Jeanette Terry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, and she has since lived with diabetes through difficult life transitions, including the teenage years, college, and having children. She addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes—going beyond medical advice—to improve overall adherence and management.

Living with diabetes requires a lot of poking, prodding, needles, and tests. Over the years, you may feel like a human pin cushion with all the needle pokes and finger pricks. Although it is never pleasant to have needles poked into your skin, you can take comfort knowing proper skin care can ease the pain.

Remember: our skin is an organ and needs to be protected just as our other organs.

If you are insulin dependent like all people with type 1 diabetes and many people with type 2 diabetes, it is essential to care for your skin because of all of the injections that are required for treatment.

Proper skin care can protect against lipohypertrophy

If not cared for properly, lipohypertrophy can develop in areas of frequent injections. This is when there is fat build up under the skin due to overuse of an area for injections or pump sites. Lipohypertrophy can prevent proper insulin absorption, causing unbalanced blood sugar levels, putting your health at risk.

In a 2013 study, researchers found that 98 percent of people with lipohypertrophy either did not rotate their injection sites or they rotated incorrectly.

Results from the study stated that “the best current preventive and therapeutic strategies for lipohypertrophy include rotation of injection sites with each injection, and the non-reuse of needles. A needle is blunted after its first use, and reuse can damage tissue.”

How to avoid infections

In addition to proper rotation of pump and injection sites, there are other ways to protect your skin and make it stronger. Any time the skin is broken there is a chance of infection. Therefore, when giving an injection or inserting a needle of any kind, it is important to clean the area with an alcohol wipe so that germs and bacteria can’t enter the body. If a recently used site becomes red, inflamed, or shows any sign of infection, have your doctor take a look at it. It may just be irritated briefly, but if there is an infection, it needs to be treated immediately. The best way to avoid infections is to keep your skin clean and watch for any abnormalities or changes on your skin, especially in areas of injection.

Eat well for skin health

One very effective way of keeping your skin healthy is to eat a balanced diet. There are some foods that are more beneficial than others for healthy skin. For example, vitamin A, specifically the form found in dairy products, is one of the best nutrients for your skin. Foods high in antioxidants, such as berries, beans, and artichokes, are beneficial because the antioxidants protect the cells of the skin. Foods containing essential fatty acids like salmon, walnuts, and healthy oils create a barrier to prevent harmful contaminants from entering the body. And probably the most important thing you can do for your skin is to drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.

Luckily our skin is designed to be able to take a beating and heal quickly. But if not cared for properly, our body’s largest organ can leave our entire body vulnerable. Next time you prick your finger to test your blood or give an insulin injection, think about what you have done for your skin lately. If you treat it well, it will stay strong for you for many years to come.

To learn more about skin and diabetes:

Solutions for Diabetic Itching Problems
Got Sun? Sunlight May Prevent Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
A Little-Known Diabetes Skin Condition: Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum