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5 Ways Diabetes Affects Your Appearance and What You Can Do About It

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people around the world. It occurs when the body is unable to produce or use insulin, which is necessary to regulate blood sugar levels. The impact of diabetes is not limited to blood sugar control, however, as it can also affect the physical appearance of individuals who have the disease. We will explore the ways in which diabetes affects physical appearance, and what can be done to mitigate its effects.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This results in a lack of insulin production, which in turn causes glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, meaning that it is unable to use it effectively.

How Diabetes Affects Physical Appearance

“A variety of dermatologic manifestations have been linked with diabetes mellitus; these conditions vary in severity and can be benign, deforming, and even life-threatening.”

Angelina Labib, BS, Jordan Rosen, MD, and Gil Yosipovitch, MD.

Diabetes can affect physical appearance in a number of ways. Some of the most common effects include:

Skin Conditions

One of the many ways that diabetes can impact a person’s life is through changes in physical appearance, including skin conditions. Diabetes can affect the skin in a variety of ways. Be aware of these changes and take steps to manage them.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is a common problem for individuals with diabetes. This is because high blood sugar levels can cause the body to lose fluids more quickly, leading to dehydration. When the skin is dehydrated, it can become dry, itchy, and flaky. In some cases, the skin may even crack or bleed. To manage dry skin, individuals with diabetes should drink plenty of fluids, use a gentle moisturizer daily, and avoid harsh soaps or hot water that can further dry out the skin.

Bacterial Infections

Diabetes can also increase the risk of bacterial infections on the skin. When blood sugar levels are high, it can make it harder for the body to fight off infections, including those caused by bacteria. This can lead to skin infections such as styes, boils, and folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles). These infections can be painful, itchy, and may require medical treatment to resolve. To prevent bacterial infections, individuals with diabetes should maintain good blood sugar control, practice good hygiene, and avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are another common skin problem for individuals with diabetes. High blood sugar levels can create a warm, moist environment that is ideal for fungal growth. Fungal infections can manifest as jock itch, athlete’s foot, or ringworm, and can cause redness, itching, and discomfort. These infections can be treated with antifungal creams or medications. One should manage blood sugar levels to prevent them from recurring.

Skin Discoloration

Diabetes can also cause changes in skin color. One of the most common types of skin discoloration associated with diabetes is called acanthosis nigricans. This condition causes dark, thickened patches of skin to form on the neck, armpits, and other areas of the body. While acanthosis nigricans is not harmful, it can be a sign of insulin resistance and may be a warning sign of developing type 2 diabetes.

Slow Healing

Individuals with diabetes may also experience slow healing of wounds and cuts. This is because high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, making it harder for the body to circulate blood and oxygen to the affected area. Without adequate blood flow, wounds may take longer to heal, and individuals with diabetes may be more susceptible to infections. To promote healing, manage blood sugar levels, keep the affected area clean and covered, and seek medical attention if a wound does not heal within a reasonable amount of time.

Skin Ulcers

In some cases, slow healing can lead to the development of skin ulcers. These are open sores that form on the skin and can be difficult to treat. Skin ulcers are most common on the feet, as individuals with diabetes may experience nerve damage that makes it difficult to feel injuries or wounds. Without proper treatment, skin ulcers can become infected and may even lead to amputation. To prevent skin ulcers, individuals with diabetes should inspect their feet daily, wear comfortable shoes that fit well, and seek medical attention for any wounds or injuries that do not heal.


Itching is a common problem for individuals with diabetes. This can be caused by dry skin, nerve damage, or changes in blood flow. Itching can be uncomfortable and may lead to scratching, which can further damage the skin. To manageitching, individuals with diabetes should keep their skin well-moisturized, avoid hot baths or showers, and use gentle, fragrance-free soaps.

Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum

Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum (NLD) is a rare condition that affects the skin of individuals with diabetes. It causes raised, reddish-brown patches on the skin, usually on the legs. Over time, these patches can become shiny and waxy in appearance, and may even develop open sores. NLD is thought to be caused by changes in blood vessels that result from high blood sugar levels. While there is no cure for NLD, it can be managed with topical treatments, oral medications, or light therapy.

Diabetic Dermopathy

Diabetic dermopathy is a common skin condition that affects individuals with diabetes. It causes light brown, scaly patches to form on the shins, but it can also occur on other parts of the body. While the cause of diabetic dermopathy is not fully understood, it is thought to be related to changes in blood vessels that result from high blood sugar levels. This condition is usually painless and does not require treatment, but it can be a sign of other complications associated with diabetes.

Slow Healing

One of the most significant effects of diabetes on physical appearance is its impact on wound healing. High levels of glucose in the blood can slow down the body’s ability to heal wounds, which can lead to scarring and disfigurement. This is particularly true in the case of foot ulcers, which are a common complication of diabetes and can lead to amputation in severe cases.

Vision Problems

Diabetes can also affect the eyes, causing vision problems such as blurry vision, cataracts, and glaucoma. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the retina, leading to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. This condition can cause blindness if left untreated.

Dental Issues

Individuals with diabetes are more prone to dental issues such as gum disease, tooth decay, and dry mouth. These conditions can lead to bad breath, tooth loss, and other cosmetic issues.

Weight Changes

Diabetes can also cause weight changes, which can affect physical appearance. Some individuals with type 2 diabetes may gain weight due to insulin resistance, while others may lose weight due to a lack of insulin production in type 1 diabetes.

Nerve Damage

Diabetes can cause nerve damage, which can lead to a condition called peripheral neuropathy. This condition can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands and feet, and can also affect the digestive system, causing bloating, constipation, and other issues.

Mitigating the Effects of Diabetes on Physical Appearance

While the effects of diabetes on physical appearance can be significant, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate its effects. Some of the most effective strategies include:

Blood Sugar Control

Maintaining good blood sugar control is one of the most important steps in mitigating the effects of diabetes on physical appearance. This can be achieved through a combination of medication, diet, and exercise.

Regular Check-Ups

Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can help to identify and address any physical appearance changes that may be related to diabetes. This can include skin conditions, foot ulcers, and vision problems.

Good Dental Hygiene

Practicing good dental hygiene can help to prevent dental

issues associated with diabetes, such as gum disease and tooth decay. This can include regular brushing and flossing, as well as routine dental cleanings and check-ups.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help to mitigate the effects of diabetes on physical appearance. This can include regular exercise, a balanced diet, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Monitoring Medications

Individuals with diabetes should work closely with their healthcare providers to monitor and adjust their medications as needed. This can help to ensure that blood sugar levels remain stable and reduce the risk of physical appearance changes associated with the disease.


Diabetes can have significant effects on physical appearance, including skin conditions, slow healing, vision problems, dental issues, weight changes, and nerve damage. However, by maintaining good blood sugar control, regular check-ups, practicing good dental hygiene, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, and monitoring medications, individuals with diabetes can mitigate the effects of the disease on their physical appearance and overall health.

Diabetes and Appearance & Skin References

Diabetes and Your Skin – CDC

Diabetes – Healthy People 2030 |

Skin Manifestations of Diabetes Mellitus