The most common skin problems associated with type 1 diabetes

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Sometimes we don’t realize the effects diabetes can have on our health. Do you suffer from dry, itchy skin or repeated fungal infections? Maybe your diabetes is the culprit! Discover the main skin problems caused by diabetes.

Blood sugar and acne

The link between nutrition and acne has been investigated in numerous studies¹. As a result, a high-sugar diet has been linked to a greater risk of acne. Poorly controlled diabetes during adolescence, when pre-teens and teens sometimes find it difficult to accept their insulin treatment, may therefore cause more severe acne. And this acne may persist beyond the teenage years due to the hormonal problems that diabetes can cause. Watching what you eat, as well as your diabetes, can help limit these effects.

Dry, itchy skin

Diabetes can cause dry skin, especially if it is not properly managed. The reason for this is dehydration due to elimination of excess sugar in urine. And this dryness in turn causes itching. Diabetes is also linked to problems with the blood circulation, which can cause itching too, especially on the skin of the legs and feet. 

Opportunistic bacteria

Various types of infections can affect the skin. These very common infections are more frequent in people with diabetes, due to their weaker immune systems and dry skin. Consequently they are at higher risk of developing styes, boils, folliculitis or nail infections. These infections are frequently caused by bacteria from the Staphylococcus family. To avoid these types of infections, it is essential to look after your skin, being careful to avoid cuts and grazes and regularly checking itchy areas and minor lesions, especially on the feet (such as blisters).      

One of the most feared complications is a condition called “diabetic foot”. This can develop if a skin lesion goes unnoticed. Very often a number of other unfavorable factors are also present: reduced sensitivity in the foot, poor vascularization of the foot, immunosuppression, delayed healing and, sometimes, infection. As a result, these types of wounds are particularly difficult to treat. However, younger generations of people living with type 1 diabetes have a lower risk of developing this complication, thanks to greater awareness of the problem and better overall management of diabetes. 

Fungal skin infections and vaginal yeast infections

Dry skin and mucous membranes, raised blood sugar levels and lowered immune defenses all combine to create the ideal conditions for fungal growth, also called mycosis. 

Skin folds (such as the armpits and groin area) and the vagina are particularly vulnerable to fungal infections. Diabetes can cause vaginal dryness and, consequently, disrupt the natural balance of the microbiota, promoting the development of fungal or yeast infections, like thrush. Vaginal dryness and yeast infections can adversely affect a patient’s quality of life, especially sexual relationships. Fortunately, a number of treatments are available to reduce the impact of this problem on everyday life.  

More complex skin problems

Type 1 diabetes may be associated with other autoimmune diseases. For the skin, these include vitiligo, a skin disease in which antibodies destroy melanocytes, the pigmentation cells that give the skin its color.

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¹Pappas A. The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009;1(5):262–267. doi:10.4161/derm.1.5.10192

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