Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes and Skin Problems: Rashes, Prevention, and More

We will discuss the different types of rashes and skin conditions that diabetics are susceptible to although people without diabetes…(continue reading)

If you are a diabetic, you may be more prone to skin problems than someone who does not have diabetes.

The reason for this is mainly due to high blood sugar levels and poor circulation which can affect the health of your skin.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of rashes that can occur only if you are diabetic.

We will discuss the different types of rashes and skin conditions that diabetics are susceptible to although people without diabetes can also get them, as well as ways to prevent them all from occurring.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes blood sugar which is also called glucose.

You get your blood sugar from the food and drink you consume which then breaks down into glucose and is absorbed into your bloodstream.

When you have diabetes, either your pancreas does not make enough insulin or your body can not use the insulin properly.

Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells which the cells then convert into energy.

High glucose levels caused by uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, and chronic kidney disease.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is caused by an autoimmune reaction in which your body attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin in your pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes, which is much more common, is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors.

With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas still produces insulin but your body has become insulin resistant.

If your body is insulin resistant it means your cells are less sensitive to insulin and do not always use it properly so blood sugar levels can rise.

CDC Diabetes Infographic
CDC Diabetes Infographic

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The most common symptom of diabetes is increased thirst and urination as well as extreme fatigue and weakness. Other symptoms can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Increased appetite
  • Slow healing cuts and bruises
  • Tingling or numbness in your extremities
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Increased irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Increased chances of infections (including skin infections)
  • Dry, itchy skin

If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible so they can test for diabetes.

What is a diabetes rash?

If you have diabetes, a skin rash may be one of the first signs of it.

Your skin can become dry and itchy and is also more prone to infection which can lead to a variety of different rashes.

A diabetes rash is a skin condition that can affect you if you have either type of diabetes and is usually caused by poor blood circulation or high blood glucose levels.

It can have numerous different appearances based on the type of rash that is affecting you. In some cases, a diabetes rash can also lead to fungal infections.

If you have a diabetes rash, it is important to see your doctor or health care so they can determine what it is and the best treatment options for you.

Diabetes Skin Conditions: Diabetes Rash

What rashes are caused by diabetes?

Certain skin conditions can only be caused by diabetes and these include:

Diabetes foot syndrome

Due to poor blood flow and nerve damage if the skin on your foot becomes damaged it may develop into an ulcer which may take a long time to heal and has a high risk for infection.

If these ulcers persist, you may need to get your foot amputated.

Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum 

Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD) is a rare condition that usually only affects those who have had the disease for many years and women are more susceptible to it than men.

It is characterized by raised, shiny, red patches with a yellowish-brown plaque in the center.

These patches normally occur on your lower legs and can be painful and itchy.

Diabetic blisters

Diabetic blisters, also called bullosis diabeticorum, are often painless blisters that are visible on your extremities and often occur if you have nerve damage due to diabetes which is called diabetic neuropathy.

Digital sclerosis

Digital sclerosis is a condition that can cause the skin on your hands and feet to thicken, harden, and have the appearance of waxy skin while also making it difficult to move your joints.

Shin spots

You are more likely to develop shin spots, also called diabetes dermopathy, if you have diabetes. These spots look like brown age spots on your shin and are painless and go away on their own.

What other skin conditions are diabetics susceptible to?

You are more susceptible to other skin conditions too if you have diabetes, although these skin conditions can also happen to others who are not diabetic. The most common include:

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is a condition that can cause an itchy rash with purple bumps usually on your wrists, ankles, or in your mouth.

The rash may also have a white, lacy pattern that looks like lichen which is where it gets its name even though it is not caused by lichen.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition that can cause the loss of skin color in blotches.

The patches are usually white and can occur on any part of your body and rarely cause itchiness or pain. It is more common in those who have diabetes, although the exact reason is unknown.

