Can diabetes cause skin damage?

Ben Kaminsky
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

People with diabetes experience a wide array of skin problems. Some problems are triggered by the medications necessary to treat the illness, while other problems include infections which can be life threatening. Problems associated with this disease include thickening of skin, stiffness in joints, yellowing of skin, and the appearance of small round colored spots on lower legs. Talk to a doctor to determine the severity of skin symptoms if you have diabetes.

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Look for symptoms of acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition commonly caused by elevated levels of insulin. Excess insulin causes skin cells to multiply and creates too much melanin, resulting in dark, velvety patches of thicker skin in body folds and creases. These areas are most commonly found around the neck, armpits and groin area. There is no burning or itching associated with acanthosis nigricans, which can lead people to believe darkening skin is normal. While there are some creams available that can thin the thickened skin, it is crucial to see a doctor as the changes in your skin could be indicative of type 2 diabetes.

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Diabetes can hurt your skin in two ways. They are as follows:

If your blood glucose is high, your body loses fluid. With less fluid in your body, your skin can get dry. Dry skin can be itchy, causing you to scratch and make it sore. Also, dry skin can crack. Cracks allow germs to enter and cause infection. If your blood glucose is high, it feeds germs and makes infections worse. You may get dry skin on your legs, feet, elbows, and other places on your body. Nerve damage can decrease the amount you sweat. Sweating helps keep your skin soft and moist. Decreased sweating in your feet and legs can cause dry skin.

This information is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The complications related to skin damage that can occur in diabetic patients are most commonly related to impaired wound healing and altered skin sensation. In addition, diabetes can predispose you to skin infections by affecting the body's ability to fight infection.

Other skin changes that might suggest you have diabetes include the following:

  • darkened skin behind the neck, in the groin area, or in the axilla (armpit)
  • wounds or sores that do not heal well
  • dry or thickened skin

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.