A sniff of odorous air can ruin a perfectly happy mood, believes mum-of-two Misha Agrawal. Which is why when her nine-year-old daughter’s school sent home a message calling for all kids to start carrying deodorant in their bags, she didn’t think much of it. “I feel my child doesn’t smell bad but maybe other kids at times smell, because the physical education teacher asked for deodorant. I can understand sometimes a child may have body odour, which is not comfortable for others,” the Managing Director of UAE-based firm Save the Planet, tells Gulf News in an interview.
She is reluctant to have her young child use the scent however. “Using deodorant on the skin is not recommended because it has a lot of chemicals. In my opinion, it could be carcinogenic. Plus it can irritate the skin – and kids have very sensitive skin. I think, if you are smelling bad, you should use it on your clothes not directly on skin.”
What causes body odour?
Dr Juwariya Tasneem Syeda, Specialist Dermatologist at Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai, explains that bad odour, or ‘Bromhidrosis’, is an unpleasant odour that emanates from the folds of the skin, from the body hair, hands and feet, and inside the nose (if there is a foreign body lodged inside it).
She adds: “Children generally enter puberty between the ages of 9 and 14. Around this time, they become more aware of their bodies and may begin to develop body odour. They may feel self-conscious about sweating and smelling.”
Children generally enter puberty between the ages of 9 and 14. Around this time, they become more aware of their bodies and may begin to develop body odour. They may feel self-conscious about sweating and smelling.
However, warn experts, that while there is a general age bracket during which one could begin to spray on some perfume, it ought to be a need-based behaviour. Dr Merin Paul Pittappillil, Specialist – Dermatology at Bareen International Hospital - MBZ City, says: “Different kids mature at different pace; body odour may kick in from age eight. If body odour is persistent despite showering and bathing regularly, parents should discuss with child and decide on starting a deodorant.”
I think it’s a necessity for them use it once they hit puberty. It should be a part of their daily routine – just as they use soap and shower gel.
For Indian expat and mum Shilpa Mediratta, using deodorant at 11 is a no-brainer. “I think it’s a necessity for them use it once they hit puberty. It should be a part of their daily routine – just as they use soap and shower gel. They should use it and carry it with them to school, in case they feel the need to use it after a physical education or dance lesson,” she says.
Before you head down the path of deodorants though, says Dr Tasneem Syeda, talk to kids about self-grooming and maintaining personal hygiene. Talk of, she suggests:
- Bathing daily: Washing armpits, genitals, and the feet with an antibacterial soap when bathing
- Promptly removing sweaty clothes and showering after sports, or other sweat-inducing activities
- Wearing clean underwear, socks and clothes every day
- Choosing loose fitting clothes
- Maintaining underarm hygiene - removing armpit hair
What is that stench?
Sometimes, the scent isn’t contingent on a person’s sense of hygiene. It’s a symptom of something else.
“If the child’s odour doesn’t improve or worsens despite using antiperspirant or deodorant and improving hygiene habits, it is best to consult a dermatologist,” explains Dr Pittappillil. This may be because:
- Hyperactive sweat glands cause more sweat and body odour,
- Thyroid problems may play a role in smell,
- Genetic abnormalities can also cause rare conditions like ‘fish odour syndrome’, which may cause fishy smell in children’s breath, urine, and sweat
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Some metabolic disorders like Phenylketonuria or Trimethylaminuria can also cause body odour in children
- Kidney and liver-related ailments can also cause characteristic body odour
“After an examination, a doctor can explain whether body odour is because a child is growing up, or other problems and do tests if necessary,” she adds.
It’s also a case of what you are imbibing. Dr Tasneem Syeda explains: “Usually body odour occurs due to bacterial breakdown of sweat on your skin, contingent on the food you eat and in growing children due to the hormonal changes.”
What sort of deodorants – natural, herbal – should a child wear?
Dr Pittappillil explains that when it comes to smelling fresh, one could brush on or spray on one of three things:
- An antiperspirant,
- A deodorant, or
- A perfume.
“An antiperspirant is a product that stops sweating, and a deodorant is a product that eliminates odour caused by sweat. Some products act as both antiperspirants and deodorants. If body odour is more of concern than excessive sweating is, a deodorant is better than antiperspirant,” she explains.
“Deodorants contain ingredients like alcohol that make your skin more acidic, so odour-producing bacteria are less likely to proliferate. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, contain ingredients that act like plugs by blocking the sweat glands. If applied daily, the amount of sweating reduces significantly. Look for phthalates and parabens on ingredient labels, as prolonged use of these may disrupt endocrine function,” she warns.