Acanthosis nigricans 

Acanthosis nigricans (AN) is a condition that causes patches of skin to thicken, darken, and have a velvety texture and usually occurs on your armpits, groin, or neck.

It can also be commonly caused by obesity, insulin resistance due to diabetes, or prediabetes, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes where you have elevated blood sugar levels but they are not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Skin tags

Skin tags are flesh-colored or dark growths that hang off the skin and look a bit like warts.

They are usually harmless but can be bothersome if they occur in areas where clothing rubs against them or if they become caught on jewelry.

Those with diabetes often develop these in areas with skin folds such as on the neck, armpits, or groin.

Acquired reactive perforating collagenosis 

Acquired reactive perforating collagenosis (ARPC) is a rare condition that usually causes raised red bumps.

The exact cause of ARPC is unknown but it has been associated with diabetes and renal conditions such as kidney disease.

Disseminated granuloma annulare 

Disseminated granuloma annulare (DGA) is a condition that can cause raised, reddish or yellow bumps on the skin that often form in a ring-like shape.

The bumps usually do not itch and occur most often on your hands, feet, fingers, and ears.

Eruptive xanthomatosis

Eruptive xanthomatosis is a condition that can cause yellow, pea-sized bumps filled with cholesterol and possibly ringed in red to form on your skin, often on the back of your hands, arms, feet, or buttocks.

The bumps are usually tender and itchy and occur more often in young men with type 1 diabetes.

Fungal infections

Fungal infections of the skin are more common in those with diabetes as well as other conditions that can cause changes in blood sugar levels such as pregnancy.

The most common type of fungal infection is caused by the yeast Candida albicans which most often occurs where there is friction between your skin such as under your breasts, in your armpits, groin, and between your fingers and toes.

Other common fungal infections include athlete’s foot, ringworm, and jock itch. Antifungal medications are the most common treatment option for fungal infections. 

Dry skin

Dry skin is a common problem for those with diabetes as well as the elderly and can be caused by several factors such as changes in blood sugar levels, dehydration, and using certain medications.

Dry skin can lead to cracking, which can provide an entry point for bacteria and lead to infection.

Xanthelasma

Xanthelasma is yellow deposits of excess cholesterol that can form on your eyelids and usually occur in those who have high cholesterol levels.

While they are not harmful, they can be a sign of underlying health conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol.

Bacterial infections

Bacterial skin infections are more common in those with diabetes due to a higher risk of skin infections and the most common type of bacterial infection is caused by staphylococcus bacteria, also called staph.

Bacterial infections can manifest themselves as styes, folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles), infected nails, boils, or carbuncles. The infection may be red, itchy, hot, and cause a lot of pain.

How can you prevent skin problems with diabetes?

There are a few things you can do to prevent skin problems with diabetes such as:

  • Managing your blood sugar levels and keeping them under control as this will help to prevent some of the skin conditions that are associated with changes in blood sugar levels
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated will help to keep your skin from drying out
  • Using a humidifier to keep the air in your home moist during dry months and help prevent your skin from drying out
  • Taking warm showers (not hot showers) using moisturizing soap and patting yourself dry without rubbing the towel on your skin as it could cause irritation
  • Using a moisturizing cream on your body after every shower
  • Checking for changes on your skin daily
  • Treating all wounds immediately with warm water and mild soap to help prevent infections

To help manage your diabetes it would also help if you exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight. If you have any concerns about your skin or are experiencing any changes, be sure to consult with your doctor or dermatologist.

Summary

Diabetes is a condition that can cause a variety of skin problems.

Above, we covered the most common skin problems associated with diabetes such as rashes, fungal infections, bacterial infections, and dry skin.

There are also ways to prevent some of these problems but managing your blood sugar levels is the best way to help prevent skin problems associated with diabetes.

If you have any concerns about your skin, please consult with your doctor or dermatologist about the best treatment options for you.

References and sources:

Mayo Clinic 

Cleveland Clinic 

WebMD

Healthline

Diabetes.org

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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