Be kind to your skin

Unfortunately, when nerves don’t work right due to conditions like diabetic neuropathy, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), post-herpetic neuralgia, and chemotherapy related peripheral neuropathy, this can lead to skin problems: rashes, sores, itching, burning, and redness. You may not think this is very important, but if this applies to you, this article will point out important ways to stay sure that you are keeping your skin in good shape.

Pain, brain, and skin

There are many tiny nerves in every area of your body, including your feet and fingertips.  A person with peripheral neuropathy may have a “short-circuit” of some of these nerves. This can cause a loss of sensitivity: you might not be able to feel pain that you’d normally feel, like when your finger is pricked with a needle.  Or you may suddenly find that a “normal” activity is very painful or has heightened sensation. Putting on a shirt or a pair of pants may feel unbearable against your skin.

You rely on your skin to send feedback about pain and dangerous situations to your brain, but sometimes your pain condition may change the way that your brain understands these signals. For example, your brain might think that your arm itches or burns, even if there is nothing physically causing those feelings.

Skin is your body’s largest organ. It is also a sensory organ, like your eyes and your ears, giving you the sense of touch. To avoid causing damage to it – and the extra pain that might come with that damage – it’s important to be extra kind to your skin.

What you can do

  • Use a soft, non-allergenic soap. Don’t use harsh soaps, cleansers, or perfumes. When doing housework, wear soft gloves.
  • After showering, apply a moisturizing cream in smooth, round motions to increase circulation.
  • If your skin feels itchy, don’t use hydrocortisone or other creams unless recommended by your health care provider.
  • Don’t bathe in very hot water: Very hot water can cause burns, and if you can’t tell how hot the water is, it can put your skin at risk. Try taking showers and baths with warm (but not cold) water instead.
  • If you have blisters, don’t pop them! Popped blisters can become infected.
  • If you have diabetes, inject your insulin into a different patch of skin every day.

Heat and cold

When it comes to pain, temperature changes may help your skin feel better. Heat may work for some types of skin pain, while a cold compress might work better for others.  Just remember, too hot or too cold can be dangerous, and if you aren’t able to normally distinguish the difference, you have to take extra care.

  • Cold or ice numbs the affected area so you feel less pain; it may also help to lessen inflammation.
  • Heat (like a heating pad, or a warm shower) might give some relief to overworked, tired muscles and nerves.
  • Always ask your health care provider before trying heat or cold on your affected skin. Make sure that you’re doing what’s best for your specific condition.

Watch those feet

Many people with neuropathic pain have skin-related foot problems because they can’t feel the problems coming on. Here are some things you can do to try to prevent these problems:

  • Buy soft, cushioned shoes made of natural materials and with a roomy toe box.
  • Look for loose socks made of cotton. They should be thick, to help reduce any irritation.
  • Because you might not feel a foot injury, it’s important to inspect your feet pretty much every day. Look for discoloration or thickening in your toenails and the skin around them: This might be a sign of fungus or an infection.

Remember: always tell your doctor if you notice any skin problems, before trying any new treatments.


The Neuropathy Organization (search on “skin”)National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse   (search on “skin care”)American Diabetes Association   (search on “skin complications”)Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (search on “skin complications”)