Diabetes and Your Skin: the good, the bad, and the ugly
November is Diabetes awareness month so what greater time to talk about diabetes and your skin? Here’s the ugly truth: diabetics are at increased risk of all sorts of skin problems. One of the consequences of having diabetes is that it can cause your nerves to work improperly. This condition is called neuropathy. Your sweat glands are controlled by nerves, so when you have a problem with your nerves, you don’t produce sweat like you’re supposed to. This leads to dry skin, itching, and scratching especially in the winter.
High blood sugars alone cause dry skin. One of the ways that your body tries to fix the problem of high blood sugar is by making you urinate more. Extra loss of body water, in turn, causes you to become dehydrated and the skin becomes dry. Additionally, uncontrolled diabetes causes decreased blood flow to the skin which keeps your body from being able to repair and replenish itself.
High blood sugars put you at greater risk of infections, including those on the skin. A simple ingrown hair can become a painful abscess. A minor scratch can lead to a skin condition called cellulitis. When diabetes is not controlled, yeast that naturally live on our skin are allowed to over-grow which can lead to intense itching, redness, and infection.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of these problems can be prevented. Here’s what you need to do:
1) Control your blood sugars by taking your diabetes medicine the way your doctor asked you to. Don’t skip doses without talking with you doctor or nurse.
2) Try to limit simple sugars from things like sweets, alcohol, and packaged snack foods. Eat whole foods instead like berries and whipped cream for a sweet treat. Focus on lean protein, whole grains, and veggies.
3) Drink plenty of water. Lots of sources say that you need 8 glasses daily, but everyone doesn’t need that much. An easy way to know if you’re getting in enough is to look at the color of your urine. If it’s yellow, you’re not drinking enough. Your urine should be clear.
4) Moisturize dry skin at least once daily. This will cut down on the itching and reduce your skin’s risk of injury. Your skin cannot replenish itself without the proper amount of moisture. Emollient based lotions and body butters are best for dry skin because they are better at sealing in moisture than water-based lotions.
5) Check your skin for cracks, scratches, and sores. It’s possible to have a skin injury and not be aware of it because the nerves that supply the skin can become damaged and you lose sensation. Calluses on the feet can become pretty thick and that build-up of dead skin also causes decreased sensation
6) Wear socks. The most frequent sight of diabetic sores is on the feet. Wearing socks will decrease the risk of injury from minor trauma like a splinter. An extra bonus is that wearing socks after applying lotion or body butter will help seal in that moisture overnight.