Deodorant time for adolescents

October 06, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

It's important for children to have time outside to run, play and explore. Their little growing bodies need regular exercise to keep them healthy and to keep them on task. Just as it's easier for an adult to concentrate if he's exercising regularly, keeping active helps kids pay attention in class.

With the increased activity, however, comes some little extras.

Walk into any classroom of preteens who have just come in from recess or gym class and you won't be surprised to find that the teacher has air fresheners plugged into the outlets.

The artificial florals are aimed at covering up the natural, athletic aroma.

It's challenging for parents to know what to do. Daily bathing and clean laundry help minimize any odors caused by exercise, but when is more help needed? When should a child start using deodorants or antiperspirants?

Earlier this week I e-mailed several questions to Dr. Dennis Gross, a Manhattan dermatologist, creator of MD Skincare - a line of products available at - and author of "Your Future Face" (Viking 2005). Here are the questions I asked him, along with his responses.


Q. At what age should a child/young person start using deodorant?

A. Definitely well into puberty, not only because they need it but because the skin thickens with puberty so there is less chance of irritation. It is safe that girls may begin at age 14 and boys may begin at 16.

Q. What is the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant? Which is better for a young person?

A. Antiperspirants contain ingredients that stop the production of sweat by the sweat glands. Deodorants allow perspiration but any odor is counteracted. Antiperspirants are generally more effective because they go to the source.

Q. If a child starts using deodorant too early, will his body acquire a resistance to it as he ages?

A. No, it does not work that way for a child or for a grown-up. Perspiration increases over time and incidences, such as change of seasons, etc.

Q. Are there any ingredients that parents should avoid when selecting deodorants or antiperspirants? Are any ingredients too strong for young, delicate skin?

A. No, all ingredients are generally safe.

Q. When young girls start shaving their underarms, will deodorant irritate that area? What can be done to reduce the irritation?

A. Yes, it will irritate the area if there are abrasions on the skin as a result of the shaving. It is important that underarm shaving is done gently. Don't press too hard with the razor and shave in multiple directions. It is also a good idea to use shaving cream which softens the hair.

Q. If a young person has acne under his arms, will the deodorant increase the acne? If so, what can be done about that?

A. Yes, if acne is present under the arms, avoid deodorant altogether because there is a greater chance of inflammation and infection.

Q. How can a parent approach the child about body odor without hurting the child's feelings? How can a parent explain this in a medical way so the child knows that everyone experiences this?

A. Parents should address the issue as it relates to their adolescent life such as, "When I was your age" Also, giving a medical explanation may help. With hair growth and the onset of puberty, perspiration creates moisture. The armpit is a body fold and when moisture is locked in, bacteria grows and produces an odor.

If you have additional questions about children and deodorant use, please e-mail them to me and I will forward them to Dr. Gross.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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