How Does Diabetes Affect Your Skin?

Up to 80% of people with diabetes will develop a skin condition related to their disease. Here, we look at how diabetes can affect your skin and examine how good skincare can help manage some common concerns such as dry and itchy skin.

diabetic skin care

Diabetes and Your Skin

Diabetes can affect all parts of your body, including your skin. In fact, skin changes are common for people with diabetes and can even be the first sign that you have the disease. Changes to your skin can signal that your blood sugar levels are too high, so speak to your doctor if you have concerns.

Two of the most common skincare problems for people with diabetes are dry and itchy skin.

Other concerns include:

  • Fungal and bacterial infections
  • Digital sclerosis (thick, waxy skin on your fingers)
  • Eruptive xanthomatosis (red-yellow bumps on your hands, feet, arms, and legs)
  • Granuloma annulare (red, pink, or bluish-purple bumps and patches)
  • Necrobiosis lipoidica (yellow, red, or brown patches of hard skin)
  • Acanthosis nigricans (dark patches of velvety skin)

Diabetes Skincare

While some skin concerns are specific to diabetes and may need medical treatment, dry and itchy skin can be managed with lifestyle changes and a tailored skincare routine.

If you have diabetes, you should use gentle, moisturizing products which won’t irritate your skin. Find out about the science behind Cetaphil products, which are recommended by dermatologists.

Diabetes and Dry Skin

If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar levels will benefit your skin. High blood sugar levels can lead to dry skin and reduce your ability to fight off harmful bacteria, making you more prone to infections.

If you have dry skin, it’s important to moisturize every day and to follow a consistent skincare routine. You should also wear sunscreen every day, as sunburn can contribute to a spike in your blood sugar levels.

Look for skincare products that include the following ingredients:

relieving skin redness with lotion


One of the most effective skincare ingredients for people with diabetes is urea. Studies have shown that moisturizers including at least 10% urea can help reduce dryness, skin thickening, and scaling in people with diabetes.

Urea smooths and softens skins. It absorbs and draws moisture from deeper layers of the skin to the upper layers - helping keep your skin hydrated. Look out for Cetaphil Daily Smoothing Moisturizer for Rough and Bumpy Skin, which contains 20% urea.


For diabetics, an impaired skin barrier can lead to dry and itchy skin and skin infections.

Ceramides are lipid molecules that have several functions, including enhancing the skin barrier and preventing skin dehydration. Skincare products that contain ceramides, such as Cetaphil Intensive Healing Lotion With Ceramides, can be a useful addition to your skincare routine to help improve your skin barrier.


Antioxidants are beneficial for all skin types as they can help eradicate surface free radicals (unstable molecules) that cause oxidative stress in our bodies. Oxidative stress can cause premature aging and wrinkles, as well as damage to your skin barrier and inflammation. Examples of antioxidants include vitamin C, niacinamide, panthenol, and tocopherol (vitamin E).

To fight dryness, try a cream or lotion with antioxidants, such as Cetaphil Restoring Lotion with Antioxidants.

Diabetes and Itchy Skin

Diabetic dry skin can become itchy, but scratching your skin will only further irritate it. Scratching can break the skin, introduce bacteria and lead to inflammation, infection, and bleeding. Therefore, it’s important not to scratch itchy skin.

Moisturizers hydrate the skin, preventing your skin from becoming too dry and itchy. Try Cetaphil Advanced Relief Lotion with Shea Butter, which contains shea butter, niacinamide, and panthenol. Or, if you need relief from an intense itch, Cetaphil Eczema Restoraderm Itch Relief Gel can help relieve itching in as little as 30 seconds.

itchy diabetic skin

Diabetes Skincare Tips

Alongside moisturizing every day, there are other tips you can follow to help manage and prevent diabetes-related skin problems:

It’s important to regularly examine your skin. Check for any cuts, wounds, or changes to your skin. If you have diabetes you can develop an infection more easily than people without diabetes, so any wound or sore needs to be treated immediately to stop it from becoming infected.

It’s important to manage cracked heels to help prevent sores and serious infections from developing. Dermatologists recommend using a product that contains at least 10% urea, like Cetaphil Cracked Skin Repair Lotion or Cetaphil Cracked Skin Repair Balm.

Hot baths can strip away your skin’s moisture, so have lukewarm baths to help prevent your skin from drying out. Use gentle body washes such as Cetaphil Moisturizing Relief Body Wash, which is fragrance-free. You should also moisturize your skin when it’s still damp, as this helps to seal moisture in.

Dry yourself thoroughly, and don’t forget the skin in areas such as between your toes or your armpits. If you don’t dry the folds of your skin, then this can lead to infections in those areas.

A healthy lifestyle can assist in keeping diabetes controlled, helping to prevent diabetes-affected skin conditions. You should monitor your blood sugar levels, exercise, try to eat healthily, and manage your stress as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

Diabetes can affect your skin in a number of ways, most commonly causing dry and itchy skin. Having an effective skincare routine can help manage dry and itchy skin. If you have any concerns about your skin, you should speak to your doctor.