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Skin

The skin is the body’s largest organ and has many important roles to play in protecting your health.

Your skin acts like a barrier against infections. This barrier is maintained by oils and sweat, which are produced by glands associated with hair follicles. The nervous system controls these glands, and if damage occurs and the skin dries out, small cracks can occur, therefore breaking the barrier. Moisture from beneath the skin can then leak out and lead to more cracking, which can increase the risk of infection and skin discomfort.

As we get older, we gradually lose the individual nerve fibres in our body. This means that our skin cannot protect us as well, and we are more vulnerable to damaging factors from outside, such as dryness. Diabetes can speed up this loss.

Read more in our fact sheet Diabetes-related complications.

Dry skin

Damage to the small blood vessels and nerves—common in people with diabetes—can cause very dry skin. This can lead to small cracks in the skin. When you have dry skin, the problem can become worse by:

  • over washing
  • very hot water
  • exposing your skin to the sun
  • not moisturising.

To help improve the condition of dry skin:

  • use warm rather than hot water for washing
  • use a pH balanced soap or minimise the amount of soap you use
  • limit the time you spend bathing—don’t linger as you wash the oils out of your skin
  • moisturise your entire body with an intensive moisturising cream after your skin has been exposed to water and before bed.

Choosing a moisturiser

A good moisturiser does not have to be expensive. Sorbelene creams, available at supermarkets and chemists, are just as good. A pharmacist can advise you on products that are right for you.

Dry eyes, nose and mouth

Your nerves control the glands that keep the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose and mouth moist and healthy. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells in the pancreas and may also attack other parts of the body, including the mucous membranes, which can cause problems.

If you suffer from:

Dry eyes—use artificial tears and a prescribed eye cream in the evening

A dry nose—try a saline nasal spray that will make your nose more comfortable

A dry mouth—you may find that these choices help:

  • artificial saliva (a product available at pharmacies to substitute for natural saliva)
  • rinsing your mouth
  • chewing diet gum helps keep your saliva flowing. Diet gums usually contain sweeteners that aren’t absorbed by the body, so it doesn’t affect blood glucose levels or body weight. If used excessively, the non-absorbed sugars ferment in the gut and can cause gas and diarrhoea, so these products should be used in moderation.

If you are having problems with dryness to the eyes, nose or mouth, talk to your doctor for advice.