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Skin, Scalp and Sweating

People with Parkinson’s sometimes have problems with their skin and scalp and how much or how little they sweat. Some people may only have minor issues, while others may have more severe problems that can affect daily life and cause them discomfort or embarrassment.


Skin and Scalp

Parkinson’s can cause an increase of an oily substance called sebum. This can result in the skin looking greasy and shiny, particularly around the forehead, nose and scalp, and hair may appear oily too.

Managing oily skin and scalp

  • Use a mild soap, an oil-free soap substitute or a gentle cleanser and water 
  • Avoid cosmetic products that contain alcohol
  • Increase frequency of hair washing or change shampoo to one suitable for oily hair 
  • For males who may be bald, use a mild soap or sorbolene cream on the scalp 

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis

If oily skin becomes severe, the skin may also become red, flaky and itchy. This is known as seborrhoeic dermatitis. Although seborrhoeic dermatitis is a common problem, people with Parkinson’s have an increased risk of developing it. 

The main areas affected include: the scalp, face, areas around the nose and inner parts of the eyebrows, eyelids, ears, front of the chest and bends and folds of skin such as under the breasts, arms and in the groin. 

Managing Seborhoeic Dermatitis

  • Use a cream containing sulphur and salicylic acid as these have a de-scaling effect
  • Ask your GP or Pharmacist about using shampoos that contain selenium or selenium sulphide to help with flaky skin on your scalp
  • Loosen any crusts or scales on the scalp by rubbing on olive or mineral oil several hours before washing your hair
  • Ask your GP to prescribe a shampoo that contains ketoconazole and selenium sulphide
  • Use shampoos containing 5% tea tree oil
  • If you have severe itching on your scalp, your GP can prescribe the short-term use of a steroid-based cream or ointment 
  • Use medicated eardrops to treat the ear canal

Sweat

People with Parkinson’s can also experience changes to sweat / perspiration. Some people experience under secretion (hypohidrosis) resulting in very dry skin. Others experience over secretion (hyperhidrosis) when sweating may be excessive. Many people also experience drenching night sweats. Perspiration helps regulate the body’s temperature so any changes need to be monitored.

Often, people with Parkinson’s find sweat production to be reduced in the extremities of the body, such as hands and feet, and this can lead to overproduction in the rest of the body to compensate. 

Changes in sweating may also be caused by Parkinson’s medications and experiencing episodes of perspiration may also be linked with medication cycles

Always refer to your GP or specialist to discuss medication changes. 

Night sweats

For those who experience night sweats, light, cotton bedding is recommended. Satin sheets may be recommended to make turning in bed easier, but satin can increase sweat so should be avoided if night sweats occur. Always keep a glass of water beside the bed to replace lost fluids.

Changes to temperature regulation

Some people with Parkinson’s experience increased sensitivity to cold and may shiver and wear winter clothes even in the summer months. The exact cause of this is unclear. It is important to discuss heightened sensitivity to cold with your doctor so that any other causes can be ruled out.


Useful Tips 

Too little sweat

  • Avoid getting too hot as you do not have the body’s natural defence of perspiration to keep the body cool 
  • Consult your doctor before exposure to extreme heat sources such as infra-red saunas or steam saunas  
  • Remain in the shade in hot weather
  • Wear light clothes
  • Do not exert yourself too much
  • Keep skin moisturised with an emollient ointment or cream

Too much sweat

  • Try to avoid situations or foods that trigger sweating (e.g. crowded rooms, caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods)
  • Wear cotton clothing
  • Wear light / white clothing, which doesn’t show sweat marks as much as darker clothing
  • Use underarm dress shields to absorb excess sweat and protect clothing
  • Wear moisture-absorbent socks and change them frequently
  • Wear leather shoes and change them often
  • Take frequent showers
  • Drink plenty of water

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