Preventing Skin Problems When You Have Diabetes

Here’s how to care for your skin during warm weather.

Jean Weiss
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As a person with diabetes, you know to pay special attention to your body’s largest organ (your skin), but now that the weather’s warmed up, be aware that some areas are at special risk. Here, Joseph Jorizzo, MD, professor and founding chair of the Department of Dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and adjunct professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, offers tips on how to prevent problems—or care for them if they do occur.

Hot spot: toes
Risk raiser:
Pushed-back cuticles that allow water to enter, which can easily lead to a staph infection, warns Dr. Jorizzo.
Rein in your risk!
Always leave cuticles intact; that ensures they remain a protective layer between your nail bed and your finger. If you develop an infection, Dr. Jorizzo suggests a mixture of 4% thymol and 95% ethanol (it’s found in some mouthwashes) as an over-the-counter solution for a mild infection. Put a drop under your infected cuticle twice a day, he says, until it heals. See your healthcare provider if problems persist.

Hot spot:
Risk raiser:
Wearing flesh-baring footwear combined with high temps—the result can be athlete’s foot, funguses, infections and more.
“People with diabetes sometimes have poor circulation and are unable to fight off chronic infections as effectively as others,” says Dr. Jorizzo. And if you have decreased sensation in your feet, it only increases the warm-weather risk.
Rein in your risk!
Never go barefoot, and if you choose to wear sandals, be sure they are supportive and well cushioned and will not rub and irritate the skin. Keep your toenails trimmed; if you are unable to do it yourself, have a professional do it for you. Inspect your feet daily, and if you see a cut or sore, treat it immediately with a mild over-the-counter cream antibiotic that does not contain neomycin, which commonly causes allergic reactions. Unsure what to do about a certain problem? See your healthcare provider ASAP to avoid serious complications.
Tip: Wiggle your toes frequently! It helps boost healthy blood flow to the feet.

Hot spot: body folds
Risk raiser:
Heat and moisture that can cause chafing, rashes and friction sores in creases (such as in your groin) and anywhere skin rubs together. This can lead to infections deep in the folds of your skin.
Rein in your risk!
Wear loose, breathable clothing to allow air to circulate next to your skin. Dry your skin right after swimming or showering, paying special attention to deep pockets and folds. Pat a powder designed to kill yeast and fungus (such as those with miconazole, micomazole or clotrimazole) on your skin, advises Dr. Jorizzo.
Note: Don't use powders that contain cornstarch—it encourages yeast growth, says Dr. Jorizzo.

April 2013