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Does having Diabetes Mellitus damage your Skin?

Does having Diabetes Mellitus Cause Skin Conditions?

As part of our recent partnership with Team Novo Nordisk, a pro cycling team composed solely of athletes with Type I Diabetes Mellitus. I wanted to write a blog post in their honor.


In this blog post, we'll delve into the effects of diabetes on the skin, shedding light on the challenges individuals with diabetes may face and providing insights on how to prevent and care for skin conditions that are more frequent in people living with Diabetes.

Furthermore, I’ll provide some tips and tricks on how to keep your skin healthy while working out, as exercise is fundamental for better sugar (glucose) control.


What are the most frequent skin conditions caused by Diabetes?

Diabetes is a complex metabolic condition that affects various organs in the body, and one often overlooked area is the skin. The skin, being the body's largest organ, is also impacted by diabetes.

I’ll mention the most frequent skin issues that people living with diabetes experience and I will talk about diabetic foot in another blog.


What is Dry Skin?

Diabetes can lead to dry skin, a condition known as xerosis or ichthyosiform changes. High blood sugar levels can cause the skin to lose moisture, leaving it dry, itchy, and prone to cracking. The prevalence of these changes in type 1 diabetes has been reported to be as high as 48%.

Diabetes Care published an article that found that a shocking 71% of people living with Diabetes presents a skin concern vs people without diabetes.


What does Dry Skin look like?

Dry skin is characterized by areas of dryness and scaling that are often referred to as “fish scales” because of their resemblance.

When high blood levels of glucose or sugar affect the skin’s small vessels (microangiopathic changes) it can present light brown, scaly patches on the skin and the condition is called Diabetic dermopathy.
For more information you can read Diabetes and Your Skin an article written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevalent areas for dry skin

  • Shins

            Anterior shins are the most common area to be affected in men and women.

  • Hands and feet

            Can also show signs of dry skin and the itchiness that it entitles.


How to prevent and care for dry skin

1. Always shower after a workout to remove dirt, sweat, and contaminants that irritate the skin.

- Use a syndet soap, synthetic soap, is better than regular soap as it cleans deeply without damaging the integrity of your skin and leaves your skin feeling moisturized.

- After showering pat dry with your skin without rubbing.

2. Apply moisturizer and/or keratolytic agents that help keep your skin hydrated and lock moisture in.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology - Applying moisturizer after a bath is key because it provides an artificial barrier that can help prevent water loss and also keep out bacteria, viruses, and irritants that we don't want to get into the skin. 

The American Diabetes Association and the International Diabetes Federation have developed a series of guidelines that emphasize the importance of daily cleansing, moisturizing, and self-skin inspection.

For more information you can visit this link.

Emollients like urea are often recommended to enhance hydration and prevent dryness and patches of hard dry skin.

a cream for bumpy skin contains urea 20% and shea butter which deeply hydrates your skin and smooths dry flaky skin making it the perfect cream to prevent and alleviate discomfort and leave your skin protected for your next workout.


What is Acanthosis Nigricans?

Acanthosis nigricans is a common dermatological manifestation of systemic disorders associated with insulin resistance and may indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

There are other causes of this skin condition, like endocrine disorders and cancer that we aren’t going to explain in this blog post. This skin disease is caused by the increased production of keratinocytes (skin cells) and dermal fibroblasts.

To learn more about the Acanthosis nigricans you can visit this link.


What does Acanthosis Nigricans look like?

Acanthosis nigricans is characterized by dark brown, velvety patches of thickening of the skin, usually on the neck, armpits, or groin (areas of high friction).

Managing blood sugar levels is crucial in addressing this skin manifestation.



Prevalent areas for acanthosis nigricans

The usual distribution is symmetrical and affects areas with high friction and perspiration such as folds. The neck and axillae are the most common areas. It can also affect the forehead, groin, and umbilicus.


How to treat acanthosis nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is a sign of an underlying disease so the treatment has to be directed to the disease causing it. Correction of insulin resistance by maintaining a low-calorie diet and physical activity has been linked to improvement of this skin condition.

Other options for treatment are to prevent friction during exercising with an anti-chafing cream. a body block to fight friction creates a barrier that prevents friction during your workout.


What is Keratosis Pilaris or Chicken skin?


Keratosis Pilaris is so common that many classify this bumpy skin as a type of skin. This genetic skin condition is believed to be associated with sensitive skin and a low level of Vitamin A.


What does Keratosis Pilaris look like?

It is characterized by multiple small bumps that have a rough texture and if manipulated they release a white material. These bumps resemble the texture of chicken skin and can be bothersome for those affected for cosmetic reasons. 



Prevalent areas for Keratosis Pilaris

            Keratosis pilaris presents as roughbumpy patches on the skin. The bumps are usually small and may have a red or flesh-colored appearance. Common locations for these bumps include the arms, thighs, cheeks, and buttocks.        

How to prevent and care for Keratosis Pilaris

To prevent keratosis pilaris or minimize its severity, consider the following measures:

  • 1) Keep the skin moisturized and well-hydrated. We recommend a cream for bumpy skin that contains Urea 20%, an active ingredient used to soften skin and treat KP.
It acts by smoothing and removing the extra superficial layers of your skin including keratin, the cause of this condition. It also contains shea butter, a natural moisturizer that deeply hydrates your skin.

      • 2) Use gentle cleansers and avoid harsh soaps or skincare products. an after workout body wash is a syndet body wash that is perfect for diabetic athletes with sensitive skin. It cleans without damaging your skin’s barrier.
      • 3) Exfoliants tend to irritate sensitive skin, a cream for bumpy skin contains urea which is a natural exfoliant that doesn’t irritate sensitive skin. 
      • 4) Avoid excessive heat or hot water during showers. Hot water damages the integrity of your skin barrier and allows irritants in. For more information be sure to check out our blog post on Showering After Workout, where we explain the topic in greater detail. 


      For more information be sure to check out our blog post on Keratosis Pilaris Popping: What You Need to Know where we explain prevention and treatment options for active people that are in constant contact with sweat.



      Understanding the effects of diabetes on the skin is vital for comprehensive diabetes management. Regular self-examinations, diligent skincare routines, and effective blood sugar control are key components of preventing and addressing diabetes-related skin issues.

      If you have diabetes, always consult closely with healthcare professionals, including dermatologists, who can help you navigate these challenges and maintain healthy skin as part of your overall well-being.