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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Lee Shin Wei and Dr Jessica Gunawan on November 24, 2022

5 Skin Diseases Caused By Diabetes And How To Treat Them

Diabetes can lead to skin diseases that leave permanent damage and scarring. Learn how to care for skin and correct the root cause of symptoms here.

Skin diseases min scaled

Did you know that people with diabetes are prone to skin diseases that may leave permanent damage? As many as 30% of people with diabetes suffer from rashes and bacterial and fungal infections.

Type 2 diabetes, in particular, doubles a person’s risk of developing psoriasis. This is a skin disease with symptoms like rashes and scaly patches on the trunk, scalp, knees, and elbows.

Read on to learn about 5 skin diseases caused by diabetes and tips for managing them to help reduce permanent skin damage.

What Causes Skin Diseases?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), diabetes-related skin diseases stem from Lung Dryness, stomach Heat, or Kidney Deficiency. These imbalances stop the skin from obtaining proper nourishment.

“Dehydration due to Lung Dryness and stomach Heat can chap skin and make you prone to skin allergies. Insufficient water intake can lead to Kidney Deficiency, provoking skin swelling and inflammation,” explains Eu Yan Sang Physician Lee Shin Wei.

5 Skin Diseases Caused By Diabetes

An elderly woman's swollen feet
Diabetes is known for causing skin rashes, ulcers, and swelling in the feet.

Here are 5 skin diseases that you may experience if you have diabetes:

Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum

This rare skin disease usually develops in young or middle-aged adults and is three times more common in women than in men. Type 1 diabetes also makes a person more vulnerable to necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum than people with type 2 diabetes. 

It starts as plaque or a raised area of dull, red skin that normally develops on the lower part of the legs. Over time, it’ll turn yellowish-brown and shiny and have a violet-colored border. The blood vessels under the skin may also become visible. It occurs due to collagen degeneration and inflammation associated with the thickening of blood vessel walls and fat disposition. 

Digital Sclerosis 

One-third of people with type 1 diabetes have digital sclerosis. The disease turns the skin on the back of the hands, toes, and forehead thick and wax-like. It can also stiffen finger joints, restricting them from moving as freely as they should. In some cases, the knees, ankles, and elbows can also become stiff. 

Acanthosis Nigricans 

Acanthosis nigricans is linked to diabetes and insulin resistance but can also arise from other underlying factors, such as: 

It generally presents as hyperpigmentation of the skin folds. The affected skin might be itchy, have an odor, and develop skin tags. Examples are the groin, underarms, or back of the neck. Sometimes, it can also appear on the hands, elbows, and knees. Skin thickening in these areas may also happen. 

Diabetic Blisters 

It’s uncommon for people with diabetes to develop bullosis diabeticorum or diabetic bullae (better known as diabetic blisters). However, it can present in people during early-stage diabetes or as an effect of long-term diabetes in those who do not control blood sugar well and those with diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that occurs due to prolonged high blood sugar.

The risk of diabetic blisters is higher among men with type 1 diabetes who are between 50 to 70 years of age. The sores can appear on the backs of a person’s fingers, hands, toes, feet, legs, or forearms. The blister has an irregular shape, forms as a cluster, and fills with a clear fluid. These can grow up to five centimeters but are painless.

Eruptive Xanthomatosis 

This type of rash may occur on the back of your hands and is most common in people with type 1 diabetes.

High fat, triglycerides and cholesterol levels increase a person’s risk of developing eruptive xanthomatosis. More often than not, it’s seen in people with uncontrolled type 1 diabetes. 

Eruptive xanthomatosis refers to yellow and firm pea-sized lumps that may itch and have redness around the affected area. Symptoms of this disease can occur on the back of the hands or the feet, arms, legs, and buttocks. 

Tips For Managing Skin Diseases

Preventive measures can help a person avoid permanent skin damage. Apart from keeping blood sugar levels under control, start by reviewing your daily skincare routine and making the necessary changes. 

Use gentle skincare products 

Refrain from taking hot baths and showers. If your skin is dry, bubble baths too, are discouraged. Instead, use a gentle moisturizing soap and lotion made with Chinese herbs. Take note not to rub it between the toes, as added moisture in the area encourages fungus growth.

Treat injuries properly

If you sustain a minor cut, wash it immediately with soap and water and cover it with sterile gauze. Deeper cuts, burns, or infections should only be treated by a clinical physician. 

Consume herbs that tackle the root causes of skin diseases

To alleviate skin-related symptoms, a person must first determine, together with a TCM physician, their stage of diabetes. Certain herbal formulations can help with easing symptoms so do consult your physician before taking any of these.

Herbal Formulas That Help Skin Diseases

Image of healthy foods that are high in protein and fiber
Eating a healthy diet high in protein and fiber can help manage blood sugar levels to correct skin disease symptoms.

TCM herbs can be used to help you manage skin disease symptoms. These recommendations are based on the stage of diabetes you are in.

Early stages of diabetes

During the early stage, diabetes will provoke Blood and Qi Stagnation, inducing Heat accumulation that makes the skin itch. Hence, it’s advisable to use catnip (Mao Bo He), as it cleanses the body’s blood and qi, promotes a better flow of the latter and relieves itching.

Middle stage

As the disease progresses, Stagnation can bring about an abnormal metabolism and accumulation of bodily fluids, resulting in pus.

As such, it’s recommended for people with diabetes to consume psyllium (Yang Che Qian Zi), which can reduce blood sugar levels. Another herb that is effective in removing water is Plantago asiatica (Che Qian Zi), which is a diuretic.

Middle-stage diabetes also impairs sleep quality, causing Heat Disturbing Mind and Heart syndrome and unbearable itching. Adding herbs like Poria (Fu Ling) and lotus seeds (Lian Zi) to a person’s diet can have a calming effect on these specific disorders.

Late stage

Turbid pathogens can turn into Heat in the later stages of diabetes, causing your skin to become dry and itchy. These symptoms can worsen if you are exposed to heat or when night falls. It can be accompanied by dry stools, mouth dryness, or a bitter taste in the mouth.

To correct symptoms of late-stage diabetes, nourish yin, and eliminate Heat, use Rehmannia (Sheng Di Huang), dwarf lilyturf (Mai Dong), figwort root (Xuan Shen Gen), and Kudzuvine root (Ge Gen). 

For convenience, you can also take an herbal supplement that improves sugar regulation, reduces sugar absorption, and supports healthy blood sugar levels.

An early diagnosis helps people identify the skin diseases related to diabetes and suitable interventions that’ll help ease their specific symptoms. Do bear in mind that the above herbal formulas are dependent on varying body constitutions.

Speak to a TCM practitioner if you’re considering natural, alternative remedies, and avoid self-medicating. In doing so, they’ll be able to advise you on the appropriate herbs to use and prevent contraindications.


  1. DermNet New Zealand. 2019. Skin problems associated with diabetes mellitus
  2. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes and Skin Complications
  3. DermNet New Zealand. 2021. Necrobiosis lipoidica
  4. US National Library of Medicine. 2022. Acanthosis Nigricans
  5. National Library of Medicine. 2022. Skin Manifestations of Diabetes Mellitus

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nisaMay 23 2023

this is a good article

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