At some point, you might notice that your sweet child isn’t smelling so, well, sweet anymore. In fact, they might be smelling pretty funky, especially after playing. So if your little stinker is actually, um, stinky, you might be wondering when should kids start using deodorant? You might need to dole out the deodorant sooner rather than later.
But what causes the icky odor in the first place? Blame it on the hormones. “Children who have early underarm odor are having hormonal changes associated with upcoming puberty,” Dr. Lisa Lewis, MD, a board certified pediatrician and author of Feed the Baby Hummus, Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World, tells Celebrity Parents. “Hormonal shifts, sweat and bacteria will create body odor.”
Interestingly enough, sweat isn’t the cause of the stench. “Sweat on its own does not have an odor,” Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills tells Celebrity Parents. “Bromhidrosis, the technical word for smelly sweat or body odor, is a combination of the fatty acids and testosterone precursors produced in apocrine sweat glands in combination with skin bacteria. This produces enzymes that break down the fatty acids to smaller, (and you guessed it, smelly) molecules. And when it comes to very sweaty body spots — like the armpits — it can create a breeding ground for bacteria.
As to when your child might start needing deodorant, it’s truly up to biology. After all, all kids develop differently, and as such, you might find that your child needs deodorant right around the same time as their peers, or even before it. “Occasionally children who need deodorant earlier than others are genetically wired to have underarm odor,” says Dr. Lewis. “Some children will need deodorant as early as age 6.” Just don’t let your child’s age be a deterrent in getting your child deodorant. “There is no concern about children wearing deodorant earlier than peers, especially if deodorant is needed,” says Dr. Lewis. “If children need deodorant and are not using it, they may become embarrassed if other children point out body odor.”
So how can you help your child not smell so…funky? Encouraging personal hygiene is a big plus. “Bathing and upping your personal hygiene practices may be sufficient to prevent body odor (BO) in kids and preteens,” explains Dr. Shainhouse. “Showering daily and using soap (consider antibacterial soap) to wash armpits, groin, and other grease and sweat-prone areas can physically remove bacteria.” But it doesn’t stop there—make sure to wash bedding and clothing regularly to minimize any offensive odors.
Of course, you can always offer deodorant and/or an antiperspirant to help out. “Deodorants are topical products that contain a fragrance that masks the smell of body odor,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “Some also contain some ingredients that can kill some of the bacteria that contributes to the development of body odor.” Just keep in mind that they might not stop the sweat, so your child’s pits might still be wet afterwards. And if your kiddo is reluctant to roll on the deodorant, you might try looking for ones that have fun packaging. “Teen targeting deodorants or antiperspirants are the same as other adult products,” says Dr. Shainhouse.
Still, you might be concerned about the chemicals in deodorant, especially if your child is prepubescent. “You can try a natural deodorant, free of metals and toxins,” says Dr. Lewis. “Any chemical such as aluminum or parabens should be avoided in children.” It’s important to keep in mind, though, that natural deodorants have their advantages and disadvantages. “They’re not going to minimize sweating, but they do provide a scent, and may help kill some odor-producing bacteria, often with the use of essential oils,” advises Dr. Shainhouse. Also, natural deodorants can sometimes irritate the skin, so you should talk to your child’s doctor if your kiddo complains of itching, burning, or develops a rash.
While it can be hard to imagine that your kiddo is ready to use deodorant, it’s all part of the growing up process. So arm them (literally) with the tools that they need, and they’ll look, feel, and yes, smell better than ever.