If you have diabetes, you may be at risk for developing a skin rash.
A diabetes skin rash is a condition that can cause irritation, inflammation, redness on the skin, and many other symptoms.
In some cases, it can also lead to blisters or sores and if left untreated can even cause amputation.
There are several different types of diabetes skin rashes, and each one requires different treatment.
In this article, we will discuss what you need to know about a diabetes skin rash and cover the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this condition.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic syndrome that affects how the body uses glucose, which is the sugar in your body.
Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells and is converted into energy by the hormone insulin, and when it is not being used by the cells properly it can lead to high blood sugar due to the excess glucose.
When you have diabetes your body rejects insulin or doesn’t make enough of it which can lead to serious health problems.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
This type of diabetes usually develops in children or young adults but can develop at any age.
Type 2 diabetes is when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin produced doesn’t work properly due to the cells developing insulin resistance.
It is the most common type of diabetes and usually develops in adulthood but can occur in childhood if a child is obese or has a family history of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is when women have high blood sugar during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born.
What is a diabetes skin rash?
One of the first warning signs you may notice if you have high blood sugar are skin problems and it can also be a sign of prediabetes.
Skin problems are common in people with diabetes and can include a diabetes skin rash.
Some of these rashes are specific to people with diabetes while others happen to people with diabetes more often.
The rashes can be cosmetic, meaning there is a rash but there are no other symptoms like itchy skin, while others can be more of a nuisance and even painful.
What causes a diabetes skin rash?
A diabetes skin rash is a common complication of diabetes and is caused by the high blood sugar levels that are associated with diabetes.
The high blood sugar levels force the body to pull more fluid from the cells to help produce urine, which can cause dehydration and dry skin.
This can lead to a variety of skin problems, including a diabetes skin rash.
When you have diabetes, you can also damage your nerves, usually in your extremities.
Damaged nerves can also lead to skin problems as your hands and feet may not get the signal to sweat, which helps keep your skin soft and hydrated.
There also is a chance that your diabetes medications can cause these issues too.
For this reason and others, it is important to talk to your doctor or health care provider should you have diabetes and develop these skin problems.
What skin conditions are caused by diabetes?
There are a few diabetes-specific skin conditions that can be caused by high blood sugar levels, including diabetes dermopathy, necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD), and diabetic foot syndrome.
Let’s take a look at these conditions and others below.
Blisters (bullosis diabeticorum)
People with diabetes can get diabetic blisters on their skin, usually on their extremities.
These blisters are rare and usually only appear when you have diabetic neuropathy, which is damage to your nerves due to diabetes.
This is a diabetes-specific skin condition that causes light brown, scaly spots on the skin, most likely on your shins.
They are similar to age spots and treatment is usually not necessary for them.
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD)
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum is another diabetes-specific skin condition that can cause patches of red spots with a yellow center that can be itchy and painful on your legs.
Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum is more common in women than men.
Digital sclerosis is a skin condition that causes thick waxy skin on the backs of your hands, which can lead to pain and stiff finger joints.
Scleredema adultorum of Buschke
Similar to digital sclerosis, scleredema adultorum of Buschke is usually caused by diabetes.
This disease results in tightening and thickening of skin around the back, face, neck, and shoulders.
Diabetic foot syndrome
Diabetic foot syndrome is a serious complication of diabetes that can lead to foot amputation if not treated.
It usually affects the bottom of your feet and can cause a variety of symptoms, including blisters, foot ulcers, also called diabetic ulcers, that don’t heal which can also become infected.
What other skin conditions can you get that aren’t diabetes specific?
The skin conditions listed above are primarily caused by diabetes.
However, there are others that anyone can suffer from, but people with diabetes are more prone to them. These include:
Acanthosis nigricans (AN)
Acanthosis nigricans is a skin condition that causes dark, velvet-looking, bands of skin on the neck, armpits, and groin.
This condition is often associated with obesity, which is a risk factor for diabetes and can be a sign of high blood sugar or prediabetes.
Acquired reactive perforating collagenosis (ARPC)
Acquired reactive perforating collagenosis is a skin condition in which your body produces too much collagen. This can cause small, red, itchy, bumps on the surface of your skin.
ARPC is more common in people with diabetes and usually affects people with kidney problems too.
Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the loss of pigment in your skin, which can lead to white patches on your body.
This is more common in people with diabetes and is more likely to affect people with type 1 diabetes. It can cause itchiness and pain although it isn’t common.
Disseminated granuloma annulare (DGA)
Disseminated granuloma annulare is a skin condition that causes raised, red, light brown, or flesh-colored bumps on the surface of your skin that can be itchy.
DGA is more common in people with diabetes and takes the form of rings or bands on your extremities or ears.
This skin condition has small, hard, yellow bumps that may be surrounded by red skin.
It can appear on your extremities or buttocks and is most common in men with high cholesterol who have type 1 diabetes.
Skin tags are small, flesh-colored, or slightly darker bumps that hang off the skin and typically occur on the neck, underarms, groin, and eyelids and are thought to be caused by the friction from skin folds in these areas.
Lichen planus is a condition that causes purple, itchy rashes on the inside of your wrists or ankles and sometimes the inside of your mouth. It may also take on a pattern of white lace in some cases.
While some of these conditions are diabetes specific and others aren’t, they can all be a nuisance and can cause pain, discomfort, and embarrassment.
It’s important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing any changes in your skin so that your doctor can help determine the cause and provide treatment, if necessary.
Are there any other skin conditions caused by diabetes?
Although someone with diabetes can get any skin condition at any time you are also prone to other skin conditions that aren’t rashes.
- Bacterial infection
- Allergic reaction
- Dry skin
- Fungal infection
It’s important to be aware of these conditions and to consult your doctor if you are experiencing any changes in your skin so that you can get the treatment you need.
Although diabetes can cause some troublesome skin conditions, they can all be treated and managed with the help of a health care professional.
Is it possible to prevent diabetes skin conditions?
There is no one definitive answer to this question as everyone’s situation is different.
The main thing you can do is monitor and manage your blood sugar as these conditions are less likely to arise when your blood sugar is in the proper range.
However, there are some things that you can do to lower your risk of developing diabetes-related skin conditions including:
- Check your skin for any blemishes daily
- Use a humidifier
- Bathe in warm water, make sure it isn’t hot as this can irritate the skin
- Use moisturizing soap
- Pat the skin dry with a towel after a bath or shower, rubbing the skin can cause more irritation
- Use a moisturizer on your skin after a bath or shower
- Use special moisturizers containing urea on your feet for hard, dry, or cracked skin
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
- Take care of cuts and wounds by cleaning them with soap and water and applying fresh bandages
These are just a few basic measures that you can take to help reduce your risk of developing diabetes skin conditions. Speak to your doctor or dermatologist for more specific advice on how to best manage diabetes and protect your skin.
Diabetes can cause a number of skin conditions if you don’t manage your blood glucose levels and take care of your skin.
These conditions happen due to high blood sugar levels causing dehydration or nerve damage. Some of the conditions are diabetes specific like diabetes dermopathy, digital sclerosis, and diabetic foot syndrome.
Others are not caused by only diabetes but people who have diabetes are more likely to get them, such as vitiligo, eruptive xanthomatosis, and skin tags.
All of them can be unsightly while others can cause pain and itching and inhibit your quality of life.
The best way to prevent these conditions is to manage your blood sugar levels while also having a good skincare routine. If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor or dermatologist.
References and Sources:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
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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 Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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