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Kids Stink

Kids stink.

Sometimes kids stink in the metaphoric sense, like if they’re talking back or having a meltdown or coming up with the millionth excuse why they can’t fall asleep. But I’m talking about when they stink in the literal sense. You know, stink stink. Some kids do more than others. You know what I mean?

I got to thinking about this when my friend Wendy (a parent herself) suggested that I make a post about kids wearing deodorant. And I’ve received a few “DearDrC” emails from #smartmommas who are concerned that their kids-who-haven’t-yet-reached-puberty already have body odor. What is the right/normal/appropriate age to start dealing with & managing all this?

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves what body odor is, exactly.

It’s the unpleasant smell that comes from a combination of perspiration and the usual bacteria that lives on the skin. As kids grow up and early puberty starts the various sweat glands (apocrine and eccrine – 25 cents!) start to produce colorless, odorless perspiration that gets stinky when it interacts with bacteria on skin, in hair, and clothing. It’s really as simple as that.

As a general rule, girls start puberty earlier than boys, so it’s not uncommon to hear that “girls stink” around age 8, and “boys stink” about a year later.  If it happens much earlier than that, it’s reasonable to have a medical evaluation just to be sure that there’s no underlying hormonal issue or abnormal early puberty, which we call “precocious puberty.”

Causes for precocious puberty can range from endocrine (hormone) problems to genetic ones, and the good news is that they are pretty rare. Bottom line: if you’re noticing adult body odor in a 3-year-old, check in with your doctor before simply pulling out the stick deodorant. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if your 10-year-old kids smell like a locker room after they come in from playing hard outside.

Other Causes for Stinkiness

While perspiration, bacteria, and hormonal changes are the primary cause of body odor, there are a few other contributors that can add to the situation, and not in a good way. The first one is body hygiene. The less often a person (of any age) bathes, the more bacteria live on the skin and the longer it stays.

Similar situation with clothing: clothes that aren’t washed very often can harbor organisms as well that add to the bad smell. Same thing with food, too: eating smelly foods like garlic and onion can increase the odor once digested, as the smell can seem to seep through the skin pores once these foods are digested and absorbed.

A Teachable Moment

It’s an inevitable part of growing up: body changes and body smells. Start talking to your child about the importance of personal hygiene early in the game including focusing on washing with soap under the arms and in the groin, to establish good habits.  Apart from that, here are other ways to help keep that “fresh feeling”:

It’s amazing how kids seem to go from obstinate tweens who want to battle it out to their last breath about NOT wanting to take a shower, to teens who shower 3 times a day and have so many potions that they smell like a potpourri sachet on steroids.

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About the Expert

headshot of Dr. Christina Johns

Dr. Christina Johns is a nationally recognized pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care. An official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board-certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. With extensive media experience, the proud mom of two teenagers shares over 20 years of pediatric expertise with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns for more insights on children’s health!