Diabetes and skin conditions

skin conditions can indicate
on Tue 22 Mar


A problem with your skin is often the first sign of diabetes. This is because you are more prone to generalised bacterial infections, fungal infections and localised itching if you have diabetes. You are also vulnerable to developing skin infection which are specifically linked to diabetes.


Bacterial infections fungal infections and localised itching

When you have a bacterial infection the most common cause is Staphylococcus or Staph. The outward sign of such an infection is inflamed tissue which is red, swollen and painful.  This can take the form of


  • Styes on the eyelid
  • Boils
  • Infection of the hair follicle (known as folliculitis)
  • Carbuncles – a red raised bump normally appearing on the neck, back or thighs
  • Infection around your finger or toe nails – the medical term for this is ParonychiaI


I have written before about the most common culprit of fungal infections when you have diabetes - this is thrush or candida albicans.  In this blog post  I describe the triggers for its overproduction and  how to minimise your risk of that happening.


Thrush appears in the warm, moist areas of the body so if localised itching is elsewhere it could have been brought on by dry skin or poor circulation – both symptoms of diabetes. If it is caused by poor circulation you’re likely to experience itching in the lower part of your legs.


Skin conditions linked to diabetes

Your legs can also be affected by something called diabetic dermopathy. This manifests itself as brown scaly lesions normally on your shins but occasionally on your thighs, the side of your feet or your forearms.


Sometimes called “shin spots” these round or oval patches are caused by diabetes making changes to your blood vessels whereby there is some leakage into the skin.


50% of those with diabetes have these shin spots and they are more prevalent when diabetes has been longstanding or if the condition is being poorly controlled.


I have previously written about another diabetes related condition which colours areas of the skin. This is acanthus nigricans which manifests as brown velvety pigment appearing most commonly on the neck, underarms or groin. This blog post discusses the condition in some detail.


I have also covered the subject of skin tags which can be an indicator of diabetes or insulin resistance. You can read more about this here 


Another sign of diabetes being poorly controlled is a skin condition called eruptive xanthomatosis. These are yellow pea sized lipid deposits surrounded by a red circle which normally appear on the back of the hands, feet, legs, arms and buttocks but will disappear if the diabetes is brought back under control.


About 30% of people with type 1 diabetes get a condition called “digital sclerosis”. As is indicated by the name this causes finger joints to become stiff and unable to move. 


The actual cause of this is the development of tight, thick, waxy skin on the back of the joints. Like eruptive xanthomatosis, the condition can improve when diabetes is managed to improve blood glucose levels.


Reducing your risk of skin infections

As indicated above, good control of diabetes can prevent or arrest skin conditions so obviously this should be your priority.  However, there are other day to day measures you can take to minimise your risk.


As your skin has a tendency to be dry you can improve things by avoiding harsh shower gels and shampoos and by using skin lotion. Moisturising is particularly important during the winter months when you are more vulnerable to chapped or chafed skin outdoors and a dry atmosphere from central heating indoors.


Do take care of any minor cuts by washing them and covering them with sterile gauze. If you have any major cuts or injuries please go and see your GP


I hope this has been helpful.


Although every effort is made to ensure that all health advice on this website is accurate and up to date it is for information purposes and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional.


As the advice is general in nature rather than specific to individuals Dr Vanderpump cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use nor can he be held responsible for the content of any pages referenced by an external link


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