Dry Skin and Diabetes
Many patients with diabetes develop extremely dry, cracking skin which makes it much more susceptible to infection. In fact, approximately 70% of surgical amputations done in Canada are performed on diabetes patients who have developed infections through cracks or breaks in extremely dry skin.
Why is diabetes associated with poor skin health?
1. Diabetes is linked to thickening of the skin.
2. Diabetes leads to reduced blood circulation to the skin (microangiopathy).
3. Increased frequency of urination reduces the moisture available for the skin.
4. Researchers believe that the body may actually “rob” the skin of moisture to eliminate glucose from the tissue.
The first symptoms of compromised skin health are often dry, scaly skin that can appear anywhere on the body but is most common at the extremities including: legs, feet, knees, elbows and hands. This is a common condition among patients with diabetes and results in less supple skin that can crack easily.
Be aware of skin cracks and infection
Skin cracks open the door for bacteria, viruses and fungi to enter our bodies, often leading to open sores and infections.
Reduced or delayed healing
Not only is the skin more susceptible to infection, it is generally slower to heal. So patients with diabetes face the compounding problems of being more prone to infection and being much slower to heal once infection has occurred. Four factors contribute to the slower healing rate: reduced blood flow to the skin, higher blood glucose which supports bacterial growth, slower metabolic rate and thicker skin.
Intact normal skin is the best barrier to infection. Thickened skin common to diabetics makes skin more susceptible to infection. A useful analogy might be to compare the water restraining ability of clay with pebbles.
How healthy is your skin?
Take this healthy skin test. There are six warning signs that your skin’s ability to resist infection has weakened.
- Has your skin grown noticeably thicker?
- Has your skin become more yellow in colour?
- Is your skin noticeably drier?
- Is your skin becoming scaly?
- Is your skin cracking?
- Do you notice that minor wounds take longer to heal?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you should make improved skin care an immediate priority.
Talk to your physician or diabetes nurse educator for more information about skin care and the best moisturizers to use.