Body Odor in Kids: Is It Normal & What to Do About It

child holding nose smelly

It hits you like a freight train. An awful smell that seems to be coming from the general direction of your child. Welcome to the next phase of growing up: developing body odor. You're about to go from buying bubble bath to buying deodorant for your child, and it all happens in the blink of an eye. So is your kid normal? Can they possibly be ready for deodorant when they just learned to tie their shoes yesterday (or so it seems)? Well ... yes!

Typically, body odor can begin to develop as early as 7 years old in girls, 9 years old in boys, as the body hits puberty. Suddenly, your child is beginning to sweat more and sweat specifically from what are called the "apocrine sweat glands," glands in the armpit and groin region.

"Prior to puberty sweat comes from eccrine sweat glands that usually secrete mostly water and help with cooling," explains pediatrician Dr. Carol Wilkinson, medical director of Kinsights, an advice sharing network for parents. "When puberty hits, apocrine sweat glands kick into action and start secreting an oily substance that bacterial love. It’s the bacteria that naturally grow on our skin that digest this oily substance and leads to the smelly body odor we are familiar with."

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Hence the reason your sweaty toddler didn't stink. But once the body makes that change, there is no going back. It's why Wilkinson suggests parents help their kids combat the underarm odor.

That means controlling both the bacteria and the sweat. Some tips from the experts to keep your kid stink-free:

1. Make sure your kids bathe daily, and make sure they wash ... with soap! "Just standing under the water will not do the trick!" Wilkinson warns.

2. An extra armpit rinse with a washcloth right before bed (for morning bathers) can do wonders to fight the bacteria.

3. Wash clothes frequently to fight bacteria. 

4. Dress kids in cotton and wool clothing, which allows the skin to breathe.

5. Try baby powder. It can keep the pits dry and help prevent the smell.

6. Buy deodorant. If the baby powder isn't enough, the next step is deodorant ... but make sure it's just plain deodorant.

"Keep it simple and mild. Heavy scented deodorant can be more irritating and actually draw more attention than desired. I find that deodorants that are sticks are easier to use than liquid or gels," says Wilkinson. While you're at it, avoid antiperspirants for young kids. 

"Antiperspirants work by closing sweat ducts using the aluminum. Aluminum can be irritating to some skin," Wilkinson explains. "Also, antiperspirant will make yucky yellow arm pit stains much worse, especially when you try washing it in the laundry. Yellow stained shirts may be worse than sweating armpits ... so deodorant alone may be the best option in the end!"

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Of course, convincing your kids to stamp out the smell might be the hardest part of all ... but it all comes back to good hygiene, says Dr. Wilkinson.

"Talking to your kids early about why we practice good hygiene will help set the stage later on when it matters. Taking showers frequently, washing clothes, brushing your teeth twice a day, even changing out of pajamas into school or work clothes are all part of practicing good hygiene."

kids body odor