If the child has sensitive skin, a fragrance-free antiperspirant or deodorant might be the best option. Asthma attacks can also be triggered by perfumes, so go for fragrance-free option if child has moderate to severe asthma.
Sometimes, it’s best to keep the perfumed options at bay. “If the child has sensitive skin, a fragrance-free antiperspirant or deodorant might be the best option. Asthma attacks can also be triggered by perfumes, so go for fragrance-free option if child has moderate to severe asthma,” says Dr Pittappillil.
Dr Pittappillil, like Agarwal, believes in the use of natural products. She explains: “Natural deodorants usually don’t contain aluminium, parabens, artificial preservatives and artificial fragrances. However, their effect may not last long and they are generally more expensive. As young children don’t sweat a lot, it may work better for them than adults.”
There is a caveat through. While they are safer in the long run, there are greater chances of an allergic reaction to an ingredient. Plus, homemade and natural deodorants are mild, so these products may not be as effective as other types of deodorants.
And some may actually do more harm than good, warns Dr Tasneem Syed. “Avoid using perfumes and home remedies like application of lemon in the underarms, as this may not reduce the odour remarkably and in some children may cause allergic/irritant contact dermatitis,” she says.
If you have an extremely sweaty teen, perhaps it’s best to employ adult antiperspirants, after all at that age peer reviews can be overwhelming. “These usually contain aluminium-based ingredients and can be used by children and teens if sweating is profuse and the parent is looking for a budget-friendly option, but restrict use to once daily,” Dr Pittappillil suggests.
She adds: “Spraying perfume on clothes of kids instead of on their skin is also a safer alternative for body odour.”
How do you tell a child they need to use a deodorant?
Bene Katabua, Educational Psychologist at Intercare Health Center in Abu Dhabi, offers the following advice:
When developmental changes (such as puberty) come around, there is a lot of ground to cover. So - parents are encouraged to keep conversations open so that different topics can be revisited, rather than having a one-off conversation. As uncomfortable as this topic is - familiarise yourself with it and get comfortable with it, so that you can help your child with their own feelings of discomfort surrounding this topic.
Talking about appearance, body odour, etc. can be quite a sensitive topic, so it's always helpful to think through what the main points are that you want to communicate.
Talking about appearance, body odour, etc. can be quite a sensitive topic, so it's always helpful to think through what the main points are that you want to communicate. You run the risk of saying something hurtful or inappropriate if you have that conversation without any preparation. We all have moments where we feel embarrassed by our own body odour - whether it's after working out, after a hot day, etc. so it helps to let your child know that it's completely normal to have body odour, but that there are ways in which we can improve how we smell. It's also best to have this conversation in private - away from siblings, friends, etc.
It's helpful to note that their bodies are developing and that their habits also therefore need to develop. Similarly, when a baby develops into toddlerhood, there are changes in diaper wearing, washing, etc. This is another instance where there would be some changes necessary for your child to be aware of. They may have noticed parents using deodorant, or taking showers after working out, etc. and this can also be a part of the conversation - focusing on the various things that we do to take care of our bodies.
1. Hygiene practices change as the child develops, so it may be worth discussing in detail proper hygiene practices and adapting daily routines where necessary. Several children also generally benefit from reminders regarding proper hygiene.
2. Giving the child responsibilities around laundry can be helpful as they may pick up on scents while organising their clothes, etc.
3. Include your child in shopping, so that they have a sense of responsibility and autonomy for their hygiene. They can experiment in picking soaps, deodorants, etc. They could write up a list of their toiletry needs or they could join in when shopping so that they have the opportunity to select what they'd like.
4. If hygiene and scented products are not making any significant changes, it may be worth consulting with a doctor to explore further. Once again - this could be an opportunity to discuss with your child about the various changes in the body, which the doctor can help regulate.
5. Keep the conversation ongoing regarding bodily changes - without shame or guilt, but rather helping to normalise the changes and empower the child.
Children may not notice their own body odour, and so this is something that often needs parental intervention - especially in the beginning. They can be involved in taking care of their laundry, and may start to familiarise themselves with the difference in look and smell between when their clothes are worn and not worn. This also brings a sense of privacy and autonomy, so that they can start to handle their own clothes, especially if they are embarrassed or uncomfortable.
It's best to avoid making the child feel dirty, or using shame as a way to broach this topic with them. At times, hormonal changes may be the culprit - even when the person is clean. Your child may commit these instances to memory, and hold onto what was said to them about their bodies long into adulthood. Rather - highlight that this is a normal change and that there are many ways to address body odour.
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