Is Diabetes Causing Your Skin Problems?

Many diabetes sufferers are unaware of the skin-related issues this disease can have on the skin. Among the most common diabetes skin symptoms are itching caused by dryness and poor circulation, brown patches of scaly skin on the legs and skin sores that won’t heal.

Diabetes skin symptoms

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are too high due to the body’s inability to produce insulin (Type 1) or the body’s inefficient production and use of insulin (Type 2). This disease affects many parts of the body, including complications that impact the skin. Decreased blood flow to the skin, damage to blood vessels and nerves, and diabetes’ effect on collagen within the skin lead to changes in skin texture and appearance, as well as its ability to heal.2 Skin signs of diabetes  are not to be taken lightly, and they can occur in cases of pre-diabetes or before a diagnosis is confirmed and if blood glucose levels are poorly managed. This is why it’s important to see your doctor or dermatologist if you experience unexpected skin changes of any kind.

Itchy, dry skin and rashes

One of the most common skin signs of diabetes and elevated glucose levels is dryness. The lower legs are usually the first to develop dry skin and subsequent itching. Controlling itch should be a priority to minimize scratching, since diabetics can have a harder time healing and fending off bacteria if the skin is broken or inflamed.2 Stabilizing diabetes and glucose levels can also help reduce dryness and itching.1,3

Skin discoloration and changes in texture

Diabetic dermopathy: Also known as “shin spots,” these diabetes skin symptoms involve light brown, oval or circular patches of scaly skin  on the lower legs due to damage to the small blood vessels that supply the tissues with nutrition and oxygen. Although this form of diabetes skin discoloration typically does not require treatment, it may persist even when blood glucose is well-controlled.1.3

Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD): Though rarer that diabetic dermopathy, NLD also causes patches of dark skin on the legs, and they are sometimes associated with extreme itch and pain. Though treatment is generally unnecessary, it is important to talk to your doctor about ways to prevent this condition from progressing.1,3

Acanthosis nigricans: Diabetes skin discoloration on the neck can be due to this condition. These patches of tan, brown, or gray raised skin may also appear in the groin and armpits as well as on the elbows and knees, and they often have a velvety feel and appearance. This type of diabetes skin discoloration is more prevalent in diabetic patients who are obese.1,3

One of the more serious skin signs of diabetes is difficulty healing after experiencing a cut or sore, so it’s essential to keep an eye on any injuries—especially on the lower legs and feet—to prevent infection.1 Again, any unusual changes in the skin should be evaluated by a dermatologist.