Skin Changes

Changes in the skin are common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  Many people with Parkinson’s develop oily or flaking skin, especially on the face and scalp.  Others have trouble with dry skin, or with excessive sweating.  Recent studies have shown an increased prevalence of skin cancer among people with Parkinson’s.  These issues are discussed below, along with tips on caring for skin.

Oily, Flaking or Inflamed Skin

Below the surface of the skin are tiny glands, called sebaceous glands, which secrete an oily substance into the hair follicles.  Normally this oil helps protect the skin.  But too much can cause problems referred to as seborrheic dermatitis:

  • oily skin, especially on the forehead, sides of the nose, scalp and eyebrows
  • skin scales that are white and flaky or yellowish and oily (dandruff)
  • itching
  • redness
  • chronically inflamed areas

What You Can Do

  • wash skin twice a day with warm water and rinse with cold water
  • use a neutral soap like unscented glycerin soap
  • for dandruff, try a shampoo (over-the-counter) containing selenium, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, zinc or coal tar
  • in severe cases, doctors can prescribe shampoos or lotions containing selenium, ketoconazole or corticosteroids

Dry Skin

Extreme dryness of the skin also can be a problem for people with Parkinson’s.

What You Can Do

  • skin moisturizers and hair conditioners may help
  • consult a dermatologist

Excessive Sweating

Many people with Parkinson’s experience trouble with too much sweating.  Sometimes this occurs on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.  Drenching sweats, particularly at night, also can be troublesome.  Excessive sweating is often a “wearing off” symptom for people who experience fluctuations in the effectiveness of their Sinemet® (carbidopa/levodopa).

What You Can Do

  • ask your doctor about adjusting your Sinemet® dose
  • take lukewarm showers
  • wear lightweight cotton clothes in warm weather
  • drink lots of water and other liquids
  • in severe cases, for drenching sweats, your doctor may prescribe a medication such as propranolol (Inderal®)

For the palms and the feet, your doctor can prescribe topical medications including:

  • aluminum chloride hexahydrate
  • anticholinergics (e.g., glycopyrrolate)
  • iontophoresis (a therapy that uses electric current)

Too Little Perspiration

Some people with Parkinson’s perspire too little.  This can be a side effect of anticholinergic Parkinson’s medications (e.g., trihexyphenidyl, benztropine mesylate and procyclidine).

What You Can Do

  • Decreasing the dose of anticholinergic medications—always under the supervision of your doctor—may help.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is relatively common in the general population and in people with Parkinson’s. Of all skin cancers, the one which people with Parkinson’s should be extra-careful about is melanoma. Melanomas are more likely to spread from the skin to internal organs than any other skin cancers and recent studies have suggested that the likelihood of developing malignant melanoma is two to seven times higher in people with Parkinson’s than in the general population.  While melanomas are relatively rare (even in people with Parkinson’s), early diagnosis and treatment is important, and it may be advisable for people with Parkinson’s to get screened regularly.