Skin Complications

If you have diabetes, it can affect every part of your body, including your skin. Some skin problems are issues that anyone can have while others are specific to diabetes. 

General skin conditions

People with diabetes are more prone to common skin conditions including bacterial infections, fungal infections and itching.

  • Bacterial infections – If you have a bacterial infection, it usually results in tissues that are hot, swollen, red and painful. Several different types of bacteria, the most common being Staphylococcus (staph), can cause infections. You can reduce your chances of these infections if you practice good skin care. If you think you have a bacterial infection, see your doctor.
  • Fungal infections – People with diabetes usually get a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans, which creates itchy rashes of moist, red areas surrounded by tiny blisters and scales. These infections tend to develop in warm, moist folds of skin, including under breasts, around nails, between fingers and toes, in the corners of the mouth, under the foreskin in uncircumcised men, and in the armpits and groin. Other common fungal infections include jock itch, athlete’s foot, ringworm and vaginal infections that cause itching. If you think you have a fungal infection, see your doctor.
  • Itching – Diabetes can often cause itching due to dry skin, poor circulation or a yeast infection. If you have poor circulation, you may itch in the lower parts of your legs. One of the ways to treat itching is to limit how often you bathe, especially if the humidity is low. You can also use mild soap and apply moisturizer after bathing.

Diabetes-related skin conditions

The conditions below are more common in people who have diabetes.

  • Acanthosis nigricans - This is a condition in which tan or brown raised areas appear on the skin around the sides of the neck, armpits and groin. It’s more common in people who are overweight. There are creams that can help the skin look better.
  • Diabetic dermopathy – This often looks like light brown, scaly patches that may be oval or circular. Some people think they are age spots. They are caused by changes in the small blood vessels and often appear on the front of both legs. They do not hurt, bleed or itch and are considered harmless.
  • Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum – This condition causes spots that start as a dull, raised area and then change to look like a shiny scar with a violet border after a while. Sometimes the area can be itchy and painful and the spots can crack open. It’s a rare condition more common in adult women. It only needs to be treated if the spots crack open.
  • Allergic reactions – Look out for allergic reactions in response to medicines you are taking for your diabetes. If you are injecting insulin, check for rashes, depressions or bumps at the injection site. Talk to your doctor about any allergy symptoms.
  • Diabetic blisters – If your blood sugar is high, you may get diabetic blisters on the backs of fingers, hands, toes, feet and sometimes legs or forearms. They are painless with no redness around them and should heal by themselves in about three weeks.
  • Eruptive xanthomatosis – This is another condition that could happen if your blood sugar levels are too high. It looks like firm, yellow itchy bumps the size if a pea with a red halo. You will often see these on the backs of hands, feet, arms, legs and buttocks. It’s most common in young men with Type 1 diabetes and usually goes away once the diabetes is under control.
  • Digital sclerosis – About 30 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes that is not under control will develop tight, thick, waxy skin on the backs of hands, on the toes and sometimes on the forehead. It can cause finger joints to become stiff and no longer move the way they should. Sometimes it can affect knees, ankles and elbows. The only way to treat it is to bring your blood sugar down to appropriate levels.
  • Disseminated granuloma annulare – This rash is defined by a ring- or arc-shaped raised area on the skin. It can be red, red-brown or skin-colored and most often can be found on appendages such as fingers and ears. Talk to your doctor if you see rashes like this.