By: Joy Pape, RN, BSN, CDE, WOCN, CFCN
Did you know your skin is the largest organ of your body? You may not have thought of your skin as an organ, but rather a covering for your internal organs.
The truth is, your skin is an organ linking you to and protecting you from the outside world.
The skin of an adult covers about eighteen square feet and weighs approximately seven pounds. Like so many other organs, diabetes can affect your skin too.
The good news is the more you know and what do about it, the better your skin will be. It starts with knowledge, then following through with what you know to do.
Let’s Learn a Little About Your Skin
Skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer.
The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin. It contains cells that determine your skin color and protect you from damage.
Epidermal cells are constantly being worn away and replaced by new epidermal cells. In normal circumstances, injury to this layer of skin rarely causes problems because it usually repairs itself so quickly.
For a person with diabetes, however, this can be a problem because once the outer layer of skin has tampered with it may not heal itself as quickly or normally as people who don’t have diabetes.
The dermis is the layer underneath your epidermis. The dermis contains your hair follicles, blood vessels, nerve endings, sweat, and sebaceous (oil) glands.
Your blood vessels and sweat glands work together to help regulate your temperature.
Your sebaceous glands help prevent you from losing too much sweat by coating the surface of your skin with an oily substance called sebum.
Injury to this layer is more dangerous than with the epidermis, especially with diabetes.
Since diabetes affects your nerves and blood vessels, this is the layer that can cause your skin to be dry. Once dry, it is easy to crack and open. Once opened, either due to dry skin or trauma, it is more difficult to heal.
Below the dermis is the subcutaneous layer. This is where the sweat glands originate and fat is stored. It supports the blood vessels and nerves that feed the outer layers of the skin.
Since nerves are in both the dermis and subcutaneous layers, any trauma to these areas will cause you pain, that is if your nerves are working correctly.
Many times your nerves act to protect you. If you touch something hot with your fingers, your nerves tell your brain to tell you to take your fingers off the heat.
Just like if your lancet is not sharp enough, your nerves will tell your brain that fingerstick hurt, and if you know enough about diabetes and what’s available, you’ll make sure you’ll use new sharp lancets in the future.
If your nerves are not working right, that communication between your nerves and your brain may not happen. You may not feel the pain.
If you don’t feel the pain, you won’t know to protect yourself from it. Burns, cuts, and sores can happen because you didn’t have the feeling to protect yourself from them.
How Diabetes Can Affect Your Skin
If your blood glucose is too high, you may urinate a lot, which can cause dehydration.
Your nerves and blood vessels that work with your glands to keep your skin moist can be affected, causing dry skin.
Dry skin can not only cause earlier wrinkling and premature aging, but dry skin can crack, allowing infection in, which can then be more difficult to heal due to diabetes.
In these cases, as with most complications involving diabetes, prevention is your best medicine. Managing your blood glucose and blood pressure to as near normal as possible, and good nutrition, which includes a healthy fluid intake and physical activity, all add to this.
Looking at your skin often to detect any changes and keeping all of your skin clean and moisturized with moisturizers, lotions, or creams are very important not only for your beauty but for your health.
Good diabetes management shows inside and out. Be sure to make skin care a part of your daily diabetes management regime.
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.
Updated by dLife Editors 11/18.