As you care for yourself with type 2 diabetes, you probably know to prioritize a diet that keeps your health steady, to practice regular movement, and testing your blood sugar on the reg. But the condition can have a major impact on your whole body—and that includes your skin (a.k.a. your largest organ), Emily Nosova, MD, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at Mount Sinai in New York City, tells SELF. “Skin complications are probably not spoken about enough,” she notes—despite the fact that roughly 80% of people with type 2 diabetes deal with them.1
Having high blood sugar levels for prolonged periods—which is a common type 2 diabetes complication—often damages nerves and blood vessels, which can weaken your skin barrier, dehydrate the skin, and prevent wounds from healing properly, Nikki Sullivan, MD, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, tells SELF. And a compromised skin barrier—paired with a dampened immune system response—tends to allow unwelcome guests (like bacteria) to get in, making skin infections more common.2 (Plus bacteria thrive on excess blood sugar.) You might also come across skin-related complications specifically tied to diabetes, like diabetic dermopathy (which are also called shin spots) and diabetic blisters, among other things, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some of those issues can result in raw, itchy, and even painful skin symptoms. But you’re far from stuck in this situation. A doctor can give you tips to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, which is the most effective way to keep your skin calm and happy, Dr. Nosova says. As you make a treatment plan, try these methods to be extra kind to your especially sensitive outer layer.
1. Get in all the cracks and crevices post-shower.
When you bathe, skip piping-hot water, which can strip moisture from your skin, and any harsh cleansers with fragrances, dyes, or alcohol, which can be irritating for people with diabetes, Dr. Sullivan says.
What comes next is the most important part, according to Dr. Sullivan: Dry off thoroughly. “One of the things people [with diabetes] often miss is to make sure skin folds are dry,” she says. This can help prevent fungal infections (which can thrive wherever moisture gets trapped or the skin experiences a lot of friction) and something called skin maceration, when the skin breaks down after being exposed to moisture for too long (and which can complicate wound healing3,4), Dr. Sullivan notes.