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Simple Winter Skin Care Tips for Diabetics

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According to the American Association of Diabetes Educators, as many as 30 million Americans have diabetes – that’s more than 9% of the population[1]. What you may be shocked to learn is that as many as 7 million of those people remain undiagnosed. While diabetes is a chronic condition that can be managed, it can lead to some serious complications if left untreated.

Chronically elevated blood sugar levels can be very damaging to the body. If you don’t manage your diabetes, you could end up with complications affecting the nerves, kidneys, eyes, feet, and even your skin. Keep reading to learn more about how diabetes affects your skin and how to protect it this winter.

How Does Diabetes Affect the Skin?

When you think of high blood sugar, you probably think of the sudden spikes and crashes that come occur when you eat a sugary snack. If you fail to manage your diabetes on a day to day basis, however, high blood sugar can lead to a number of serious problems, many of which affect your skin. In fact, as many as 1 in 3 people with diabetes develop some kind of skin problem. Some of the most common skin problems linked to diabetes include the following[2]:

  • Pruritus, or itchy skin
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Acanthosis nigricans
  • Diabetic blisters
  • Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Eruptive xanthomatosis
  • Diabetic dermopathy
  • Digital sclerosis

Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so you need to protect it by keeping your diabetes under control. If you fail to manage your diabetes properly, it could cause your skin to become dry and cracked. Openings in the skin can allow dirt, bacteria, and other pathogens to enter which can then trigger an infection. If you have diabetes, it is possible that your immune system is already compromised so it might not be able to fight off that infection before it makes you sick. It is also common for diabetics to heal slowly due to problems with nerve damage and circulation, so even a minor skin issue can lead to major problems if you aren’t careful.

Tips for Caring for Your Skin in Winter

Though as many as 1 in 3 people with diabetes develop skin problems, these conditions are usually easy to treat if you catch them early. Every time you take a shower, you should examine your skin for signs of abnormalities and talk to your doctor if you notice any changes. It is also a good idea to do some simple daily skin care tasks such as keeping your skin clean and dry, moisturizing your skin, and avoiding harsh chemicals and beauty products.

In the winter, your skin is automatically drier and more prone to cracking which can usher in the problems mentioned above. If you want to take care of your skin, there are some simple things you can do – here are a few of them:

  1. Avoid hot showers. While a hot shower may seem like a great way to warm up in the winter, hot water can actually dry out your skin, making it irritated, itchy, and prone to cracking. Use warm water instead of hot and test the water with your elbow before getting in to make sure it isn’t hot enough to burn your sensitive skin.
  2. Hydrate from the inside out. Even though you may feel cold, your body is still warm – that’s right, you will still be sweating during the winter. In addition to sweating, you’re also urinating so you need to take extra precautions to keep your body hydrated. Drink enough water that your urine is clear to light yellow in color.
  3. Moisturize often. In addition to keeping your body hydrated, you should also keep your skin moisturized. Be careful about which moisturizers you use, however, because synthetic fragrances and other added chemicals can damage your sensitive skin. Use only enough moisturizer to keep your skin from becoming too dry – using too much could turn your skin into a breeding ground for fungal infections.
  4. Wash with soap and water. When it comes time to test your blood sugar, wash your hands with soap and warm water instead of using an alcohol swab to clean the area. When your hands are cold and dry, it can be difficult to test – washing your hands in warm water will boost blood flow in addition to killing germs and bacteria.
  5. Wear protective layers. In winter you should protect your hands and feet to keep the skin from drying out. This means wearing gloves or mittens on your hands as well as socks and quality shoes or boots on your feet. If you wear thick socks to keep your feet warm, just make sure they don’t make your shoes too tight because it could cause calluses or blisters to form which could become infected.

Although diabetes has the potential to cause some serious complications, managing the disease is fairly straightforward. You’ll need to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and supplement your insulin as needed. Follow a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, so you maintain a healthy body weight, and follow any additional instructions your doctor has for you. And don’t forget to take good care of your skin as well!

[1] Kemmis, Karen. “The 2017 National Diabetes Statistics Report is Here.” AADE. <https://www.diabeteseducator.org/news/aade-blog/aade-blog-details/karen-kemmis-pt-dpt-ms-cde-faade/2017/07/26/the-2017-national-diabetes-statistics-report-is-here>

[2] “Diabetes and Your Skin.” WebMD. <https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/related-skin-conditions#1>

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