It is estimated that about one-third of people with diabetes will have a skin disorder at some time in their lives caused by the disease. Diabetics are more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections; allergic reactions to medications, insect bites or foods; dry itchy skin as a result of poor blood circulation; and infections from foot injuries for people with neuropathy.
There are a number of diabetes-specific skin conditions:
Acanthosis Nigricans. A slowly progressing skin condition, which turns some areas of skin, usually in the folds or creases, into dark, thick and velvet-textured skin. Acanthosis nigricans often precedes the diagnosis of diabetes. It is sometimes inherited, but is usually triggered by insulin resistance. It can occur at any age and usually affects people who are obese. There is no treatment for the condition except to control blood glucose levels. Prescription creams may help lighten the affected area.
Diabetic Blisters. Rare blisters that appear on the hands, toes, feet or forearms that are thought to be caused by diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic Dermopathy. Round, brown or purple scaly patches that most frequently appear on the front of the legs (most often the shins) and look like age spots. They are caused by changes in small blood vessels. Diabetic dermopathy occurs more often in people who have suffered from diabetes for decades. They are harmless and require no medical intervention.
Digital Sclerosis. This condition appears as thick, waxy and tight skin on toes, fingers and hands, which can cause stiffness in the digits. Getting blood glucose levels back to normal helps alleviate this skin condition.
Granuloma Annulare. A red or reddish-brown lesion surrounding an area of central clearing; lesions may be individual or multiple. Typical locations include the fingers, toes or ears. While not serious, if the rash is itchy it can be treated with topical creams, corticosteroid injections, or light therapy.
Eruptive Xanthomatosis. A pea-like enlargement in the skin with a red halo that itches. It most frequently appears on the hands, feet, arms, legs or buttocks. It is often a response to high triglycerides. Keeping blood glucose levels in the normal range helps this condition subside.
Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum. This condition is similar to diabetic dermopathy, but the spots are larger, fewer, deeper in the skin and have a shiny porcelain-like appearance. It is often itchy or painful. It goes through cycles of being active and inactive. It is caused by changes in collagen and fat underneath the skin. Women are three times more likely to get this condition than are men. Typically, topical steroids are used to treat necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum. In more severe cases, cortisone injections may be required.