Tips for balancing diabetes and skin health when wearing diabetes devices

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Alexi Melvin

At first glance, diabetes and skin aren't two things that one would typically think of as interconnected. However, skin health is something that people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) need to consider on a daily basis. In addition to their carbohydrate counts and blood sugar levels, individuals need to keep a watchful eye on insertion sites and ensure their skin is kept clean and clear.

If you use an insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor (CGM) as part of your daily management, you likely have some firsthand experience with balancing diabetes and skin health. Here's insight and advice around maintaining a healthy relationship between the two.

Adhesives and potential side effects

Diabetes technology has evolved exponentially over the last several years. In particular, insulin pumps and CGMs have advanced by leaps and bounds! These two devices, while beneficial, use an adhesive element that remains on your skin for three to 14 days, depending on the particular device. The adhesive is used to ensure that the CGM sensor or pump insertion site stays firmly in place until a site change is necessary.

Many people don't experience any side effects or sensitivities in response to the adhesive, but those with particularly sensitive skin might experience irritation at the insertion site — resulting in red, itchy skin. Some may even have an adhesive allergy, also known as contact dermatitis, as Mayo Clinic described.

It's important to speak to your endocrinologist and/or dermatologist about your diabetes and skin irritation. They can recommend products that may work best for your condition or skin type. Your medical professionals will almost certainly reassure you that this happens with many of their patients. You are not alone in this!

Strategies and precautions to consider

In addition to any specialized products that your physician might recommend, here are some simple daily strategies to help prevent skin irritation:

  • Clean the skin thoroughly before insertion, using a gentle, oil-free antibacterial cleanser
  • Be sure the skin is dry before insertion to avoid locking in humidity
  • Don't use any moisturizer on the skin before insertion
  • Occasional exfoliation can help for those with oily skin

Helpful products to address skin issues

If, despite your best efforts, you experience skin issues related to your diabetes management devices, let your physician know. Thankfully, you can address irritation and discomfort in a few ways. Your doctor may encourage you to try the following products, which can help treat skin issues related to diabetes device usage:

  • Barrier films. You can apply waterproof barrier films, which come in the form of sprays or wipes, to the skin. Let the barrier dry completely before insertion. Examples of this product include 3M Cavilon Barrier Film, Smith & Nephew SKIN-PREP, and SurePrep™, among others.
  • Barrier patches. You can place barrier patches on the skin, underneath where you'll apply your pump or CGM adhesive. If you have a sensitivity to latex, be sure to purchase a brand that's latex-free. Some options are also pre-cut to fit certain devices. Some examples of popular barrier patches include DuoDerm, Smith & Nephew Cutinova Hydro-Selective Dressing, IV3000, and Tegaderm.

The benefits of diabetes tools and technologies far outweigh the occasional hiccups. Experiencing skin irritation from adhesives can be frustrating, but with some helpful products and your doctor's advice, your skin can feel better in no time.

Are you struggling with skin irritation due to your diabetes tools? Check out more useful tips and resources on Health Insights.

Alexi Melvin

Alexi is a journalist who has written for The San Francisco Chronicle, Beyond Type 1 and other digital publications. She is also a voiceover actor and reiki master. In addition to her dedication to being a voice for people living with T1D everywhere, she has always been passionate about meditation and energy healing. Before getting her Bachelor of Arts degree at The New School University, she studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute.

Social Media links: https://www.instagram.com/alexienergyart/ https://twitter.com/aleximelvin

Diabetes Management Tip