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Diabetic Skin Troubles

We often take our skin for granted. But if you’ve ever had an itchy rash or a boil, you know how painful even a small skin problem can be. About 3 out of 10 people with diabetes develop a skin problem sooner or later. Fortunately, most problems can be prevented or easily treated. Here are 4 common problems and how to prevent them.

Dry, itchy skin

When blood glucose is high, your body loses fluid. Diabetic nerve damage can also decrease sweating. Both can lead to dry skin.

To prevent dry skin, manage your blood sugar and drink plenty of fluids. Water, unsweetened tea, sugar-free sports drinks, and sugar-free carbonated drinks are good choices.

When bathing, don't use very hot water. Use mild soap. Then, dry well and put moisturizer on your skin. But don't put the moisturizer between the toes or in skin folds. Excess moisture in these areas can lead to fungal infections. Try using a humidifier in your home during cold, dry weather. And try not to scratch if your skin is itchy.


People with diabetes can often develop calluses over pressure points on their toes. These calluses can also develop into skin sores (ulcers). Don't try to cut the callus yourself. Tell your healthcare provider about it and they can cut the callus. To prevent the callus from becoming too thick, gently rub the callus with a pumice stone every day. Do this when your skin is wet, such as after bathing. Then use a moisturizing lotion afterward. Calluses can be largely prevented by wearing custom-designed diabetic shoes and inserts. And check your shoes daily for foreign objects and any rough or worn spots that can lead to irritation and infection. Wear broad, flat shoes that fit well.

Fungal infection

Vaginal yeast infections, athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm show up as itchy, red rashes, sometimes with tiny blisters. Often fungal infections can be caused by Candida albicans. This is a fungus that takes hold in warm, moist folds of skin. A certain new type of diabetes medicine (the SGLT-2 inhibitors) increases the likelihood of getting a fungal infection, especially genital and urinary tract infections

To prevent fungal infections, keep your skin clean, and dry well after bathing. Don't use feminine hygiene sprays. If you get a fungal infection, tell your healthcare provider right away. You may need prescription medicine.

Bacterial infection

Sores that are red, swollen, and painful may be from bacterial infections. Infected eyelid glands (styes), boils, and an infected hair follicle (folliculitis) are common. A carbuncle is a deeper skin infection. Styes, boils, and carbuncles are often caused by staph bacteria (Staphylococcus).

To prevent bacterial infections, take care of dry skin and don't scratch it. Scratching can crack the skin, allowing an infection to start. Check your skin daily, including your feet. Clean and bandage sores and cuts. Keep blood sugar controlled so that you can better prevent a bacterial infection. If a problem doesn’t go away, or you think you have an infection, see your healthcare provider right away.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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