levels to spike as well. “Good sunscreen use will go so far,” Wands emphasized.

Overall, “dermatology is integrated into a diabetic’s life without even knowing it,” said Wands. “It’s very subdued but it’s there.” Fortunately, there are several ways you can maintain healthy skin.

Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Use products with ceramides. Ceramides help prevent and heal dry skin, and overall improve the skin’s barrier. Other ingredients that could benefit the skin include Vitamin C, peptides, and Retin-A. “Those are the magic four ingredients,” said Wands. If you have a specific skin condition, talk to your healthcare provider about other potential prescriptions or over the counter products to use. 

  2. Rotate your insertion sites when possible. This can help prevent overuse and scar tissue. For insulin pumps rotate every 2-3 days, and for CGMs rotate every 10-14 days.

  3. Wear sunscreen! Proper sunscreen use will keep your skin healthy and help keep your glucose levels in range and avoid sunburn.

  4. Find an adhesive that works for your skin. Everyone's skin is different, so try different ones until you find the best adhesive for you. If you happen to experience an allergic reaction, one of the main treatments is a topical steroid cream, according to Wands.

  5. Above all, keep your glucose levels in range. Staying in a healthy glucose range is helpful for preventing and healing wounds, scar tissue, sunburns, and other diabetes-related complications. 

At the end of the day, Wands emphasized that “keeping your [glucose levels in range] has so many positive effects for your skin you don’t even realize.”

To find out more about how diabetes, and specifically how diabetes devices, can affect your skin, read our article: “Does Your Diabetes Device Bother Your Skin?

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About the authors

Natalie Sainz joined the diaTribe Foundation in 2021 after graduating from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science and International Relations. As an undergrad, Natalie worked in Carleton’s Office... Read the full bio »