The Warning Signs that Diabetes Leaves on Your Skin

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, diabetes can affect many parts of your body, including your skin. When diabetes affects the skin, it’s often a sign that your blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. This could mean that you have undiagnosed diabetes or pre-diabetes; or your diabetes treatment needs to be adjusted.

If you notice any of the following warning signs on your skin, it’s time to talk with your doctor.

Yellow, reddish, or brown patches on your skin

Known as necrobiosis lipoidica, this skin condition often begins as small raised solid bumps that look like pimples. As the condition progresses, these bumps turn into patches of swollen and hard skin. The patches can be yellow, reddish, or brown.

You may also notice: The surrounding skin has a shiny porcelain-like appearance; you can see blood vessel; the skin is itchy and painful; the skin disease goes through cycles where it is active, inactive and active again.

If you notice any of these signs, the AAD suggests getting tested for diabetes, if you haven’t already been diagnosed. If you do have diabetes, work with your doctor to better control your diabetes. See a dermatologist about your skin.

Darker area of skin that feels like velvet

A dark patch (or band) of velvety skin on the back of your neck, armpit, groin, or elsewhere could mean that you have too much insulin in your blood, the AAD says This is often a sign of prediabetes. The medical name for this skin condition is acanthosis nigricans.

You should get tested for diabetes.

Hard, thickening skin

When this develops on the fingers, toes, or both, the medical name for this condition is digital sclerosis, according to the AAD. You’ll notice tight, waxy skin on the backs of your hands. The fingers can become stiff and difficult to move. If diabetes has been poorly controlled for years, it can feel like you have pebbles in your fingertips. It can also develop on the upper back, shoulders, and neck. Sometimes, the thickening skin spreads to the face, shoulders, and chest.

In rare cases, the skin over the knees, ankles, or elbows also thickens, making it difficult to straighten your leg, point your foot, or bend your arm. Wherever it appears, the thickened skin often has the texture of an orange peel.

This skin problem usually develops in people who have complications due to diabetes or diabetes that is difficult to treat.  Tell your doctor about the thickening skin. Getting better control of your diabetes can bring relief.

You may also need physical therapy. When the thickening skin develops on a finger, toe, or other area with joints, physical therapy can help you keep your ability to bend and straighten the joint.


It’s rare, but people with diabetes can see blisters suddenly appear on their skin. You may see a large blister, a group of blisters, or both. The blisters tend to form on the hands, feet, legs, or forearms and look like the blisters that appear after a serious burn. Unlike the blisters that develop after a burn, these blisters are not painful. The medical name for this condition is bullosis diabetricorum. Sometimes it’s called diabetic bullae.

Tell your doctor about the blisters. You’ll want to take steps to prevent an infection. Talk with your doctor about how to better control your diabetes.

Skin infections

People who have diabetes tend to get skin infections. If you have a skin infection, you’ll notice one or more of the following:

Hot, swollen skin that is painful;  an itchy rash and sometimes tiny blisters, dry scaly skin, or a white discharge that looks like cottage cheese

A skin infection can occur on any area of your body, including between your toes, around one or more of your nails, and on your scalp. It’s possible that you have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Get immediate treatment for the infection. Tell your doctor if you have frequent skin infections. You could have undiagnosed diabetes. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you may need better control of it.


Open sores and wounds

Having high blood sugar (glucose) for a long time can lead to poor circulation and nerve damage. You may have developed these open sores if you’ve had uncontrolled (or poorly controlled) diabetes for a long time.

Poor circulation and nerve damage can make it hard for your body to heal wounds. This is especially true on the feet. These open wounds are called diabetic ulcers. If you have diabetes, you should check your feet every day for sores and open wounds. Get immediate medical care for an open sore or wound. Work with your doctor to better control your diabetes.

Shin spots

This skin condition causes spots (and sometimes lines) that create a barely noticeable depression in the skin. It’s common in people who have diabetes. The medical name is diabetic dermopathy. It usually forms on the shins. In rare cases, you’ll see it on the arms, thighs, trunk, or other areas of the body.

The spots are often brown and cause no symptoms. For these reasons, many people mistake them for age spots. Unlike age spots, these spots and lines usually start to fade after 18 to 24 months. Diabetic dermopathy can stay on the skin indefinitely.

Tell your doctor about these spots, and work with your doctor to better control your diabetes. If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, get tested.

Outbreak of small, reddish-yellow bumps

When these bumps appear, they often look like pimples. Unlike pimples, they soon develop a yellowish color. The AAD says you’ll usually find these bumps on the buttocks, thighs, crooks of the elbows, or backs of the knees. They can form anywhere, though. No matter where they form, they are usually tender and itchy. The medical name for this skin condition is eruptive xanthomatosis.

If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have dry skin.

Tell your doctor about the bumps because this skin condition appears when you have uncontrolled diabetes. Talk with your doctor about how to better control your diabetes.

Red or skin-colored raised bumps

Whether this skin condition is associated with diabetes is controversial. Most people who have granuloma annulare do not have diabetes, the AAD says. Several studies, however, have found this skin condition in patients who have diabetes. One such study found that people with diabetes were most likely to have granuloma annulare over large areas of skin and that the bumps came and went. Another study concluded that people who have granuloma annulare that comes and goes should be tested for diabetes.

The AAD suggests that you let your doctor know if you have bumps like these, especially if they come and go.

Dry, itchy skin

If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have dry skin. High blood sugar (glucose) can cause this. If you have a skin infection or poor circulation, these could also contribute to dry, itchy skin. Tell your doctor about your extremely dry skin. Gaining better control of diabetes can reduce dryness. If you continue to have dry skin after you gain better control of your diabetes, a dermatologist can help.

Yellowish scaly patches on and around your eyelids

These develop when you have high fat levels in your blood. It can also be a sign that your diabetes is poorly controlled. The medical name for this condition is xanthelasma. Tell your doctor about the yellowish scaly patches around your eyes. Talk with your doctor about how to better control your diabetes. Controlling diabetes can clear the scaly patches.

Skin tags

Many people have skin tags—skin growths that hang from a stalk. While harmless, having numerous skin tags may be a sign that you have too much insulin in your blood or type 2 diabetes. These growths are most common on the eyelids, neck, armpit, and groin. Ask your doctor if you should get tested for diabetes. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor if you need better control of it.

When to see a dermatologist

Diabetes can cause many other skin problems. Most skin problems are harmless, but even a minor one can become serious in people who have diabetes. A board-certified dermatologist can recognize skin problems due to diabetes and help you manage them.

For more about skin health, click here to visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s website.




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