Having diabetes – either type 1 or type 2 – means skincare is a major part of staying healthy. This chronic disease has a higher risk of poor circulation leading to nerve damage resulting in numb, injury-prone hands and feet plus elevated blood sugars can slow down wound healing increasing the risk of infections.
Up to one-third of people with diabetes will develop a skin problem directly related to diabetes. The good news is most skin problems can be handled and easily treated when caught early by following a simple daily skincare routine. More serious skin issues should be seen and evaluated by your healthcare provider overseeing your disease to get treatment and prevent severe problems.
To keep the largest organ of your body soft, supple, and healthy when you have diabetes, here are tips on how to keep skin in great shape:
- Manage your blood sugar
The disease of diabetes requires constant management of keeping blood sugar levels within a normal range. When blood sugar is kept under control, this reduces the risk of complications. However, consistently elevated blood sugars will slow down wound healing increasing the risk of infections. High blood sugars can also make skin dry and prone to cracking and breaking open the door to infections. If an infection occurs, having high blood sugars makes the infection harder to fight, especially if it affects the hands or feet.
- Keep skin clean
Take regular showers or baths and use lotion to moisturize arm, hands, legs, and tops of feet and heels. If needed, use talcum powder in areas where skin touches skin, such as armpits or abdomen.
- Avoid hot baths and showers
Showering or bathing in hot water may feel good but is very drying to your skin. Set your hot water heater at a level not to exceed 120 degrees and avoid lingering in a shower or bathtub for more than 10 to 15 minutes. If your skin is dry, don’t use bubble baths; instead use moisturizing soaps. Afterward, use a standard skin lotion, but don’t put lotions between toes. The extra moisture there can encourage fungus to grow.
- Prevent dry skin
Scratching dry or itchy skin can open it up and allow infection to set in. Moisturize your skin to prevent chapping, especially in cold or windy weather.
- Treat cuts/wounds right away
Wash minor cuts with soap and water. Only use an antibiotic cream or ointment if your doctor says it’s okay. Cover minor cuts with sterile gauze. See a doctor right away if you get a major cut, burn, or infection.
- Practice good habits during cold weather
When the weather turns cold or windy, skin can chap easily. It’s important to make certain to prevent dry, chapping skin. First, use a humidifier making sure your indoor air is not too dry. Use lip balm more frequently, especially when outdoors keeping lips soft. Always wear gloves or mittens and a scarf when outdoors protecting against frostbite and cold air in general.
- Drink plenty of fluids
To keep your skin hydrated and moist, drink more water throughout each day. Research has shown that healthy adults who drink four or more 8-ounce glasses of water a day were less likely to develop high blood sugar than those drinking less than two glasses a day. This is believed to be due to an increase in levels of a hormone called vasopressin when a person is dehydrated, which causes the liver to produce more blood sugar.
- Eat hydrating foods
Eating foods with a high water content help keep skin hydrated. All fruits and vegetables should be your go-to foods for hydration. The standouts with particularly high water content are all berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries – also watermelon, oranges, and kiwi fruit, and veggies such as cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, green cabbage, spinach, and broccoli.
- Check feet daily
It’s critical to check both the tops and bottoms of your feet daily. Feet, are particularly vulnerable to nerve-damage that may result in numbness making it easy to miss blisters, splinters, or small cuts. In addition, many people with diabetes have poor blood circulation which means any injury on the feet are more prone to infection and slow to heal. This increases the risk for gangrene and other problems.
Before going to bed, check your feet. Look at the tops and bottoms of your feet for any changes in color, texture, numb areas and any other signs of something that is different. If you have a callus, do not remove it yourself. Calluses are often caused by poor-fitting shoes or from too much rubbing or pressure on a spot that is numb. If you try to cut through a callus, it can injure the skin and can quickly escalate into a more major problem. If there is any injury or change, see your doctor to have it evaluated.