Sniffing Out Solutions to Pre-Teen Body Odor

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The first time I smelled my 8-year-old son’s musty arm pits, I became emotional! There were a million thoughts flowing through my head. How did this happen so fast? He hasn’t even reached puberty yet! How can I explain the changes that are going on in his body to him? There were just so many questions going through my head. I wanted to be a good resource for him. I took a step back to re-educate myself on hormones, exocrine gland function and their roles in our bodies so that I could explain it to him.

Causes of body odor

Sniffing Out Solutions to Pre-Teen Body OdorLet’s start with sweating. Sweating is a normal response to the body heating up. Sweating is our bodies way of cooling itself down and keeping us from overheating. Sweating can also be caused by anxiety, nervousness and/or stress.

Richard Mackenzie, MD, deputy director of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, gave the following explanation, “Puberty causes sweat glands (apocrine and sebaceous) to become more active and secrete certain chemicals, mainly testosterone. Apocrine glands are really the culprits. They are in areas of the body where many hair follicles are present. For example they are found in armpits, the groin and scalp. These glands secrete a fatty sweat into the tubule of the sweat gland. The tubule walls contract, to propel the sweat to the surface of the skin. Then, the bacteria that live on the surface of skin break it down, thus causing the offensive odor.”

This offensive odor is also commonly known as “B.O.” In a time where pre-teens are very body-conscious, body odor can cause them embarrassment. Parents have to educate them and help children get a routine for management of the symptoms. Parents should let kids know that they are not alone, and that this is a common problem.

Tips for management

  1. Sniffing Out Solutions to Pre-Teen Body OdorConsistent body washing with daily baths or showers and warm water—Kids should really focus particularly in areas like under the arms, around the groin and on the feet. This helps to reduce body odor by washing away the bacteria that cause the odor.
  2. Changing into clean, dry clothes on a daily basis will also help—Children should primarily wear cotton clothes if they have a tendency to sweat a lot.
  3. Consider wearing a deodorant or an antiperspirant if daily washing and clean clothes don’t adequately control body odor.
  4. Keeping a spare change of clothes, towel and soap at school will be handy, especially if your child has physical education or plays sports.
  5. Educating children on what is happening to their bodies is very important. Reinforce that these are normal body functions that happen to everyone. Sweating is a very important function that allows our bodies to cool off.
  6. Today’s Parent magazine suggests a do-it-yourself disinfectant by adding a cap full of vinegar or household bleach to an 8-ounce spritz bottle filled with water. This disinfectant can safely be used to spray the skin in the shower, then rinse it off.

As a parent this may catch you off guard, because it can happen overnight! When it happens, just take a deep breath (no pun intended) and remember to keep reinforcing to your child that this experience is normal. We really want to focus on helping kids maintain a positive body image during this time of change in their bodies. Encouraging them daily to stay on their hygienic routines and be consistent is the only way they can maintain a balance.  

Resources: Livestrong, Today's Parent